When a Blurry, Awkward Selfie Is Picture Perfect

Let’s get real for a moment. Raising a teenager has been the most difficult and unpleasant season of motherhood I’ve experienced yet. The days are filled with fluctuating moods, rejection, criticism, judgment, and, quite honestly, grief, loneliness, and doubt. As my son grows up, he is doing what he needs to while I am left questioning much of what I do as a parent. 

I admit that I can succumb to moments of envy when I perceive other teens not being annoyed at everything their mom is doing. I’m downright jealous when I see pictures of other kids happily spending time with their parents. But perception is just that. I’m looking at brief snapshots of other people that don’t tell the whole story but rather a quick flash in a series of many moments within a family.

Other people’s teens seem to enjoy being with them

Maybe the lovely teen girl I see in another mom’s glowing prom photo just cursed her parents out. Perhaps another mom omitted all the details about passive aggressiveness and mood swings when posting about a fun family vacation. Perhaps there are deeper problems like drug use and depression camouflaged by the matching Christmas jammies on the holiday card. Maybe resentment and uncertainty wear the guise of smiling selfies and sunny filters.

I should feel nothing but gratitude that my son is growing up in such a “textbook” teen way as he becomes independent. I’m blessed that, so far, snarky attitudes and moodiness are our biggest issues and not more severe things. Still, the rejection and very harsh ripping away can sting so deeply it actually feels like my heart is breaking.

I try to maintain family traditions

So, I try to maintain traditions and uphold holidays. I enthusiastically plan outings and ready my phone for the very moments I am trying so hard to hang onto in light of my son’s angsty preparation to leave the nest. And amid these experiences, my fingers are prepared and eager to capture these moments with the camera. 

Unfortunately, instead of Instagram-worthy family snapshots of fun and bonding, the photos reflect precisely what I’m trying not to capture — two tired parents trying to hang onto a teenager with one foot and most of his mind already out the door of our family home.

Our eager arms try to embrace a son thinking of being elsewhere. Strain and quiet animosity on our faces mixed with half-smiles that don’t do a good job of concealing how we all feel about this phase of life. And instead of being excited about preserving my memories with photos, I feel frustrated and sad when I press the delete button. 

As I try to find a great picture of us, I pause before deleting the outtakes

After a recent trip to New York City, my fingers were poised to do the same for all the outtakes and images that wouldn’t cut — the annoyed faces, the awkward physical distance between our son and us, and the frustratingly-forced strange, looking smile he will sometimes throw our way. That’s when I stumbled on this blurry outtake and paused before hitting delete.

In the middle of trying to get a nice family shot in front of Rockefeller Center and failing so miserably, all three of us started laughing and being silly. The camera kept capturing these moments before we went back to try for a posed photo and then on with our travels.

Blurry family outtake
Sometimes a real photo is the best (photo courtesy of the author).

Even though this attempt at a family selfie is blurry, crooked, and somehow comically stretches out my husband’s head, it captures a moment when we were all authentically having fun and making each other laugh. I want to keep it to remind myself that those moments still occur and occur often, perhaps more than I realize when I’m too busy focusing on when my son is annoyed at me or opting for hours in his closed room away from us. I love this imperfect blurry photo and will use it to remind myself that I have these flashes of pure happiness and enjoyment with my teen, too, even if they are interspersed with moodiness and are not always “picture perfect.” 

I keep a blurry that is “perfect picture” because it shows us a happy moment

What is picture perfect anyway? We are all moving through time so fast — some moments are ugly and triggering, and some are mediocre and dull. And some are brilliant and precious, if only fleeting, and ones we wish to hang onto longer but cannot. I don’t want to look back on this season of motherhood with nothing but memories of worry, doubt, and general discomfort. 

I want to remember these images and moments when I am throwing my head back, grinning, and enjoying my family. Because those moments have always been there too. Maybe we have to take what we can get in this season of parenthood. Maybe unbridled joy and laughter will only show up in mere minutes or seconds, and perhaps that must be enough.

Parenthood is a giant tapestry of the good and bad, the joyous and the heart-wrenching, the exhilarating and the painful, all strung together in a patchwork that we should be proud to hang and display no matter the imperfect stitches and lines. Because, like all precious art, when you finally take a moment to step back and look at the entire thing, it is the honesty and rawness that makes it so beautiful and genuinely something sacred enough to behold with true awe. 

More Great Reading:

Turns Out, I Had No Idea How Hard It Is to Parent Teens

About Debra Caffrey

Debra Caffrey is the mother of one teenage boy and a writer and editor for Fredericksburg Parent and Family magazine in Virginia. Her writing has recently been featured on Grown and Flown, Moms of Tweens and Teens, and Her View From Home. Previously, she has published poetry and has had her essays on motherhood featured on bestselling parenting expert Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s website. When she’s not contemplating about parenthood, Debra is usually cooking, reading, exercising, or introverting on her beloved backyard hammock.

Read more posts by Debra

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