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The Parenting Advice I'm Tired of Hearing

Photograph by Getty Images

One of my daughter's first words was, "cheese."

As much as she loves a good slice of cheddar, that wasn't what she was referring to. Instead, like most of my friend's children before her, my little girl learned fairly early on that a camera in my hands meant she was supposed to smile and say, "cheese."

I am the mom, auntie and friend who is forever documenting everything we do.

And it frustrates me when I see advice splashed across the Internet these days, admonishing picture addicts like me, blaming our obsession with photographs on the narcissism of social media and imploring us to just "live in the moment," to experience these precious events "with" our children, rather than with a camera forever separating us from those we love.

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For a while, I took this advice to heart. I began to question my need to photograph every milestone in my daughter's life, and I found myself wondering if that camera truly was keeping me from connecting with my little girl.

But then I realized … that's bullshit.

Look, I have been addicted to pictures long before the advent of social media. All throughout high school, I plastered my walls with photos I had taken (and paid with my babysitting money to develop) of various adventures with my friends. By the time I graduated and moved out, that "picture wallpaper" covered every square inch of my bedroom walls.

My first apartment was much the same. While I classed things up by creating poster board collages with those photos (rather than applying them directly to the walls) there were still pictures everywhere. And I loved that when friends came over, they spent at least 15 minutes perusing the new images I had captured.

I have never once felt as though that camera in my hands keeps me from being in the moment.

Now, as a mother, I spend weeks at the end of every year compiling thousands of photos taken over the previous 12 months into a family album. If there were ever a fire in my house, I would grab my daughter first—and then try to save those picture books.

I have never been especially talented with photography. And when my dad and stepmother recently offered to get me a new camera for Christmas, I opted for a much cheaper version of what they originally had in mind. I didn't trust myself not to drop and break a more expensive camera. But more importantly, I don't love photographs for the artistry of them (at least, not my own). I love pictures because of the memories they hold. I love them because of how they make me smile and reflect back on the moments I was so excited to capture in the first place.

And I have never once felt as though that camera in my hands keeps me from being in the moment.

Sure, my friends make fun of me for it. And I have been accused of posting photos online that would be better left tucked away in a dark closet forever. But you know what? Everyone I know and love has also acknowledged, at least once or twice, that they were happy I was there to take pictures at events where they hadn't even thought to produce a camera.

And that's where I think it is important to remember that we are all different. I suppose I could see how capturing even mundane moments could inhibit someone's ability to connect if taking those pictures didn't feel natural to them—if they were forcing themselves to pull the camera out, rather than following an instinct simply to do it. But for me? Taking those pictures is something I enjoy. And I truly love going through the images I have captured, editing and storing them for future use.

I enjoy being the mom who always has a camera in her hands.

It isn't about social media or narcissism. It is about capturing these moments and documenting my daughter's life. Because the memories fade, but pictures don't.

A few weekends ago, my daughter and I went out of town with friends. For whatever reason, I made a concerted effort that weekend to keep my camera away. I also left my laptop behind and turned my phone off, committed to being completely in the moment for this getaway with the people we love.

I am fully capable of both taking pictures and enjoying the moment. ... So stop telling parents to put their cameras down.

And you know what? I was fine with every single piece of that, except for the absence of my camera. In fact, when the weekend was over I was angry I didn't have any pictures to show for all the fun we had.

It was then I realized that the "put the camera away" advice is more than just a little off base.

I am fully capable of both taking pictures and enjoying the moment. I'm also capable of putting the camera away when my need for documentation has been satisfied. So stop telling parents to put their cameras down. In fact, how about we just stop telling parents how to navigate their day-to-day lives all together? If photography isn't your thing, that's fine; keep your camera tucked away.

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But don't decide that I have to do the same, just because you can't fathom actually getting enjoyment out of something that I truly do love doing.

I'll keep that camera in my hands, if it's all the same to you. And if you'd like, I am more than willing to snap a few pictures of your kids while I'm at it.

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