The real family behind the perfect Christmas card

Is it *really* the most wonderful time of the year?

The real family behind the perfect Christmas card

It’s ironic that I’m sitting down to reflect on setting aside expectations for the sake of greater happiness. If you saw the scene around me, you would laugh at the irony at best or scoff at my hypocrisy at worst.

Here’s what you would see if you could reach through time and space to peek behind the current scene of yours truly. My blood pressure is slowly coming down and my facial expression still says, “I’m not ready to talk about it”. We’re both sitting on the couch—but on opposite ends—relieved to hear the soft hum of our daughter’s sound machine through the little monitor on the kitchen table.


She’s asleep for an afternoon nap and we’re both in self-assigned time outs.

All because of an attempt at a family Christmas photo. A failed attempt, if you haven’t already guessed. And in my stewing reflection of what just happened, I’m realizing that it all came down to the background of the photo. That’s right—the part you probably won’t even notice, if done correctly. Real mature, Keswani.

My husband wanted the background to be something meaningful - the city skyline, a Christmas tree, or the view from our rooftop deck. I wanted something neutral like a fuzzy background of a nearby park field or the brick wall that holds up the side of our house.

But did we lay those options out to each other and then discuss them, like grown up adults? Nope.

“What about this one, babe?”

“No, it looks like the buildings are coming out of our heads”

“I like this idea—do you?”

“No—there’s nothing to it. It’s kind of boring, don’t you think?”

And if our subtle arguing was a match to light a fire, then our struggling toddler was the kerosene that would take our emotional self-control as parents and blow it to bits. Because, in case you didn’t know, 15 month olds do not like sitting still nor do they like seeing a pretty glowing smartphone and be repeatedly denied a chance to play with it.

Especially when they are tired.

So subtle jabs at each other’s ideas dissolved into a tense trading of words that were way more dramatic and are great ways to escalate a conversation. You know what I’m talking about - “You always have a billion ideas at once and it’s so overwhelming” “You never like anything I suggest.”

Then our sweet angel, dressed in a Christmasy-red tutu & screaming on the floor, yawned. Hallelujah, it’s nap time.

And here we are. Silent on the couch.

The whole scene is a testament to what kind of people we turn into when our expectations aren’t spoken out loud and the monsters we turn into when they aren’t met.

I wish I could offer some more mature wisdom for you. I wish I could tell you about how my husband and I avoided a fight with our learned wisdom: We spoke our desires and dreams to each other in calm and loving voices, then poetically navigated through them to create a perfect setting in which we captured a genuine moment of laughter and joy on camera.

But I have a hunch that there are so many of you that will have a similar moment as us (or millions of them—ah, I’m still in dramatic mode). That most of us have not reached a perfect place of communicating expectations in efforts to avoid conflict. Maybe, in the sharing of these moments, we can all laugh at ourselves a bit and begin to take ourselves a little less seriously.

And whether it’s a short-sighted argument about the background of a photo or a tragic moment that knock the wind out of us, our anger from unmet expectations comes from the same place: disappointment and hurt that we lost something.

The big question is this: Is the thing you lost worth the heartache of the hurt you feel?

Some of the hurt is silly and goes away when you realize you’re being ridiculous. But sometimes, the hurt is so real that it’s all consuming. It’s the kind of hurt that will turn into a marker in your life: Before the hurt and after it. A new normal that you never wanted.

While I can’t be a shining example of what to do to achieve perfect harmony, I can share this lesson that I seem to need to learn on a daily basis: It starts with saying it out loud. Saying what we expect and hope for out loud can help us parse through what’s worth really going after and what is us just being selfish. What’s worth grieving over and what should be let go.

Because when expectations go unspoken, we carry anger, shame, and grief—when what we really want to carry is meaning, purpose, and love.

When our dear friends and family open up a Christmas card from our family (more accurately, if we are able to send one out), they’ll see a perfect little photo of us, with all the right filters and a pithy quote from a Christmas carol—like we are constantly only ever living in a state of good tidings and great joy.

We aren’t.

What we —this little family tucked away in a corner of Chicago—are really doing is this: We’re trying to value the eternal over the temporary. We’re trying to remember to set aside the urgent breathless race of what’s expected of us, what’s expected of ourselves, so we can find what we’re all actually looking for: God. Each other. Memories that outlast short-sighted expectations.

So with that, it’s time to go kiss my husband and apologize for being a stinker (yep, no swear words around here. Because toddlers and growing minds).

Here’s to speaking out loud and valuing what really matters.

Join Motherly

These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

Keep reading Show less