I recently survived an annual tradition straight from the underworld, known only to mothers of small children: The outdoor family photo session.
For those yet to experience this special slice of family time, let me expound. Take the amount of time and stress it takes getting small children out the door for church. But instead of church, you’re corralling them into a field, barnyard, or some ironic backdrop of aesthetic beauty to internal terror. Then, you have a distinct time limit to force children whom just beat each other with Xbox remotes to smile, naturally frolic and share loving gazes while keeping their shirts tucked in.
It may seem a doable notion to some. But truly, rounding up my kids for a plaid-laden holiday shoot is like leading sheep to the slaughter. You’d think they were second generation Native Americans fearing their souls would be stolen with a single flash. The experience usually starts by waging threats to hold hands the whole time, followed by aggressive demands to “obey and smile right now,” and ends with thanking the photographer for schlepping through mud to capture the essence of your family love at sunset.
“Sorry, I should have told you to maybe wear boots!”
But truth be told. The outcome has always been totally worth every drop of blood, sweat and tear.
Staring at the photo proofs that night, I was overcome with tears…”our family is so precious, honey!” I started thinking if only we had a daily visual montage capturing the joyous, beautiful moments that we never get to enjoy, or even notice because we’re too busy with the logistical stress of family life. If only there was a way to force us to really live in the moment, and soak in the fleeting goodness that’s felt and seen at every single stage of our kids’ lives.
I think if I could tell my younger mom self anything, it would be this: Embrace the season you’re in. Stop getting caught up in the distraction, stress and chaos of our hectic lives and purpose yourself to enjoy your kids.
There will always be areas of struggle with our kids (sagging grades, bad attitudes, refusing to potty train) and so easy to let frustration snuff out the little moments of tender joy and sweetness. Like your pre-teen leaning his head on you during family movie night, or your fourth-grader unabashedly running straight over for a hug at school pick-up. Or your 16-year-old texting you a funny GIF, signaling he still secretly knows your cool.
My kids are at an age-and I never thought I’d say this-where I want to freeze them. Haven’t changed a diaper in years. We can make it through any board game without a single meltdown and my 11-year-old still lets me ‘cuddle’ at night. I’m usually pretty good at savoring the good stuff, but after the emotional experience of sending my oldest off to college this fall, I’ve been determined to soak it all up even more.
Being a more veteran mom has also allowed me to see how the especially “challenging” times of child-rearing really do get better. One of my boys used to be the most stubborn child imaginable. Like, he stayed in diapers ‘til three (okay, four) based on principal alone. He has since morphed into the sweetest, most sensitive soul whom by the God’s grace alone has somehow become the shining behavioral star of the family.
I could go on and on with little stories of victory, but my best advice is to pray more through the stress, and focus more on the good. Motherhood is so overwhelming and exhausting, it can feel more dutiful than joyful. But I never want to look back and wish I had appreciated, or enjoyed it more.
There are still MANY things I wish could change. My stepdaughter, for example, only wants to play Barbies. With me. All day long. I could write an entire book on the torturous ills of pretend play, but this is just one example of something we can either let depress and derail us, or rest in sweet peace knowing this too, shall pass.
Someday we’ll be old ladies sitting in our rockers, gazing on those photo spreads wishing we could be right back there, running after wayward children openly peeing in a wheat field. Blessed be the fruit. And cheers, to the season we’re in.