My parents have an old photo of them lounging with us kids in the backyard. It’s one of many from our childhood. We’re babies in the photo, but my parents look like babies, too. They’re just so young and carefree. I don’t remember them ever being so young. They always looked so old. So adult-like. So mature. So confident. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mother just like my mom. I’ve wanted to be like the mom I see in that picture.

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Now that I’m a mother myself, I look at those old photos of us differently. Was it really that easy? Was she always that happy? Did she ever struggle like I do? Or was she always confident in her parenting decisions? Did she feel as old as I thought she looked back then (sorry, Mom), or did she feel as young as she looks in those photos now? Thirty-five seemed so old back then. Now it’s right around the corner for me, and I still feel so young, so inexperienced, so immature.

Is that how my mom felt back then, too?

I wonder what my kids will think of our family photos once they are grown. I wonder what they think of me now. Do they think I’m strong? Do they think I’m as weak as I feel sometimes? Is motherhood really just faking it until you make it, making your kids think everything is OK in the world when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing? Will my kids look at me and see a confident and comfortable mother? Or will they see the truth?

When I think back to my childhood, I see my mom as strong and confident. I see her as mature and comfortable in her life as a mother. It never occurred to me once to doubt that she knew exactly what she was doing. But did she? Because I sure don’t always know what I’m doing. I don’t always feel strong and confident. I certainly don’t feel mature. I still feel like such a baby myself. I still turn to my parents for support. I still feel like I’m learning the ropes of being an adult, and for some reason, the world has decided that I am mature enough to raise my own children. What was the world thinking? What was I thinking?

I am a mother, but I still feel so much like a child. But maybe that’s what becoming an adult is all about.

When I was younger, I thought I was mature. I thought I was a grown-up at the tender age of 18. Now that I really am a grown-up, I’m only just beginning to appreciate how young and immature I still am. I still have so much to learn. But I know where I stand. I know myself better now. And maybe that’s where the confidence I see in those old photos comes from. Maybe we are confident not because we believe we know everything, but because we know we don’t.

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Becoming a mother changed the way I looked at those old photos of my mom. She still looks confident, but I’m sure she was still unsure about many things. She still looks mature, but I’m sure she was still learning. If modern social media culture has taught us anything, it’s that photos can be deceptive. They don’t tell the whole story.

One day, my kids and I will look at our photos from the early days, and we will all see a confident, mature mother. And that will be the truth, but I’ll know it isn’t the whole truth. I know that photos cannot possibly reveal all the beautiful paradoxes of motherhood. It’s all about finding the right angle and snapping the photo at just the right moment. But I know there’s no filter that could possibly catch how beautiful the life of a mother is.

Then again, maybe a filter isn’t really necessary.

Shannon Whitmore

Shannon Whitmore currently lives in northwestern Virginia with her husband, Andrew, and their two children, John and Felicity. When she is not caring for her children, Shannon enjoys writing for her blog, Love in the Little Things, reading fiction, and freelance writing on topics such as marriage, family life, faith, and health. She has experience serving in the areas of youth ministry, religious education, sacramental preparation, and marriage enrichment.