Are you Mom to a teenage daughter?
Are you looking for connection, encouragement, and tips on how to navigate these crazy teen girl years?
Then grab your camera and your coffee, and join us!
For years, I have loved being a high school senior photographer. There is nothing quite like spending the afternoon with a teenage girl, capturing her unique style, creating memories for her mom, and sharing her beauty with the world.
I have loved every single senior session I have shot. But with each of those sessions came the nagging question that has troubled me for all these years.
As an educator and coach of teen girls, a dorm parent to girls, and a mother to a daughter, the most important gift I can offer these girls is to empower them, to enlighten them to their tremendous value. But these two facets of my life always seemed in conflict. As a photographer, my job is to capture their unique beauty, to make them look and feel exceptionally beautiful. Yet, as their teacher, coach, ecourager, and even mother, my purpose is almost the opposite- showing them how much more valuable they are than just what the mirror tells them.
Is it actually possible to use photography to empower the girls in our lives?
You’d better believe it!
I am noticing with my own tween daughter that sometimes it’s hard to initiate conversation with her. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to ask her how she’s doing, I don’t have the words. But I want her to know that I’m thinking about her, that I love her, that I see her. My camera can do that for me without my having to say a word.
Sometimes, when she’s sitting in her room working on some sketches, I’ll quietly join her with my camera. We don’t have to say a word, but I can watch her, and photograph her, and pour my love into her.
Sometimes, though, it’s super fun to make an afternoon of it, to come up with a fun location, to do her hair, to pick out clothes, and make it a full fledged photo shoot.
Either way, I can use my camera to spend time with her, to let her know that I WANT to spend time with her, to show her that she matters to me.
And that’s empowering.
Just like there are times when I don’t have the words to connect with my daughter, there have to be times when she is struggling with how to talk to me. Again, the camera can be our connection.
I’ve noticed that during those times when I’m just spending quiet time in my daughter’s day photographing her, she is more likely to start chatting me up. She might talk to me about unimportant things like the song that’s playing, or the struggle she’s having with what she’s sketching. Or she might open up to me about what’s going on at school, she might mention specific friends, or teachers, and she might let me into her world a little more.
I’m empowering her yet again.
So I’ve noted that photography allows you the opportunity to tell her you see her (whether you use words or not), and that it allows her the opportunity to tell you anything.
But photography can empower her without any words at all.
The tween and teen years can feel like very lonely ones. These are years where our girls are figuring out who they are, and who they’re not, and there are moments when our girls will feel like no one understands what they’re going through, no one is walking this path with them. Do you remember feeling this way? I absolutely do.
The physical act of walking into your daughter’s space, without even having to say a word, reminds her that she is not alone. Sometimes you don’t need to initiate conversation. And you don’t need her to open up either. Sometimes you just need to remind her that she is not alone. If there is one message worth reminding her of, it’s this one.
Your camera is the perfect way to safely enter her space, with reason and with purpose, and yet without having to say a word.
Now that’s empowering for both of you.
I think one of the reasons why I love to photograph teen girls so much is because it’s the one opportunity I have to actually TELL them all the great things I think of them without being a cheeseball. The same goes for my daughter.
It’s getting harder for me to openly gush over my daughters’ beautiful eyes or hair without getting an eye roll in return. But my camera blows that door wide open. As I’m photographing her, I can easily comment on how much I love her smile, or how I love how long her hair has gotten.
And it doesn’t even have to be about her outer beauty. I can make mention of the work she’s sketching. I can simply say how much I love photographing her, how much I love being around her. The camera makes it less cheesy, and more innocent. I’m just making a comment about the photography experience.
But maybe she’ll carry those words around with her for a little while.
So yes, let’s consider the actual photos you’re taking of your daughter. I mean, you’re not just walking in to her room and pretending to photograph her. You’re actually going to capture some photos. So you’ll actually have proof of all the beautiful things you see in her, whether that’s her smile or the fact that you love what a bookworm she is. You can capture her inner beauty with your camera too. You can take photos of her laughing and share what a great sense of humor she has. Or you can get photos of her being a good friend, or playing sports. You can capture it all. You can give her evidence of what you see.
This one’s a little tricky though because you actually need to capture beautiful photos then. You need an understanding of light and exposure, of composition and which poses best flatter your girl. Perhaps a guide might help here.
I no longer think that it’s a conflict of interest to want to capture a teen girl’s beauty in a portrait for her, all while wanting to empower her to know her complete worth. In fact, I think the two should go hand in hand.
Not only do they work together, but in the right hands, their mothers’ hands, they can be one of the most powerful combinations for raising a generation of strong, courageous women. Our cameras can become our mightiest tools.
Do you remember the days of waking your daughter up with a hug and a kiss and a “Good morning sweet girl”? Do you remember the days of endless exclamations of “I love you, Mommy”? The walks through the park, hand in hand? The cuddles after bath time? The days when love just oozed between you and your sweet girl?
I don’t know about you, but those days seem fewer and farther between now. Gosh, I still love my daughter to the moon and back, but most days involve some bickering, some eye rolling, a little bit of sass, and sometimes a few tears. I know my daughter loves me, and I think she knows I love her (although I wonder if she’d admit that). It’s just harder to communicate that love to a hormonally challenged, emotionally driven teen than it is to a smiling, chubby, little toddler.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, considering if maybe it’s time to change tactics. Maybe as my daughter changes, my methods for showing her I love her need to change, too. As she grows, our relationship must evolve. Maybe.
I quickly realized that my list would come up short. After all, I’m just one mom. BUT!!!! What if I went out into my social media world, and asked other moms raising teen girls how THEY show their daughter love through these years.
And so that’s just what I did. And that’s what I’m sharing with you today.
1. We do Starbucks outings. It's the only thing she really wants to do with me these days, but I'll take it! - Cheryl
2. I buy my daughter her favorite "time of the month" snacks. I get her chocolate, sour patch kids, ice cream, and chips. These are things that she craves during that time. I hide the treats, and then when she tells me "it's here", I put the non cold things on her bed, and then surprise her when she comes back upstairs to hug me. -Kristina
3. I love essential oils and my 13 year old recently started asking for bedtime foot rubs... We pretend she's at a spa. She makes an "appointment" and everything. It's fun and she swears that she sleeps more soundly and wakes up feeling better on foot rub nights! -Kelli
4. I lay in bed with my daughter at night before bed and hang out. Sometimes we just listen to music or talk about silly things, and sometimes she reads her current book out loud to me. -Tonya
5. After school, we usually plop on the sofa and watch an episode of Gilmore Girls together. I think the biggest thing for my girl is being silly and laughing together. -Wendi
6. We do solo time together, and I also leave her little sticky notes in random places in her room or backpack. The notes will usually be silly stuff that are just our inside jokes or something silly to make her laugh. -Angela
7. I write inspirational message in dry erase marker on her mirror, leave notes in her lunch or backpack, and we have a shared journal that we pass back and forth- to discuss those hard topics that are just easier to write than to say. -Jenny
8. I let her tell me everything and let her know I won't tell other moms what she tells me. -Analisa
9. I ask, "What can I do to make your day better?" Or "Is there anything I can do to make your day more successful?". My kiddo lights up when I do that. -Amber
10. We hug and see who lets go first. it could take a long time! - Rachel
11. Silly snap chats. She responds too! It's a miracle. -Darlene
And there you have it, 11 great ideas from daughter mamas! Thanks, ladies. I’m going to try all of these.
I haven’t shared my tip with you. So let’s consider that BONUS TIP 12.
12. I take my daughter’s photos, and I do it a lot. (Yeah, you knew that was coming, right?) Seriously, though, I am noticing that the more I bring my camera into my daughter’s space (and I mean my camera, not just my phone), the more she lets me in. I think this is for a few reason, which I will actually go into in my next blog post! But it connects us. For real.
Try it yourself! And if you want help, grab my FREE GUIDE to photographing your own teen daughter.
As for loving our daughters, may we leave this blog post equipped with some new ideas, and some new inspiration. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get myself some dry erase markers, a few essential oils, and some Sour Patch Kids! See ya!
There is one MUST HAVE portrait when it comes to every high school senior that I photograph. It’s not the perfect headshot, and it’s not the one of her standing in a meadow at sunset. It’s not the classic smile, the thoughtful soul, it’s not the senior looking out towards her future.
BUT… knowing this, I know that I have to warn mom long before the session takes place. And I also know that I have to be prepared to talk her down from protests and anxiety, from all the “Oh no, I don’t want to be in any of the photos. I just want ones of her.” I need to let mom know why this is my MUST HAVE portrait, and why she’ll thank me for it someday- IF I do it correctly (and I always do). ;)
Let me share with you why we moms (and I say WE, because I am guilty of this, too) need to step out from behind the camera and join our daughters in front of it. I’ll also share some tips on HOW to do this, but let’s start with WHY.
One of my favorite things to do when I go home to visit my parents, is to pour over old photos with them. I love seeing photos of both my mom and my dad as children, but I also love seeing them as I remember them from my own childhood. I love seeing my mom rocking her 80’s style! And my mom was gorgeous! (still is, if you ask me) There are photos of her with my brother and me, photos of her laughing while my dad tried to steal kisses, and even a photo of her STRESSED OUT because I think the basement was flooding. (yeah, what was my dad thinking taking that???)
These photos are my memory. They will stay with me long after my parents are gone, and they will stay with my kids long after I’m gone.
So what about me? As a mom, how can I deprive my children of the memory of their mother, simply because I’m a little insecure about my aging midsection, or my grays, or whatever. The days are passing, and so are our memories. Giving up my insecurities and letting myself be photographed allows my kids the joy of remembering me- and the joy of telling their own kids and grandkids about me. (It should be noted that my grandmother was gorgeous, too. I know this because I have the photographs!)
My daughter is a smart cookie. I’m guessing yours is, too. So why do we think we’re pulling one over on them when we express our self-criticism in front of them, and then expect them to learn self-love and acceptance? Just what exactly do we think we’re teaching them when we demonstrate such disapproval of ourselves?
Despite what I may think about myself, I’m pretty sure that my daughter thinks I’m beautiful. I think that has more to do with the love that she feels from me than anything else. I’m actually guessing she doesn’t know when I’m gaining weight or losing it, when I’m in need of a root touch up, and when I’m having a stress break out. But she knows when I’m smiling, feeling good, and loving myself. I KNOW that she knows that.
So guess what, ladies? I’ve got to do that more! WE’VE got to do that more! And that means laughing off some insecurity and getting in front of the camera. Show her how it’s done. Show her what it means to love herself. Be an example for her.
So yes, our daughters need the example of self-love. They need role models in us, and that is a great reason on its own to step out from behind that camera and get in front of it.
But it’s not enough. WE need the example too. We can’t just be doing this for our daughters. We need to be doing it for ourselves. We ARE beautiful. Even now, at age… 29 plus a few. We are worthy of self love at age 10, at age 27, and at age 45. And every age before, in between, and after. If we don’t love ourselves, how are we going to show others how to love us? And how are we going to show our daughters how worthy they are?
This is about more than just them. It’s not just for their sake. It’s for ours too.
So, there you have it. A few vital reasons WHY we need to be OK with having our photos taken.
But, wouldn’t it be great if I could offer you a few HOWs, too? I mean, really. What kind of photographer would I be if I couldn’t offer my ladies a few tricks on how to feel more confident and comfortable doing what I’m asking them to do?
As every good woman knows, things are always a little less scary when we do it with a friend. Photos are no different. So start with a few photos with your girl. She’s probably the one girl you feel most comfortable being yourself around, the one who you can laugh with, or get silly with.
I know that everywhere we look, people are posting their photos to social media. But who says we have to share our photos? Start privately, until you get more comfortable with having your photos taking. Wait until you’re comfortable with posing, or lighting, or your smile.
No one needs to see your photos- outside your family, that is. Remember that we need to get in front of the camera to make memories for our families. So let your family in on the photos. But leave Facebook out of it.
Now what could really help you feel better in front of the camera is maybe some kind of collection of tricks or tips. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s just what I’ve created for you!
We owe it to our families to leave a legacy through photos. We owe it to our daughters to be an example of the strong, beautiful women we know they can be. And we owe it to ourselves to remember how beautiful and worthy we actually are.
Worthy of a beautiful portrait, taken with our beautiful daughter. The MUST HAVE of every great portrait session.
It happens every single time. I’ll walk into my daughter’s room and find her sobbing over something horrible that happened at school that day. Or I’ll be making the kids’ lunches, and I’ll look at her lunch tote, and this overwhelming fear will hit me, as I imagine her sitting completely alone at lunch. Or I’ll notice a boy’s name doodled on a piece of paper on her desk and I’ll wonder… what worries me more- that he doesn’t like her back, or that he does?
And every time, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I will hear my mother’s words playing in my mind, saying, “Girls are SO MUCH HARDER to raise than boys”.
I might have been a teen the first time I heard my mother say those words. And I remember getting defensive, and well, just outright pissed about it. What the heck, Mom? I’m like the greatest daughter to ever walk the earth! Yeah, I think I thought something like that.
In any event, I didn’t really know what she meant, and I took it personally. I still had no clue when I had my own daughter, more than a decade later. No, it wasn’t until my own daughter hit those delicate, hormone driven, emotional roller-coaster, “Holy Cow, who is this stranger in my house and why does she hate me so much?” tween years that I ABSOLUTELY COMPLETELY 100% UNDERSTOOD EXACTLY WHAT SHE MEANT.
When it comes to boys, even into the teen years, the fear is more that they will break themselves, or someone else, or someTHING else. I hear my boys wrestling, screaming, banging into walls upstairs, and I think “Oh good GRAVY, please don’t make me have to go to the ER today!” I know that it would be naive to think there won’t be some major worries on the horizon, but even that fear is different. I should also note that I’m very aware that I live seeped in the luxury of white privilege and there are fears I will never have to consider for my boys. But that’s another post for another day, perhaps. The bottom line is that my boys somehow feel solid.
My girl feels so much more delicate, more breakable. When I catch one of my sons checking himself out in the bathroom, I know he’s either sniffing his armpits to see if he needs a shower, or he’s examining his upper lip for evidence of a mustache. But he’s not questioning his value or his worth. When I catch my daughter looking at herself in the mirror, my heart skips a beat. I can see it in her eyes already. She’s questioning something. She’s scrutinizing her hair, or her tummy, or the color of her eyes, or her skin. She’s wondering if she’s pretty. She’s doubting herself. So delicate. So breakable.
Whatever it is that this delicate creature is thinking about, whatever it is that she’s struggling with, questioning, worrying over- somehow it’s my fault. Despite the fact that I see nothing but beauty in her from head to toe, despite the fact that I’m the one girl in her life who hasn’t mistreated her or broken her trust, despite the fact that I’m the one person she’ll always be able to depend on, and despite the fact that I don’t even know who this boy is or that girlfriend, or that “no of course she is not FAT!”, somehow this is my fault. I’m the one who gets the tears, I’m the one who gets yelled at, I get the stomping up the stairs, I get the eye rolling, the silent treatment, all of it. Half the time I don’t even know why, but I’m Mom, so I get it all.
THIS is usually the time when my mother’s voice comes back to me.
I think this is what my Mom meant when she said raising girls was so much harder. This whole paradox of having this girl in your life who has a hold of your heart like nothing you’ve ever known before, this beautiful young creature who means the world to you, and having her also be the one person who can set you off faster than Flo Jo in the 1988 Olympics! This idea that someone can take you from your highest highs to “oh no she did NOT just look at me like that” all before breakfast!
Well, for starters, she can share her secret. That secret that she loves this sweet girl living in her house, but oh my goodness, she is going to lost her… stuff on her if she gets that look from her just one more time! I can’t get over how every single time I share my pain with another mom, that mom just laughs and says, “oh my GOODNESS, I know!!!”. There’s comfort in the community of other moms of teen daughters. I’m finding so much encouragement in connecting with other moms.
It's why I've created a FB Group especially for moms with teen daughters. It's called Love Through The Lens, and it's a place for moms to share their stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's a place to ask questions, to learn about mothering and about photography. It's a place for all moms, EVEN IF your girls isn't QUITE a teen yet. All moms are welcome!
Discovering we’re not the only ones going through this- it’s so encouraging. So I’m looking for moms everywhere to commiserate with, to celebrate with, to hold hands and walk through the scary parts with. I know it’s just going to get scarier. My daughter’s 12! This joy ride is just beginning!
One more thing I have the luxury of doing? I can call my mom and laugh and say, “Umm… yeah, remember those teen years of mine? Yeah, I’m SOOOOOOO sorry! And please HELP ME!” I do that every now and again. And sometimes, even through the phone, I can see that smirk of hers, and hear that smile in her voice, and I think, “Yeah, she knows she was right. I HATE it when she’s right!”
We’ve heard them all. The inspirational quotes, the success stories, the pep talks. And they’re nice to consider, or to print out and put up on the inspiration board. But at 2am, when you’re wide awake, and your brain won’t stop asking questions, imagining horrors, replaying mistakes… well, it’s a bit harder to believe those mantras.
This seems most true when it comes to our girls. For me, the questions, the worries, they can hit me any time. Does she have friends? Is she sitting alone at school? Is she lonely? Is she suffering? Am I missing something? These are my greatest fears, and played well, these fears can take me down the rabbit hole of future scenarios that do not look good for my B.
Am I the only one who thinks like this? Are any of you moms falling down similar rabbit holes? Does fear sometimes grip you like it grips me? Does it feel as if the fears have multiplied now that she’s moved into the tween and teen years?
I’m thinking I’m not the only one. I’m also thinking we can kick this fear thing out of our brains with something called “Fear Setting”.
We all know what goal setting is. In fact, we worked on that in a recent post (HERE). But “fear setting” is a bit different. I first discovered this while reading "The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. (There’s also a super TED talk about it RIGHT HERE). Without going into too much background, “fear setting” is an ancient technique that Ferriss discovered, tweaked, and now uses all the time. It’s basically exposing our fears, laying them out in detail, and then crushing their power. Let me break it down. You’ll need a pen and some paper for this.
The first thing to do is to expose the fear, to envision it in detail. Yeah, that sounds fun, right? OK, so take that fear and write it at the top of your paper, as a “what if” question. For me that might look like:
“What if she has no friends throughout middle school or high school?”
Below your “what if” question, create three columns, and title each one Define, Prevent, and Repair, respectively.
Define: In this column, write out in detail, what this fear looks like. Paint your fear with words. What would it actually look like for my daughter to have no friends in middle school? What would it actually look like for your daughter to fall in with the wrong crowd? To fail math? To be bullied? To be a bully? Write it down. Bullet points work well here. Jot down phrases, details, ideas, fragments. Brainstorm your fear. Define it.
Prevent: After giving your Define column a once over, go to your Prevent column and write down any steps you can think of that you (or your daughter, or both of you) can take to PREVENT these details from happening. What could you do alone, and what could you do with her to PREVENT these things? Remember this is PREVENT, so we’re looking to get out ahead of the fear here, to consider what to do BEFORE it happens. Brainstorm and write every possible solution down here.
Repair: Finally, consider what you (or both of you) could do if this actually did happen. If she really did end up with no friends. If she really did fail a subject, or started drinking, or fell into depression? How could you help her through this? Go back to that first column, those details defining this fear. Brainstorm your solutions to repairing this. List tangible ways you and she could get through this together.
Now take a moment and look at these lists. You’ve now given your fear a face, and a lot of detail. You’ve shown yourself ways to keep this fear from happening, but you’ve also come up with ways to fix it if it does. Basically, you’ve taken this fear and you’ve kicked its ass.
Look, I’m not saying that this exercise is going to solve everything. I’m looking at this road of mothering a teen daughter and I’m thinking that the chances are pretty good that we’ve still got some bumps ahead of us. But what I am saying here is that maybe we actually CAN do something about these fears. Maybe, next time, instead of heading down the rabbit hole of fear and horrific scenarios, we can do some “fear setting” and come up with some practical steps to prevent and repair. Maybe we’re not as helpless as we sometimes think.
And one more thought.
Maybe we’re not as alone in this as we think. Maybe we’re all afraid. Maybe we’re all unsure. Maybe we’re all wondering how to raise these ladies. Maybe we could do this together.