My walls are lacking personal touches in my new place. I used to have gorgeous professional family photos adorning my spaces, with smiling faces and perfectly coordinated outfits. A family of four, holding hands, looking like what I thought a “normal” family was. A “whole” family. But if parents divorce, what does this mean? Is the family, as I have referred to it many times, broken? And how do you capture a new family dynamic? How do you plan family photos as a single mom?
Ego and How You Define Yourself
I remember when I was first engaged. I wore that ring proudly- someone wanted me! Someone thought I was important enough to buy me a ring, which to me symbolized my worth. I was now becoming half of a whole, instead of…just a scrambling, searching, unfocused twentysomething. I had a new identity, and I held tight to that like a life raft in stormy seas. My new identity- wife.
I clung to this new identity, forgetting to work on my old one. I ditched that struggling, confused twentysomething, not bothering to figure out why she wasn’t ever able to find worth in herself or find work that was meaningful. Moving on, out with the old in with the new.
I then quit work to become a mom. THAT was my new identity. Aha! I could fully devote myself to ensuring this little human was brilliant, coordinated, successful, all the things I didn’t consider myself to be.
Well, the wife thing didn’t work out. Coming to this realization was one of the most difficult things in my life. THAT is who I was! I was someone’s wife, I lived in a big house with enough money to live comfortably. If I wasn’t someone’s wife and in a “normal” (a word I despise, but it is tossed around by many as the standard) situation, then who was I?
When your ego is wrapped up in your titles, and all of your external roles, you lose your sense of self. I couldn’t remember who I was without describing myself in relation to others. I was a daughter, wife, mom…but none of those terms described me as a solitary person.
How a Photo Shoot Helped Me Gain Perspective
As Christmas rolled around this year and holiday cards started rolling in, a sense of unease came over me. All of these traditional families, perfectly coordinated, holding hands, smiling in unison, I didn’t have that anymore. I was emotionally ok with that myself, but I didn’t know how to express those feelings in photos. Do I put together a card with photos of just the kids and me? Family photos as a single mom?
This might sound odd, but I felt that it would tell a story of unintentional snaps that were pieced together. Someone was left out of each photo, an unspoken reminder that I was divorced, like maybe we were just cutting out one person in each photo. I wanted an intentional photo of our new family, proud and strong, not pieced together.
When Friends Act As Family
My friend Andrea, hilarious and raw, has been a confidant of mine in this roller coaster of emotions and events the past couple of years. Unbeknownst to us when we met, we were both on the verge of divorce. Through cocktails, lunches, and walks (where we were both attacked by mosquitoes and ended up itching for weeks) we worked through the often painful realizations of what was needed in our lives.
Over the summer of 2019, I had run into her at a photoshoot. I brought my kids to Temperance Brewery for dinner (yep, it’s ideal- they get pizza, I get a pint) and Andrea was working as the makeup artist on a commercial shoot. Jessie Hearn was the photographer, the woman who had taken my “perfect family of four” photo that adorned our wall the year prior. I hadn’t realized they were friends, but it made my heart happy to see two people who were genuine and caring working together.
Fast forward to December 2020. Jessie heard about my divorce and lovingly reached out to offer her support. I let her know that the photo she took was the last one of our family, and I gave her my heartfelt gratitude for capturing that moment.
She and Andrea group-texted me later that day and offered to pull together and give me a new family photo shoot, complete with hair and makeup. A well of gratitude bubbled up, and tears ran down my face as I thanked them for this opportunity. I felt it was the right way to capture my new normal. Our family of three. And me as not a wife, but simply me. Family photos as a single mom with two friends supporting me all the way.
The Family Photo Shoot
Picking clothes for your children when you have joint custody is not an easy task. You purchase them, then have to wait until your parenting time to try them on, they don’t fit, then the cycle starts again. I ended up with shoes that were too small, a sweater that was too big, but hey- we made it work.
At first, I wanted to coordinate our outfits in colors and patterns that complemented but weren’t too matchy-matchy. I searched Pinterest for “family photo outfits,” and came across only traditional mom/dad/2 kid shoots. Not us. I then decided to roll with what most felt like my family- I adore leopard, my daughter loves a fancy dress, and my son is pretty basic in attire taste. Even though they might not perfectly coordinate, they were us.
As Andrea worked her magic on my face, the three of us talked about our journeys. It was honest, emotional, and at times challenging, but knowing that I had two women who believed in me and were here to accurately represent who I was gave me the confidence to let my true self shine through.
Jessie is a child whisperer. Before the shoot, she spoke with my children honestly about how this photoshoot might look a little different than the last one we did. And that’s ok. Andrea was touching up my makeup as I overheard Jessie’s words of comfort and encouragement, and I watched my children absorb her presence and words.
With silliness and levity, Jessie added colorful commentary and jokes to our session. My kids responded with belly laughs and true smiles. My fear of a stilted, uncomfortable photoshoot evaporated the minute she started, and I knew that THIS was going to be an accurate representation of the joy and bond my children and I felt every day. She turned family photos as a single mom into a light and playful experience as opposed to one filled with fractured memories.
At the end of our family photos, Jessie switched modes and asked me to step to the other blank, white canvas. She gave me the gift of solo photos as well, knowing that I was in a new phase of life. I am discovering my true purpose, the one without labels, just me. We were still silly at times, with Andrea popping in to provide a hilariously ironic photo with her face made up by her children, hair askew, adding the finishing touches on me.
As Jessie started snapping away, I finally felt like myself. Like this was a new beginning, a chance for me to cultivate my own hopes and dreams, for quiet confidence instead of big rings and big homes.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Andrea and Jessie who helped pull what was inside out and put it on full display. They helped me realize that my family is whole, beautiful, and we have so much love as our unit of three. Without these two strong and talented women, I don’t think I would have had the courage or confidence to set up a family photoshoot. I cannot recommend them as a team enough, and as a (sometimes emotional) mom of two lively kids, it gave me such a sense of relief to show up and let someone else pull me together hair and makeup-wise. All I had to do was show up, which many times in life is more than half the battle.
Jessie Hearn Photography– www.jessiehearnphotography.com
Andrea Rappaport with Flawless Beauty Chicago– www.flawlessbeautychicago.com
Cheers to being silly, brave, and kind, three things that were all demonstrated on this day and I hope to move forward with those three things every day of my life. Family photos as a single mom aren’t easy, but worth every second and made so much better with professionals like Jessie and Andrea by your side.