07/05/2012 16:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Are You The Invisible Mum In Family Photos?

Are you the invisible mum in family photos? Rex Features

This holiday, I'm hoping for a breakthrough. It's something very small in a lot of ways but in years to come, it could have a profoundly positive effect on my family.

I'm going to appear in family photos.

That's instead of making my excuses and leaving when a lens appears.

For too long I've avoided joining my daughters and partner in the family album snaps.
"Oh no I don't want to be on it," I inevitably shrug when my girls implore me to smile for the camera.
"Come on Mum," they say brightly.
"No chance," I mumble back from the other side of the room, beach or restaurant.

Images of me with the rest of my clan are as rare as spotting a yeti or the Loch Ness monster – you sort of hope it's possible and there is grainy evidence from years back – but the chances of it being repeated are minimal.

I don't want to spoil the photo.

Glancing at images from years ago at parties or on summer jaunts, I feel queasy. In my eyes I look awful and don't want to have to acknowledge this again, despite however many times people who love me tell me I'm talking nonsense.

It's ridiculous. It's not like I've suddenly sprouted two heads, been horrendously disfigured or been blighted by an indelible outbreak of boils. I'm just a bit fat.

I feel self conscious at how much weight I've put on. My girls just want Mum in the picture.
So I've decided to grin and bear it.

But of course I know I'm not alone. The thought of so many of us mums taking a similar approach – and our collective absence from photographic evidence of our family histories makes me sad.

Why should mums be so invisible?

For mum-of-three Zoe Smith, her absence from family photos is a tangible source of regret.

Zoe, who blogs at Political Parent, says: "I have always abhorred having my photograph taken, I have no idea why. My mother was a talented amateur photographer and took many photos of us as children - I have a comprehensive photographic record of my early years. This record appears to stop around age seven or eight - I can only assume I was better at asserting myself.

"There are very few photos of me, it's almost as though I ceased to exist when I was seven I am now 36. A camera appearing at a family, social or work event fills me with dread and I do all I can to avoid being photographed.

"There are very few photographs of me with my children- Calvin, 17, Daisy, 14 and Theo, six, and those that do exist tend to show me sporting a startled rabbit or fearful expression. I never look happy in a photo but always look unnerved.

"I regret that we do not have a family album to look over. I have lots of photos of the children- but there is a gaping hole in the photographic record of our lives - that gaping hole is approximately 5ft 1 and Mama shaped.

"I look with envy and sadness at those beautiful photos of other women clutching their new infants - I have many photos of all my children as new babies - but it is as though they magically appeared and I didn't feature in their arrival at all. Some of them may show my hand or arm but I have none of those "proud, happy but shattered" post-birth photos. I will never be able to correct this - those moments are gone.

"I have photos of my children on days out, on holiday, at Christmas, birthdays, sunny days, funny days - the photographic record suggests I had no part in any of these good times. I cannot go back and rectify this. I cannot change the historical record of our lives.

"My children adore looking at photos of themselves when they were younger and they often ask where I was, I confirm I was there and feel a tangible physical pain that to them it simply doesn't look like it.

"I have thought about ways to try and rescue what I can, ways to ensure that we have a photographic record of our lives together in the future but as I always eventually come to the conclusion that this will at some point involve having to have my photo taken, I put it to the back of my mind.


I am an invisible mum, I regret it a lot. One day I won't be here any more but there will very little proof that I was ever here at all.


So what advice is out there for the likes of Zoe and me, and plenty more mums besides, who find themselves on the sidelines quicker than anyone can shout "say cheese"?

Mum and business coach Grace Marshall admits she has also been blighted by not wanting to be photographed.

But she says: "If you think about it, how you look may not be the point of the photo anyway.
Of course we look at our kids and notice how gorgeous they are, but is that really why we display photos on our walls - just to show off our good-looking family? For me I think it's about capturing a memory – remembering people, as they are, in a particular time.

"That's why I feel sad when I look back at photos from periods in our family history that have no trace of me.

"I decided I was going to stop erasing myself from our family memories. I said to myself, I'm going to be part of this whether I look good or not.

"I focus on the occasion, and the company rather than 'how do I look? I love 'natural' unposed photos for that - you get to see expressions - how your kids are looking at you, sometimes with a familiar expression where you can instantly remember what was going on at the time, or a look in their eyes that only you can interpret.

"When having your picture taken becomes more familiar, you get used to it more. It helps to get past the initial "eurgh" and notice what you do like about photos – for example I realised I tend to prefer ones my sister takes to ones my husband takes. I've also noticed I prefer side on face shots and ones where my kids are sat on me.

"Instead of shying away from the camera, get loads of pictures taken to increase the chances of having some that you like or can at least tolerate.

"Digital cameras are a brilliant invention. If you want to remain in control hand your camera around so if there are some really awful ones you can just press delete."

So that's photos sorted. I'll draw the line at videos though.

Are you an invisible mum?
Do you take the photo, slide out of shot or cover yourself in children so only a corner of you can be spotted?