Last year's holiday card featured kids running off in two different directions—and that was after a dozens of attempts and a few tears on your part. But like the eternal optimist you are, you want to give it another go.

The good news is that by tweaking your professional photography session strategy, it can be a happier experience for everyone. And, soon enough, the proof will be in that dreamy holiday picture you always wanted.

Here's what to do, mama:

1. Plan outfits plus a backup

At least for you, planning coordinated outfits for the whole family is half of the fun. But your kids may have different feelings when they are instructed to get dressed in a stuffy shirt and bowtie. Give yourself the best chance of success with your selected outfit by giving them the chance to get comfortable in it in advance. If it still doesn't go over well—or there is a last-minute stain crisis—keep an alternative on hand.

2. Limit the distractions

If your kids are used to running wild outside, wrangling them for a picture likely isn't going to be a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Consider moving the photo shoot indoors to a studio such as JCPenney Portraits, which is designed for the sole intention of capturing family photographs.

As a major bonus, an indoor session means you don't have to worry about proper lighting, which means you can schedule a time that's conducive with naps and meals. (Tired and hungry are not good combinations for family pictures. Or anything, as you already know.)

3. Pick a photographer who specializes in baby talk

Photographers who specialize in family pictures have a special set of skills. Not only are they experts in taking and editing the pictures, but they have the even rarer ability to get the most stubborn of kids to crack a smile. Working with someone who has their own tricks of the trade will only make your job easier.

4. Embrace your kids' phases

By remembering the whole point of family pictures is to documents a moment in your lives, it should be that much easier to say, "Sure, he can hold onto his favorite teddy bear." Happier kid. Happier mama. Happier memories.

A bit harder to cope with when all you really want is a picture of your kids smiling? Accepting that it may not happen. As much as this may pain you while sending out this year's round of holiday cards, know that your child's unique expression will probably grow to be your favorite part of the whole picture.

5. One word: snacks

Revisiting the point about how hungry kids don't make for the best photography subjects, bring along your full arsenal of fuel. Now also isn't the time to stick strictly to apples and carrots. If you think the promise of some fruit snacks will help them crack a smile, that seems like a worthy bribe.

6. Give kids some creative control

You planned the session. You planned the outfits. If your kid feels like they're along for the ride—and is none too fond of that—it can help to offer them choices. Allow them do pick their hairstyle or decide how the family should pose for a picture. That doesn't mean the picture they styled has to be the one hanging on the wall at home, but feeling involved in the larger session can help them warm up to it all.

To schedule your professional photography session today—book an appointment with the pros at JCPenney Portraits who can help you capture all the magic.

This article was sponsored by JCPenney Portraits. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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