The Guilt of an Unfinished Scrapbook

"The guilt of an unfinished scrapbook" by Charisse Tierney (

Image credit: (2013), CC0/PD

The guilt sneaks up on me sometimes. Or maybe it’s just that unmerited yet all-too-familiar “failure as a mother” sensation. It washes over me when I come across a messy stack of photos in our storage room. Or when I see that unfinished scrapbook out of the corner of my eye. Or when I can’t remember the last time I took a real photo of my seventh child.

In a world that is busy documenting, photographing, and video recording everything, I’ve somehow managed to get lost somewhere in between too little and too much.

Too few truly memorable milestones recorded, yet too many photos of I’m not sure what in disorganized messes.

The progression reflects the frenzy that big family life can easily become.

I have a huge, beautiful scrapbook full of neatly organized pictures of my first baby. My second child has a partially completed scrapbook. My attempts at being more practical with my third resulted in a much smaller scrapbook — which has since been looked at and loved to shreds. I think I have a few of those pages stuffed into a box somewhere.

Babies numbers four through six have most of their photos on Facebook or (somewhat) organized in digital albums. And then there are also a few recordings of their heights and weights at various ages on sticky notes and stickers from the doctor’s office.

Our most recent, baby number seven, ignited a new resolve in me. I received a nice digital camera as a Christmas gift a couple of months after her birth. But we still don’t know how to get the pictures off of the camera and onto my computer. (It was supposed to be easy.) And I just hope my two-year-old doesn’t break the camera before we can figure it out!

There simply isn’t time to be fully present in every moment and record each of those moments for posterity.

I was visiting my parents recently. They are getting older, and I know our time together will come to an end before I am ready. I find myself wanting to hear more of their stories. I try to memorize every detail as they recount the days of tipping outhouses and cranking homemade ice cream and plucking chickens on the farm.

Yes, the photos and scrapbooks and letters are fascinating — but they don’t mean more than my parents’ presence. The memories stick when they are paired with my dad’s smile as he remembers a practical joke. I can’t help but have a story indelibly ingrained in my mind when my mom tells it for the fifteenth time.

Someday I’ll enjoy looking through a few snapshots from their past — but I’ll enjoy reminiscing over the memories that fill my heart even more. The photos from my childhood can’t replace the vague memory of how comforting it was to sit on my mother’s lap. A written letter doesn’t compare to the memory of simply sitting comfortably in the presence of my dad — the love between us palpable in the silence.

I’m not a horrible mother if I can’t find any decent photos of my seventh child. I’ve been fully immersed in life with her, participating with her by her side rather than from behind a lens — and that is what will keep my memory alive for her more than any photo ever could.

Copyright 2019 Charisse Tierney


About Author

Charisse Tierney lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Rob and seven children. Charisse is a stay-at-home mom, musician, NFP teacher, and a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd catechist in training. She is also a contributing author to The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion and Family Foundations magazine. Charisse blogs at Paving the Path to Purity and can be found on Facebook.


  1. The guilt associated with documentation, or lack thereof, seems to be a common theme for moms, even those with small families. I only have one child. Part of me feels guilty for over-documenting, and part of me feels guilty for under-documenting. My son is 11, and I already have 20 albums of his childhood. Some are redundant, because he was adopted, so in addition to the regular albums, I also made him a series of “lifebooks”. I often wonder what the poor child is going to do when I’m gone and he has to make decisions about what albums (or pages) to keep and what to discard. I’m sure I don’t take as many photos as the average mom (another source of guilt), but the photos I do take are all scrapbooked and therefore take up a lot of space. Which is fine for my needs, but I’m afraid they will be a burden to him someday. Also, I haven’t taken nearly as many videos as I should have, another source of guilt. But you are so right that sometimes experiencing the moment is better than documenting it.

  2. I understand everything you’re saying Claire! I think we just have to keep trying to not beat ourselves up over what we have or haven’t done and move forward the best we can. I’m sure your son will love looking through the albums and lifebooks you’ve created. Taking time to make memories and taking time to document memories–it’s a constant effort to find the right balance!

  3. Yes, I agree creating a scrapbook takes much time. But I have found a much easier method of creating my memory books. I call them my photo books.

    I create a page using one of my favorite programs, Microsoft Word is one of them. Drop a picture into the document, write a brief description and of course include the date. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. Save the file as pdf. Print, place into sheet protectors, and collect/store them in any notebook catches my eye. I have many notebooks full of these pages. My kids and now grand daughters love looking through them.

    This would even be a wonderful idea for your parents. A fun way to memorize your time with them!

    Take care, Debra

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