Every year in the fall, I poke around Facebook on all the local photographer’s pages looking for a mini session to book. 

I’ve got a camera roll on my iPhone full of literally thousands of pictures of my kids. Around birthdays and holidays, I get out my fancy DSLR camera and take print-quality photos of them that are hanging around the house. Pictures with me? Those are almost exclusively limited to selfies. I used to ask my ex to take pictures of me and the kids to remember these crazy, little-kid years, but I almost wonder if he took horrible ones on purpose in the hopes I’d stop asking. Eventually, I did. 

At least I made it into decent-looking family photos once per year. Someday when my kids look back, I want them to see me in photos, and that’s one of the reasons those annual family sessions have always been so important to me. 

RELATED: I’m So Thankful My Mom Made Us Take That Photo

Last month, I walked into my parents’ house and was greeted by a kitchen island overflowing with loose pictures and stacks of photo albums. On the floor nearby was a giant plastic storage tub my brother had carried up from the basement and still half full of pictures. He was methodically sorting through the memories and scanning hard copy photos into a new, digital existence. 

I jumped into the fray to help sort and reminisce. Some of my favorite finds were pictures of me with loved ones.

There was a sweet photo of me whispering something into my grandma’s ear. In another, my mom and I walk down a path, me holding her finger in my chubby toddler fist. I casually drape an elbow over my dad’s shoulder while he cradles my baby brother in his lap in one more snapshot. 

This past fall instead of digging into my usual search for a photographer in my budget who shoots in a style I like and has availability in the timeframe I’m looking for, I hesitated. I hesitated because of what my family photos would look like with just me and the kids and no ring on my finger. It feels weird to book family photos when your family doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to. I felt like maybe I wasn’t worthy of the tradition anymore or shouldn’t celebrate my single-mom status

Then, instead of listening to my inner critic piling on shame over getting divorced, I listened to the voice that wants to be in the photos for kids, the voice that just wanted a tangible reminder that I existed and loved these little people.

I didn’t want to have a year missing from our photo albums. 

I emailed a photographer, self-consciously giving her the names and ages of everyone who would be in the photos, praying she wouldn’t question the missing description of a dad. On the day of our session, I worried over getting us all ready and out the door on my own and how I would convince all three kids to smile and cooperate with just two hands. 

I was still full of nerves when I parked the car at the shoot location and wondered if the photographer would know how to pose a single mom and three kids. Then she walked over and set all my fears to rest. She was professional, sweet, and acted as our personal cheering squad for the next 30 minutes. I felt completely at ease. 

RELATED: Dear Single Mom, I See Your Heart

Those nerves from before returned briefly when the link to my online gallery popped into my inbox a few days after the photo shoot. When I clicked the link and saw what she captured, that feeling was quickly replaced by joy. 

The photos were perfect. I can’t believe I considered skipping them for a second.

I didn’t see anything missing when I looked at them. All I saw was overflowing love. I saw three kids who think their mama is just the greatest and a mom who feels the same about them. How could I have ever thought our family wasn’t worthy of photos?

During the shoot, our photographer asked if I’d like a shot of me alone with each of the kids. Last week, I hung three large black and white canvases in my living room above the couch, each printed with one of those photos of mom and child. My 5-year-old whispers into my ear while I crouch beside her. My 3-year-old is doing a backbend and grinning wildly at the camera, upside down, while I support him. My 1-year-old grins into the camera propped up on my hip as I look at her in admiration. 

I can’t help but notice them every time I walk into the living room. I hope when the kids look at them now and in decades to come, they see how hard I love them. 

I know they’ll be glad I didn’t skip out on this year’s photoshoot.

Laura Pruitt

Laura is a single mom of three who logs 40+ hour weeks as a marketing director and is slowly coming around to the idea that “work-life balance” doesn’t actually exist. Unread emails and red notification bubbles make her twitchy, and Starbucks lattes are her favorite little luxury. When she's not working or chasing after little ones, she flexes her creative muscles by writing, cooking, and updating her century-old fresh-start home.