06/22/2015 03:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I Always Ask for Photos of Just the Two of Us

Lee Brown Photography

A few weeks ago, we met my friend at the local river preserve for our annual family photos. We wrangled the kids, stashed M&M bribes and emergency extra clothes in the car, and hoped for the best. Being a photographer myself, I had scheduled the shoot during the golden hour, which of course coincides with bedtime. Call me crazy, but I'd rather deal with meltdowns than bad lighting.

Just like every year, I was quick to request photos of my husband and me in addition to the whole-family shots. I like the reminder that our marriage is a separate entity, a force to be reckoned with. A few times during the evening, we strapped the boys in the stroller and ventured into the tall grass, just the two of us. For the most part, they sat and watched patiently, only occasionally crying out in boredom.

We tuned them out for five minutes and kept our eyes locked on each other, purposely and intentionally -- because even though we don't always practice this perfectly, we want our kids to see Us.

"Us" being husband and wife, two people who still love each other after almost 11 years together.

It would be easy to let these kids swallow us whole if we let our guard down for half a second. They are young and needy right now, and it would be easy to save everything marriage-related for after bedtime. It would be easy to let them interrupt every conversation, to let them leave toys in our bedroom, to let them be in every single picture.

It would be easy to let them destroy Us on some days.

But if we want our kids to respect our marriage, we have to let them see our marriage. We have to let them see our date nights, see us kiss in the kitchen, see us fight and make up. The only way they're going to see Us is if we let them. Or, in the case of annual family photos, if we force them to watch from the sidelines.

Some days I think our marriage has never felt more difficult than it does right now. In this demanding phase of parenting two little kids, we have to fight for our marriage constantly -- for quiet, for date nights, for intimacy of any kind. Our days are full and messy and exhausting, and it's all too easy to give our marriage the leftovers, the two percent of energy we have left at the end of the night.

We deserve better.

Some people might think it's weird that we take family portraits every year, but I love documenting our kids at this age, because they are changing so much. Last year, our youngest was barely a peanut in my belly, and now he's eating butternut squash from a booster seat. In 20 years, it will be nice to look back at these pictures and remember this year, the year that our toddler turned 3 and said the funniest things, the year that our sweet second baby rocked his gummy smile.

This was the year we became parents of two, and it was damn hard and exhausting as hell, but look at us. We survived; we relayed; we fought and made up 200 times. We made mistakes and apologized and forgave each other and slammed a few doors and offered grace upon grace upon grace. We argued at 3 a.m. over whose turn it was to get up, we watched our boys become best friends, and we basically became parents all over again. We re-examined our expectations, had our fair share of living room therapy, and learned to love each other a little bit better.

It has not been easy. Some days the pressure and tension in this house could blow up the moon. But even on those days, somehow -- by the grace of God -- we find our way back.

And this is why I always ask for photos of just my husband and me.

Because in 20 years, when we look back at these pictures, I will be glad that we stopped for five minutes to remember Us.





A version of this post originally appeared on Where My Heart Resides. You can follow Ashlee on Instagram. All photos by Lee Brown Photography.

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