I remember this- my whole family would lock up like a bunch of icebergs when I would mention family portraits, and it would feel like I loaded the lot of them up on a sled with ice picks and pulled them there through the snow in a harness.
Yes, that appealing. After flat-ironing my hair, of course.
This year, with two toddlers, it is so much better. I worry a little bit about starting on time so that the kids don’t hit a wall too early, but for the most part, it’s smooth sailing. These small steps made all the difference:
1) I stopped overdressing us.
My husband hates uncomfortable restrictive clothing. He also hates it when I am stressed out. I still wear nice shoes and do my hair and make-up, but I don’t dress the kids in white linens and I don’t put my husband in a button down shirt. I put the kids in cottons, layers, and jeans, that can take some playing. Honestly, white linens are fine, they are easy to fix in Photoshop, but they just stress me out. I make sure that I am comfortable. If I am tugging on my shirt or constantly tucking something in, I am going to lose it over the tiniest thing. It’s an easy fix to put my husband in something nice, but on the softer side. He is happy and more willing to go with the flow.
2) I asked my husband what bothered him.
He said that he fed off my stress, didn’t feel like he could act naturally and that he hated the way he smiled. I told him that thirteen year old girls created their own extra-curricular pastime called “Smiling at Ourselves in the Mirror” and followed that up with “Taking Copious Selfies” in our college years, so by now, our obsession with our own image has solved this problem. Short story: if it bothers you, smile at yourself every morning and memorize how your muscles feel when they are in the perfect position. Totally ridiculous, but it works. My next job was to chill the hell out.
3) I let go of the Holy Grail of family portraits.
Every time we would show up, I would be anxious about my children’s mood, expressions, behavior, the whole thing. I would be trying to execute my vision, and trying to put on an adorable show so that the photographer could capture it. I would have something in my mind and I would want it to happen that way and it would invade the whole experience before I knew it. Now, I mostly focus on being the most relaxed, happy mama I can be, to give the kids room to have fun, to act like we are there just to spend time with them and listen to everything they have to say- and really, we are. They are happier, my husband is happier, and everyone feels that energy and magic happens. I always get a beautiful photo that I fall instantly in love with. I didn’t have to put on a show, I just had to genuinely relax the expectations I had for my family.
4) Supplying sustenance
You can’t make kids eat, but I offer them snacks every five minutes while I am getting ready and hopefully follow that with a brush. I also make sure that we have a nice dinner planned, a date night or we can take the kids somewhere fun afterward. I want the day to have a positive vibe for all of us, it helps everyone look forward to it. Or at least, not turn and run the other way.
5) I realized how fast that shutter really was.
Basically, we invested in a session, and another session, and another, and I realized, even if I thought nothing was working, there were beautiful moments happening. Now, knowing how much you can get out of only five minutes of getting along, I just don’t stress about my kids and what they are doing. I try to refocus them, I go with the flow, I pick them up and hug them. I try not to worry about whether they are looking at the camera. Once you find a photographer you trust, you know they will give you something great, and you can relax.
In the end, I can’t make it the singular highlight of my husband’s day (or mine, really). Our lives are chaotic and exhausting and adding something outside of our routine feels really difficult. I can, however, make it something achievable within reason, that we can expect to enjoy, and that won’t send any of us into fits.
I always offer him a beer when it’s over.