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Debate Club: Are Professional Photos Worth the Fuss (and Expense)?

We Don’t Do Professional Photos

by Laura Richards

It started when my husband and I got engaged. Back in 1998, everyone did a couple’s photo for their local newspaper engagement announcement page. We figured we should do it, too, so we went to a local photographer’s home studio.

One of the reasons I married my husband was our similar sense of humor. We frankly thought professional couple’s photos, no matter how tastefully done, felt cheesy. Our session was no different.

We felt cheesy immediately.

The guy had us sit back to back with our heads together, and then face the same way with heads together – ways we would never sit in real life. We both felt like running for the door, but we carried on with what would be deemed worthy of the now popular Awkward Family Photos site. We got the photos, chose one, and submitted it to the paper.

Fast forward a few years to the birth of our first children, identical twin boys who were born prematurely, one with some serious birth defects. A woman entered my hospital room asking if we wanted professional photos of the babies.

They were in the NICU attached to tubes and ventilators, and the doctors thought one son was blind. So I declined, not because of the boys’ situation necessarily, but because I’ve seen those newborn photos and 1) most babies look the same, 2) they make me think of hostage photos, and 3) the baby is often fussy or annoyed. I passed on that and opted to take our own photos of the boys in the NICU.

Our next “professional” photo experience was for our church’s pictorial directory – my husband and I with our toddler twins in matching corduroy overalls. My husband was sporting a forced grin while pinning our most active son’s arms firmly to his sides as the photographer implored that we keep him still. The discontent was palpable. This was not our thing.

Before we knew it, preschool started and, with it, the school photo frenzy. Some required purchasing a photo package without seeing a proof. One of my sons does not enjoy having his photo taken. He looks pained, looks the wrong way, keeps eyes closed, or sports such a forced smile that it looks like a bad celebrity mug shot from TMZ.

I decided that unless I could see proofs, I wouldn’t pay money for school photos. We purchased a few and displayed them in frames on a table, but they eventually landed in a desk drawer. Another time, one of our sons looked great in his class photo until we realized his hand was down the front of his pants. Yup!

Don’t get me wrong, we love our kids dearly, and we love photos of our kids. But we want to take them and, to us, candids are the best kind. We post lots of photos of the kids on Facebook, and I have hundreds, if not thousands, that we’ve taken casually. It’s the professional photos that make us cringe, especially those that involve holding (gulp) props.

We now have four boys ranging in age from four to 15. When I’ve said, “You know, we’ve never done a professional family photo. Should we try it sometime?” they all say in unison, “No! Lame!”

I’ve seen families pulling each other in little red wagons, on sleighs, holding life-sized candy canes. I’ve seen families holding life-sized inflatable numbers that together read 2017. And I concur. That it is, um, lame. Awkward Family Photos territory.

My husband has always secretly wanted to have the professional family beach photo done, with everyone in crisp white shirts and khaki shorts, the soft beauty light of sunset behind them shimmering off the ocean water. We’ve seen them over fireplaces in friends’ homes, but we know our family. We would probably start laughing, or a seagull would poop on someone’s head.

Instead, we’ll enjoy all the photos of your families holding hands, running across fields, sitting on pumpkins and huge Easter eggs. Know that we love you dearly, but we won’t be joining in on the posed photo fun.

A New Family Photo for Every Season

by Shannon Miller

Right around Halloween, when the array of costumes on the racks gives way to Christmas-oriented gear, I start searching for the perfect set of pajamas for my two boys.

After all, they have to look great for their professional Christmas pajama-themed photo shoot.

Our family loves the holidays. My husband and I go all out decorating the house with knick-knacks and doo-dads representing every celebratory day from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving. We even find ways to recognize not-quite-holidays, like March Madness and Super Bowl Sunday with basketball and football motifs.

These days have been even more fun since we’ve had kids. And what better way to mark the season than dress them for the occasion and take photos for posterity?

We’ve done Fourth of July photos with flags and a lemonade stand, Mother’s Day photos that doubled as a maternity shoot, pumpkin patch pictures with the boys holding gourds and, of course, Christmas pictures with everyone in festive red and green. I join in the fun most times, and my camera-shy husband makes an occasional appearance, but it’s really all about the boys.

There’s a reason we go ga-ga for seasonal and holiday-themed photos. They capture fun times and our family’s growth and change through the seasons. They complete our tradition of celebrating special occasions by capturing an image to mark the moment. And, of course, our extended family loves them.

With no relatives in our state and the closest living about 200 miles away, frequent photos are the best way to keep Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Linda and Aunt Christy feeling like a part of the boys’ lives…with Easter bunnies in spring or frolicking in a sunflower field in mid-fall?

The plethora of professional photographers in our area make this easy to do. Our local grocery store offers free photos in front of its pumpkin and corn husk display to anyone who shows up. Count us in. We mark the date on the calendar, dress the boys in matching outfits, and drive over for their close ups. Voila! Annual fall photo.

Many childhood and family photographers in Southwest Ohio are also mothers themselves, who support their families with their photography businesses. They’re my go-to professionals around the holidays as most offer a day of “mini-sessions” at a local park or in their homes with themed backdrops and props. They book families back-to-back for 20-minute sessions, and get 10 to 15 images to you in a week. It’s a win-win.

I admit logistics can be difficult. Four-year-old and one-year-old little boys don’t exactly cooperate with photographer’s cues, and getting them both bathed, dressed, groomed, and out the door to make their appointments could be an Olympic event. But somehow – thanks to my determination and the photographers’ skill and patience – we end up with at least one photo of the bunch that looks great. And that’s all we need for Aunt Linda’s mantel.

Are they hokey? Sure, sometimes. Do the kids really need to be posing in front of a backdrop filled with hearts while dressed in Valentine’s Day red? Probably not. But the kitschyness of it all is part of the appeal.

Seasonal photos bring variety to the staid studio or school shots with plain backgrounds that look the same from Maine to California. When they’re adults, the boys can look back and laugh at themselves in their matching shirts, holding pumpkins and basketballs, and post those photos on some 2040s version of Facebook for laughs.

Eventually, we know the photos will stop. No self-respecting tween wants to hold a bunny and dress in the same shirt as his little brother. But for now, we’ll continue to indulge. There’s a new studio at the mall I want to check out that offers monthly shoots for 30 dollars a mini-session, and we haven’t yet explored winter wonderland or Halloween costume themes.

Believe it or not, I was too late scheduling the Christmas shoot in time for this year’s cards. Never fear. We’ll be ready next year – pajamas and all. 

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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