Katie Katie Parsons is the creator of Mumbling Mommy and is a freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. She works from her home office on the east coast of Florida. Most often she writes about life in a combined family of five children and what it's like being a full time work-from-home parent. Feel free to pitch guest post ideas or just drop her a line at katie@mumblingmommy.com.

Is there such thing as a perfect family picture?

All photos by Amy Straka Photography

There aren’t many problems as a parent of the 6 and under crowd that cannot be remedied with ice cream. I use it as a carrot at the end of the stick during doctor’s visits with shots or finger pricks. I offer it as a pick-me-up when other kids were mean on the playground.

So when (all four of) my kids started acting up during our family pictures, I invoked the power of ice cream.

“Okay guys, just a few smiles and we can be off to get our ice cream.”

perfect family picture
Is that smell what I think it is?

The reply was even more crying, whining, complaining, goofing off and running away from the spot where I was desperately trying to get them all to pose. I started to panic. Ice cream was my secret, back-pocket weapon. If it wasn’t working two minutes into our photo session, there wasn’t much hope for the rest of it. Perhaps I had overused the reward and they had become immune.

My husband and the photographer chimed in, echoing my pleas but to no avail. I started to feel my chest tighten as I put on my best fake smile. Would we get our perfect family picture?

You see, family picture day is like a holiday to me. We only do it officially once each year when my friend and favorite photographer is vacationing close enough to come over and snap the shots. Accordingly, I plan for it well in advance, down to every last location and piece of apparel detail.

perfect family picture
Just one quick smile… it’s not so bad, baby.

I have a lot riding on picture day. The shots we take serve as our Christmas card greetings, and show up in my blog posts throughout the year, and go into frames for grandparents as Christmas, birthday and Memorial Day gifts, and make up my Facebook albums that long-lost high school and college friends peruse when we connect for the first time, and hang all over my home as a reminder that despite my family’s bed-head, dirty faces and hands, too-baggy T-shirts or here-comes-the-flood pants, and weekend PJ wearing until the afternoons, we clean up real pretty.

perfect family picture

Picture day can also be compared to a holiday because it stresses me out. I’m not much for appearances when it comes to everyday activities. I like the kids to be clean and weather-appropriate when they get dressed to leave the house but other than that, pretty much anything goes. Most days I probably wouldn’t even put more than a diaper on my youngest if we didn’t have errands to run or an opportunity for a Facebook picture that needs clothing so that it doesn’t look like I just let her run around in a diaper most days, all day (which I do). Picture day is different though. It isn’t an “everyday” thing; so it has to be special.


perfect family picture

So when my special children started acting like spawns of Swiper the Fox, I felt my entire internal holiday spirit starting to dwindle. If one kid was in place and happy, the other three were running opposite directions or crying about minor scratches that occurred days earlier.

My 18-month-old daughter saw nothing but open grassy spaces to run. We tried positioning her to run directly at the photographer but she turned sharply and went the other direction. What is it with kids and wild animals? Why are they so unpredictable? All I wanted was a perfect family picture – is that too much to ask?

perfect family picture

We tried a few different locations on grassy land before making our move down to the beach where I was hoping for our best shots yet. You know the ones I mean? Where the entire family sits happily on a sand dune in all white, wind blowing their hair back away from their faces as their perfectness is captured for all eternity in a single shot? Or the ones where the family stands just at the water’s edge, holding each others’ hands as if they have nothing else in the world to cling to but each other, as the sun sets into the sea behind them? There was no sitting on dunes or clinging-to-dear-life hand holding for us though. Just four kids with four different agendas, half of which were sobbing. After several minutes of attempts, my husband looked at me and said, “I can’t do this anymore. Let’s just stop.”

But…. but…. ice cream!!

perfect family picture

Since we were the only two behaving, we snuggled up to each other for a few shots of just us on the shoreline. I closed my eyes and heard the chaos around me, muted somewhat by the white noise of the ocean. I kissed my husband — my partner amidst the many moods of our young children — and I felt peace wash over me. Our kids were not always this terrible, but for better or worse, this was our family and we were lucky to have it.

We started back towards the steps leading away from the beach and the photographer warned me that it was likely none of the family shots from the water would turn out the way I wanted. I said to send them to me anyway. She assured me that I would receive every shot, even the imperfect ones, of which there were sure to be many. We hugged her goodbye and I told my husband that despite the kids’ attitudes during the photo shoot, I still wanted to get ice cream. Maybe they hadn’t earned it — but I had my heart set on the family outing after our pictures. Since the ice cream place doesn’t serve booze, I got a hot dog to wash away my sorrows. With lots of relish and onions.

From my seat on the wooden picnic table on the ice cream shop patio, I watched my three older kids smile and share their ice cream with each other as my toddler walked from person to person, sampling a little bit of everyone’s. My kids were seemingly less tense since I was more relaxed. My husband looked happy to have survived the latest family photo experience.

I started to think of ways to incorporate our impending bad photos into a funny Christmas card to send out. Maybe we could have this year’s viral Christmas-photo-gone-terribly-wrong shot. A few friends texted to see how the photo session had gone and I was honest. They encouraged me that surely there would at least one good frame. I knew they were just trying to be nice and I went to bed bracing for the worst when we got the photos back.

Then I received a Facebook message from the photographer early the next morning with this shot attached:

The photographer said she had tears in her eyes looking through the photos because there actually were several good ones — something she did not expect. I started to cry a little myself. I recognized this perfect family picture shot as taking place during one of the most frustrating parts of the photo session and felt convicted when I remembered yelling at everyone just seconds afterwards because they were supposed to be standing up for a posed shot. There were some bad moments before that shot was captured, too, that looked like this:

perfect family picture


perfect family picture


perfect family picture


perfect family picture

No one would stand still! Kids and wild animals, I tell ya! I posted the single shot the photographer sent me on Facebook and immediately the “likes” and comments, like these, started rolling in:

“This is my favorite family photo of all time!”

“What fun they are having!!!”

“Wonderful photo! I love candid shots like these, you can see the kids’ personalities shining through.”

“This is FANTASTIC!!!!! What a perfect family picture!”

And then THIS comment:

“This is a great shot.  We took family pics, or I should say attempted, and we didn’t get one decent shot as a result of the bad behavior. Waste of money and time.”

That last comment was from my cousin who I love dearly. I couldn’t let her think that this shot was indicative of the entire photo shoot, particularly after that comment, so I sent her message with the truth:

“Our kids were terrible. I have no idea how this even happened.”

Still, I was thrilled with that shot, that perfect family picture became our Christmas card one and has already been ordered in a ridiculously large canvas print to hang in our dining room. I’m also thrilled with the over 100 other shots I’ve since received that chronicle that hour of Hell with some chaos, smiles and soft lighting. The compilation of all the shots are the true depiction of my family, as it stands, today: energetic, inspired by differing things, never quite in sync — but always original.

A perfect family picture does not exist…

…because a “perfect” family does not. The best any of us can hope for on picture day (or any other day) is that at the end of it, we can say we made the moments together count — whatever they looked like.

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Category: Kids

Tags: Amy Straka photography