One morning last week, my two-year-old climbed up onto the window seat with his treasured panda bear Lovey fresh off of raiding his sister’s lip gloss collection and pressed his cheek to the window glass.
The street outside was quiet, but his brows remained furrowed for much longer than you would expect from a toddler. I felt the heaviness of the moment and I grabbed my camera to take a picture.
With restrictive measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are spending much more time with our kids than we are accustomed to while juggling other responsibilities at the same time. Research from the American Psychiatric Association shows half of adults are experiencing high levels of anxiety as a direct result of the pandemic. Parents need an accessible way to manage stress while still maintaining social distance.
Mindfulness is an anxiety- and stress-reduction technique that is easy to practice at home. It is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts and feelings, purposefully paying attention to whatever we are doing at the moment. As someone who has battled an anxiety diagnosis for 25 years, I have often attempted to practice mindfulness, unsuccessfully, while walking or breathing. But being a parent brings an unexplainable hyper-awareness of what my children are feeling and doing, along with an eagerness to document their childhood with my camera. In my attention to photographing my children, I have been able to find mindfulness, too.
Taking pictures meditatively is different than asking our kids to pose and say cheese. It’s purposefully paying attention to every passing moment, measuring its value, and then choosing whether or not you want to photograph it. There is no need to direct our kids or change the scene; it is as simple as pressing the shutter and moving on. Once we are aware that every time we choose to take a picture we preserve a memory, the process of continually making this decision forces us to check-in and evaluate how we are feeling in each moment. Is this particular moment one that we want to memorialize?
Finding my toddler thoughtfully looking out the window that morning was a blessing because it gave me the thought space to check in with myself. After taking the picture, I joined him at the window seat and forced my shoulders to relax. I needed a moment, and acknowledging that need felt like a deep, therapeutic breath. By slowing down, I also connected with my son.
I am grateful for the extra time with my kids, without pressure to run off to one activity or another, and there are definitely moments when I openly acknowledge this to myself. We have new family traditions: each Saturday morning we hike a new trail in our area, stopping to show off each funny-shaped leaf or new little creature along the way. My oldest son has recently taken my toddler under his wing, and I cannot take enough pictures of them holding hands along the path.
It is easy to appreciate the quiet moments, though; the weekdays bring a lot more challenges with professional obligations, and it is harder to give one’s feelings attention.
Mindfulness is a skill and, much like cultivating an exercise routine, requires dedication in order to get the most benefit from it. Sometimes I just have to force myself to pay attention. On busy days I leave my camera on the counter within eyesight. I schedule in breaks, setting an alarm on my phone and forcing myself to take a moment. Not every break results in a picture. I just appreciate the reminder to slow down and take it all in.
As parents, we already take pictures of our kids. Integrating mindfulness into the process is as simple as becoming more thoughtful about the types of pictures that we take. Pretend you are using a film camera instead of digital. Not every moment is worth photographing! Remember that as we age, pictures influence our memories of the past. Thinking about the photos from your own childhood that hold the most meaning for you, what is the legacy of this time that you want to leave your kids?
The pandemic story I leave my kids is one of blanket forts, afternoon neighborhood walks, and riding body pillows down the stairs. I choose to photograph the moments that bring my family together because, despite everything, we ARE coming together. Much like strangers waving at each other from across the street, my kids are learning to navigate their shared space in this new world.
While I navigate my own way through it with the help of my camera.
About the author: Pamela Anticole is a professional photographer trained in photojournalism, specializing in documenting family events and everyday life. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Anticole’s images have received awards from both the FPJA and the Documentary Family Awards, and her work has been exhibited in print. Mother of 4 young children, Pamela is passionate about sharing her knowledge about photography with other parents. To learn more from Pamela, please visit her website.