The Rockwood Files: Picture Day Stress

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I felt it as soon as I woke up this morning – that familiar pang of dread in the pit of my stomach that can only mean one thing: It’s picture day.

Picture day is a huge deal for moms because family photos are the only way we can keep our kids at this age forever – a chance to freeze the magic of this point in their childhood and preserve it.

Our family doesn’t have family professional pictures made very often, but when we do, I want it to go well. And because I want it to go well, I get uptight. And because I get uptight, the whole picture day experience ends up feeling like a trip through a minefield. One false step and the whole thing could blow up.

Part of the problem is that I’m still dealing with the post-traumatic stress left over from picture days when the kids were much younger. When you’re trying to get a family picture that includes babies and toddlers, you can pretty much count on a meltdown. Kids who otherwise have huge smiles on their faces will suddenly decide they’re the most miserable, unhappy people in the world.

Why? Because they can. They’re drunk on the power they hold in their sticky little hands. And perhaps they’re amused at how hard their mother will work to cheer them up before the picture gets snapped.

But by the time we’re posed for the picture, we mothers are already down to one very fragile last nerve. We’ve already spent days picking out the family’s clothes, washing and ironing, fixing hair and then keeping the kids from getting dirty before the picture is taken. We’re already worried that perhaps the quest of capturing our family’s joy in a photo is a fool’s dream.

I can remember plenty of times during family photos when I’ve said things like this through gritted, smiling teeth between camera snaps: “Jack, you’re not smiling. Why aren’t you smiling? Adam, stop fidgeting around! She put you in a spot and you have to stay there. Why are you looking down? Look at the camera! And smile! Kate, stop poking your brother. No, don’t look up at me. Look at the camera! And smile!”

When bossing them around fails to work, you transition into bribery mode. “If you do a good job of smiling for pictures, we’ll go get ice cream after this. Think about the ice cream you’re going to get! And smile! Are you smiling?”

And if the lure of ice cream doesn’t work, you start a death spiral of threatening: “I swear, kids, if you mess up this picture after I have worked so hard to get us all dressed, you will never get ice cream again in your entire life. And no pizza! Ever! Do you hear me? Do NOT mess this up.”

Worried that his wife might unhinge her jaw and swallow them all whole if this thing doesn’t go well, the poor husband plasters on a terrified smile. But no one wants to open a Christmas card and see fake smiles that look more like a case of manic constipation.

Fortunately, our family’s photographer is incredibly good. She has a gift for wrangling kids who would rather be somewhere else, and she knows how to put their anxious parents at ease. By some miracle, she cuts through the kids’ fidgeting, the mother’s uptight angst and the father’s “grin and bear it” smile until she finds a few moments of normalcy, of relaxed laughter, of joy. And she captures them just in time to tell a great story.

Thank goodness for happy endings.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography