Dear Care and Feeding,
Is there such a thing as taking too many pictures of your kids? My husband, who is a great father, is really fanatical about taking photos of our only child, a 3-year-old girl. He takes pictures of her CONSTANTLY. He thinks it’s important to document every day, so he’ll take a minimum of 10 photos daily, along with a few short videos. That’s just on an average day. If anything remotely interesting happens—a new toy, an outing, a new skill—he’ll take dozens of photos and 10–20 minutes of video. He has videos of her singing every song she knows, every word she tries to say (and the pronunciations change daily, so he constantly needs new videos), every trick she attempts. On her birthday, he took photos and videos of each present she opened (plus the singing, the cake, the dress, etc.).
She occasionally tells him to put the camera (phone) away, but usually doesn’t seem to mind and hasn’t started “performing.” But I find this quantity of photo-taking stressful. Maybe it’s because my whole childhood is contained in six photo albums, and I can easily sit down and look through them all in an hour if I’m in the mood. She will have hundreds of thousands of photos of her childhood plus hundreds of hours of videos. It just seems like A LOT. I find myself growing resentful each time the camera is out, wishing we could just experience the moment instead of filming it. I miss the days when Christmas morning meant one family photo by the tree. I can’t figure out if this is an actual issue that needs to be addressed, or if it’s an illogical hang-up and I should work on letting it go. Maybe I need you to tell me to just focus on my own camera roll and not worry about anybody else’s?
—Picture Me Irritated
If it were me, I’d probably be curious to know what’s at the root of this need to preserve every moment of every day—does your husband have regrettably few photos from his own childhood? Did his parents also go overboard, and that’s why he does this? Does he feel he has a bad memory, and is thus in danger of forgetting what your daughter was like when she was small? I’m not saying you have to get over your annoyance if he has a sufficiently relatable reason for the nonstop photography, but maybe it’d help a little to understand where this is coming from. Regardless of the cause, it sounds excessive to me, too (and I say this as my family’s photographer).
I think it’s really important to pay attention to how your daughter feels about having all of these everyday experiences captured in photos. She has noticed what’s up and advanced to sometimes asking her dad to put the camera away. If she’s starting to feel uncomfortable at times with the constant photography, I do think he should try to let up for her sake. We’ve had our new puppy for a month and at last count I’d taken 23 videos and 300 photos of her, so I realize I have little room to talk here—but as the parent who’s usually behind the camera, often I can tell when I’m in danger of not being fully present (i.e., not enjoying the experience so much as documenting it), and that’s when I put the phone away. Also, when my kids explicitly tell me that they’d rather not be photographed, I listen and respect that.
Not everyone wants every aspect of their daily life recorded for future posterity, as you note—and sometimes you really do just want to enjoy these moments as a family without feeling as though you’re collecting future documentary material. It’s perfectly OK to let your husband know as much and encourage him to seek a better balance, while also recognizing that, like many parents, he won’t want to let the genuinely important moments pass by unpreserved.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband of 37 years and I have a 27-year-old daughter, our only child. Between the ages of 13 and 18, we dealt with defiance, counselors, truancy, marijuana use, running away, and more. Today, our daughter is a thoughtful, introspective, and lovely young woman. She has done a lot of work on herself to deal with depression and anxiety. She confided in us recently that the pivotal moment in her life was when her male cousin, who she considered to be her best friend (although 7 years older than her), made inappropriate and uncomfortable actions toward her when she was 12 and he was 19. We discontinued all interactions between the two, but later they both attended family gatherings. She has now told us that she didn’t feel we supported and protected her. She said that she was acting out during her teen years because she thought something was wrong with her, she was a bad person, she was being punished, and all we did was take her to counselors and psychiatrists and she never actually felt supported.
She was thoughtful in her delivery of these revelations, but I’m understandably devastated and overwhelmed with guilt. In retrospect, we should’ve done a better parenting job, but the proverbial “we did the best that we could” doesn’t cut it now. I do believe we were overwhelmed at the time and thought we were doing what we thought would help her. We have sincerely apologized, but I feel like our relationship has changed, and I’m not sure how to move forward so we can be in a good place.
—Feeling Sad and Guilty
Dear Sad and Guilty,
From your letter, it’s a little difficult to understand the sequence of events—when you found out the truth, and what you did after. If you knew that your daughter’s cousin mistreated or even molested her, subsequently put a stop to their 1:1 interactions, but still brought her to later family gatherings where you knew he’d be present, that was a grave and reckless mistake, and of course it would make her feel unprotected and betrayed. Even if you’d done everything you possibly could based on the information you had at the time, your daughter experienced something terrible at the hands of someone she once trusted, and did not feel that she had the support and understanding she needed after. Far more than your past good intentions or current feelings of guilt, I think that’s the most important thing to hear and reflect on now.
You seem very focused on your own feelings, and eager to be told how you can all move forward together. I know that you’re devastated to have this between you and your daughter, to know your relationship has been harmed, to realize this may be the result of your own actions. But I would urge you to listen to and focus on your daughter’s feelings and needs instead of your own. As you’ve already sincerely apologized to her, now commit to hearing—without defensiveness—whatever she has to express, and try not to make any part of the discussion revolve around your reactions. Don’t ask her to supply definitive answers about how you can “fix” this quickly, because she doesn’t need that burden, and the truth is that there may be nothing meaningful you can do at present. It’s not up to you to ask for a prescription or a to-do list, or demand to know what sort of relationship or trust might still be possible. You cannot control the pace of someone else’s healing, nor can you demand forgiveness they might not be ready or able to extend.
You’re not in the driver’s seat when it comes to your relationship with your daughter; she is. And she should be—she’s the one who was hurt, the one who felt unsupported, and the only one who can decide when and how she wants to move forward. As hard as it may be to surrender control here, I think you do need to let her feel whatever she feels, trust that she’ll share with you (in her own time, and her own way) whether any particular action or atonement on your part could make a difference, and respect her right to decide if and how she wants to proceed. You can’t change anything that’s happened, but you can let her know that you love her and want to do better by her, and that you’re ready to listen and support her however she needs.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Every year since sixth grade, my now-15-year-old daughter has had “tech training” where the school librarian comes in and teaches them how to format documents, use Google Slides, etc. The problem is, they’ve had more or less the same presentations every year, and my daughter is starting to hate it. Since they’re learning online, the librarian has decided to record her presentations and have students do a homework assignment to show that they understood. My daughter was much happier with this, since it meant she didn’t have to sit through an hourlong talk on how to use a hanging indent, but now the school has decided to also have the librarian come onto the Zoom for the exact same tech training she showed in her videos since some of the other kids didn’t turn in their assignments. Now my daughter spends her English period (when the librarian comes in) reading a book and turns her camera off and her computer sound down. My husband thinks that no matter how repetitive and boring the tech training is, she should be listening the whole time and anything else is disrespectful. If it was a lesson she’d never been taught before I’d agree, but she’s listened to these exact same presentations for four years, and she’s reading, not playing Mario Kart. It’s OK to cut her some slack here, right?
—Tired of Tech Training
Yes. I officially give you permission. Let her read, and feel no guilt. It’d be one thing if they were presenting all-new material, but I definitely wouldn’t make your daughter sit and pay super-close attention to the same presentations she’s heard for multiple years running. If she’s present, understands the content, and is turning in her assignments, that’s pretty damn good for 2020. Hope she has a good book (or several).
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife is pregnant and due this month. We’re both women, and while I’d always wanted to adopt, she realized a few years ago that being pregnant was incredibly important to her.
Due to some complicated fertility issues, we ended up using my eggs. I thought I was OK with this, and was truly overjoyed when we found out we’d been successful and she was pregnant. Then the fear set in.
I’m terrified that this child is going to resemble my abusive, violent mother. I’ve been estranged from her for years, but she still haunts my nightmares. It does not help that I am the absolute image of my mother physically—people who have known us both comment on it a lot. I despise this and have done a lot to change the way I look, but the resemblance is still remarkable. I have done everything possible to in no way resemble her in terms of behavior, including a lot of counseling to help me through the fear that I would become an abusive parent myself. My maternal grandmother was abusive, too, and I’d always promised myself I’d end our horrible family cycle. Now, however, I find myself overcome with terror that this child is going to look just like me and my mother and that this is going to either affect my parenting, or mean that they will become a violent and cruel person like she was.
I know, objectively, that this fear is irrational, but it’s still very much there, and I don’t feel able to talk to anyone about it. Please, can you advise me on how to deal with this awful fear? Do I tell my wife, or not freak her out with this? What can I do to make sure I don’t fail my child as a mother due to some arbitrary genetic resemblance beyond their control?
—Need to Break the Cycle
I really do understand where this fear comes from, but please know and try to believe that neither you nor your child is destined to end up like your mother just because you share some genes. You may physically resemble her, but as you already know, you are and have chosen to be a very different person—and you’ll be an entirely different kind of parent.
You do not have to face this fear alone. I think you absolutely should try to talk with your wife about it—when it comes to parenting, both of you should be able to talk honestly about any fears or anxieties, including those stemming from your respective upbringings, and count on one another’s compassion and understanding. Your wife loves you, you’re in this together, and I think it will be reassuring to hear that from her and know that you don’t have to deal with this fear on your own.
You’ve already been to counseling, you mentioned, and found it helpful; you might consider resuming sessions for a little while, so you have extra support in your corner during this major life transition. Even if you weren’t worried about your mother’s influence, I imagine that becoming a parent is bound to bring up a lot of memories and feelings about how you yourself were parented. And please know (and remind yourself often) that you have it in you to be the good, loving parent your mother wasn’t, especially given how badly you want to be that kind of parent. Every time you’ve had a decision to make about the kind of person you will be, you’ve chosen not to be like her, not to replicate her violence and abuse. Your child, too, will be their own person, and will learn to give the love and care they receive from you and your wife.
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