I’m VERY excited to show you guys this feature in Rachael Ray Every Day this month about our family. It isn’t an entertaining story with recipes or drink ideas, more so decor ideas and ways that we involve our kids in both the help and the celebration. It was honestly so much fun. I’m going to do a deep dive into the tips and ideas later this week (we have so many more photos to show you) because as I was writing this post, it started taking a turn toward talking about my kids on camera.
When Rachael Ray reached out for a print feature about 4th of July with my family, I was VERY excited. It’s SUCH a great opportunity. They asked if the kids could be around to help tell this story and I was a little nervous, but one of the editors has small kids and she said “Listen, you do what you need to as a mom, and for your family. If the kids aren’t in it, we’ll change the story.”
She also had the brilliant idea of getting them involved and really working the shoot around them. We came up with some ideas that they would look forward to and activities that ensured they would smile and have fun.
But there is a backstory about our kids and photo shoots.
Years ago, when I was a prop stylist assistant in New York, I worked on a PSA about shaking your baby. Cindy, my former boss, and I created the set, but had nothing to do with the production and didn’t even know what it would entail. But in order to properly show what not to do to a crying baby, they needed the babies to be crying. So the moms would come to the set with their sweet happy 6-month-olds and once the camera was on them, the babies would need to cry. Sounds easy, babies cry all the time. But it was awful. The moms (whom I’m guessing really needed the $500) yelled at their babies, to scare them to cry while a strange actor held them. Cindy and I were HORRIFIED and we couldn’t watch. It kinda scarred me and that was way before I had kids and knew much about the development of the brain and what that could do to them (it’s been a hot topic lately). ANYWAY, yes they were “stage parents,” but it was so much worse (and I felt AWFUL for them, I doubt the moms really knew what they were getting into and I’m sure didn’t want to lose the job once they were there).
On the opposite side, this is why there is a whole job for baby and kid (and pet) wrangling that pays really well, actually. I’ve been on so many sets where they hire someone to come in and stand behind the camera and do these hilarious (to a child) things with puppets and props in their arsenal. With our kids, we generally just make a fart sound and I blame it on Brian and it works most of the time, but those wranglers are worth every penny.
But shooting at my house has changed over time. It used to be carte blanche—Sure! Come shoot! Charlie smiled and laughed so easily ‘til he was 3 as long as I was holding and engaging him. But as the kids got older (and multiplied), I had to reduce the amount of chaos around them (and me). I want them to see me work and when your mom is the boss and has to manage a lot of people (kindly), I think that’s a great thing to witness from birth. But I don’t want them to feel like A. they are working, EVER, and B. the mess, the chaos, the number of people can be overstimulating to kids (and me, duh). And it’s in their home, the place that should feel calm and they should be able to touch everything.
But a year ago when we shot the whole house, Charlie, all of a sudden that day, really didn’t want to be photographed and he was in the middle of his threes which were honestly pretty harrowing for us (FOURS ARE SO MUCH BETTER!!!). That shoot (with Real Simple) was all about how I designed this super kid-friendly house and we needed at least one family shot to tell that story. I tried to reduce the crew, and I asked that Tessa shoot it because she’s known my kids since birth. I even had a couple new family games to play (Lincoln Logs is a huge miss with small kids, by the way). But he refused and tantrummed and it was awful. To get him to stop tantrumming and screaming for TV, I did what any absolutely desperate parent would do, I turned on the TV. I was just mortified and ashamed of myself, not him, but I just needed him to stop screaming while so many strangers were at my house. UGH. What ended up happening is at the end of the day (after he napped and went to school), we bribed him with a milkshake and then Sara even brought out her new kitten—I’m not joking—to get “that shot.” TV, milkshakes, kittens…I cried for days about how awful of a parent I was…OMG, I just teared up again thinking about it. I was so ashamed of myself. Obviously, I had to learn from that. By the way, NOBODY remembers this other than me. My team doesn’t, the editors of the magazine barely noticed, I think I was just so sensitive to my own child and looking/feeling/being a good mom that I put so much weight on those 10 minutes that he freaked out and I gave in.
So since then, I have pared back what we photograph here (they are both in school full time so as long as we are done by 5, they don’t know it ever happened) and if a shoot request involves them, I usually pass on it (unless it’s completely on my terms, seems fun for them, or is worth it and going to help pay for college).
I learned a lot that day, but mostly this: never depend on getting the right shot from a 3-year-old that doesn’t want their picture taken. Or more importantly, if you want happy kids, be prepared and make things more on your terms, not their demands.
AND IT WORKED. We prepped them for weeks and invited them to be a huge part of the process, both behind the scenes and on-camera leading up to it. Charlie loves taking photos with Brian so we asked him if he wanted to assist the photographer and he BEAMED and was so excited. I was less concerned about Birdie because she hasn’t previously shown signs of hating her picture being taken. They were at school all day, then came home when we had finished all our other shots to “help with the photo shoot.”
I still had a little anxiety, don’t get me wrong. So here’s what we had loaded to help wrangle:
- Flower clipping, which they LOVE. And this would be part of the story. Great.
- A 4th of July-themed scavenger hunt, also part of the story. The big prize at the end were two kids digital cameras which I figured would be cute on camera, too.
- Games. They can’t really play corn hole properly but they still loved it and it got them interacting across the lawn.
- Juice and cherries. Okay, juice is fine, but cherries were a HUGE MISTAKE. Sure, they are that perfect pop of red for our summer holiday story but they have seeds, so the kids can choke, and they stain immediately. After their first one, both their shirts were stained in cherry juice which I think was photoshopped off. Scott, who helped me style it, brought them and I was just not thinking. It was more like “sure, so pretty.” Wrong.
- Sparklers. They did love them and we got the super long ones that are safer, but Charlie was done so we didn’t get very many shots of them. I was also worried about it being and looking dangerous so it wasn’t a big focus of the story, just something we did at the end.
We promised ourselves and told the photographer that the second they didn’t want to keep playing out in the yard, it would be over. But they did GREAT.
That’s all to say, I’m very sensitive to my kids ever feeling like they are “working” when they are in front of the camera and when it is a good opportunity for my career/business (which supports my family), I certainly want it to be something that is done in a way that makes them happy, where they have a lot of fun. It’s why Birdie is on my social feeds more than Charlie is—he gets shy.
So GOOD NEWS: Hanging out with their parents and doing a scavenger hunt in their backyard apparently made them happy. Thank goodness.
Those faces can’t lie. It was such a fun day, honestly, and the kids still talk about it and are excited for the “real 4th of July” to recreate the scavenger hunt :).
Also, feel free to steal any of these “wrangling” ideas for your family shoots. While it’s not normal to have photo shoots multiple times a year like us, we ALL want cute family photos with our kids. How else are we supposed to remember their sweet little faces in the future or when they are acting less than perfect?? I’m also sure that your kids probably don’t always care that you have HIRED a photographer and have only a few hours to get “that shot.” I hope my tips and tricks help.
Later this week, we’ll break down the decor/entertaining tips, ideas and show you way more outtakes that I can’t stop staring at. But until then, go pick up the July/August issue of Rachael Ray Every Day. A huge thanks to Danielle Blundell for pitching me the story and writing it. She is an editor who I have LOVED forever and every time I go to New York to meet with editors, I look forward to seeing her. Thank you, Danielle!
Thanks to the photographer, Jason Frank Rothenburg, for being so flexible and having so much fun with my kids. This wasn’t a big “set up a tripod and take time to adjust the light” sort of day, so he had to really be able to run around and capture the smiles and he did. THANK YOU.
Scott Horne helped style and my styling assistant, Emily Bowser, always helps. Thanks guys!
*Update: For anyone asking about my outfit, here are some links all in one place: Red Shirt | Jeans | Headscarf (the shoes are by Rachel Comey, but no longer available)
What a lovely post, thank you! As always, I love your honesty about motherhood and running a business.
Also, (and this is a little bit off topic) as a designer who has worked for a number of firms, I just wanted to tell you how awesome it is that you publicly give your employees credit for their contributions. All design firms seem to have a different approach to how they handle this, most of them NOT recognizing their employees work in print. In my experience, the firms that make the effort to share credit, are the ones you want to work for because they understand how hard we work and how personal each project can be. So, thanks for being a good example for other design business owners!
That’s a great point! Thank you for providing that perspective!
Thanks, guys. xx
Can you give us an update on your trees?
HA. The fig is BACK and HUGE. The other two are great. Not as wide as they were but tall, full and healthy.
Hooray!!! Glad they’re growing back at least a little!
Thanks for sharing your idea.
In one of the later paragraphs you mention Real Simple, but I think you meant Rachel Ray Everyday? Paragraph that starts “So after that shoot…I would absolutely have done the Real Simple feature here again.” No need to print this comment, just letting you know!
Love this general approach to sharing your kids with the world…
Hi Kayla, I was referring to the shoot I did with Real Simple last year. I learned so much from it and it changed how I approached the Rachael Ray and any other shoots I do in the future. Sorry for the confusion xx
I just read the feature yesterday! Was so excited to see your family in one of my fav magazines. (They’re all my fav-let’s be honest. #printaddict #oldschool) Great job! ??
When did you paint the playhouse? Have we already discussed this? It look great, but how/when/why did you decide to paint it?
ha. I’ll tell you about it this week! Do you like it?
These photos are so sweet – and who doesn’t love red, white and blue. But I have to ask, WHERE did you get Birdie’s sweet shirt? I need it in adult sizes, please!
It’s Target but it’s no longer available online:(
Emily thank you for being honest about real life! We all look at blogs and magazines for ideas and inspiration in our lives. But sometimes, speaking honestly, I am so over it . . . because of the perfection of it all and how unattainable it all feels. So thank you for your honesty. This reader loves you for it!
Couldn’t agree with this comment more! Yes, we love inspirational/aspirational posts, but it feels so much more informative & engaging when we hear about “real life” things that you are going through.
Also, I don’t have kids, but I learned SO MUCH from this post, and gave me a different perspective that people face when wrangling their kiddos.
Thank you, Emily, for promoting a culture of empathy!
Ditto! That’s why I read your blog every day–you are honest about what it takes to do what you do!
PS. Your yard is looking AMAZING!!
Thanks guys. I was actually nervous about this (i’m always nervous when I talk about parenting online), so THANK YOU. xx
I so agree with this! As a mom who sometimes skims these articles and thinks, “oh, those kids look so happy. I’ll bet mine would love this too” only to have them whine and cry their way through the best experiences. It’s nice to see you being real about how it actually goes down, and realize that no planned experience can guarantee our kids won’t have that meltdown.
Yes yes yes to all these comments! THANK YOU for your honesty – it’s unbelievably appreciated in a world of perfectly curated images!
Also your backyard! It’s breathtaking! Like actually made me gasp
Good to be thoughtful. The movie Goodbye Christopher Robin really brings home the subject.
Emily can you link up the clothing you wore in the shoot?? LOVE!!
We are doing a follow up post with all the tips, products and fashion later this week! xx
Is Elliott Birdie?
I think it is great that you are taking a thoughtful approach to featuring your kids on your blog. FWIW, I have children the same age as you and I would prefer to see kids being kept off of blogs – not just yours but every single one I read. Of course we make decisions for our kids every single day, without consulting them. So how is the decision to feature kids on a blog any different than say whether we feed them organic produce or not? Well, look at the world around you. Social media and the web is driving many important events. Having a web presence is a huge huge deal and I would be very uncomfortable making this choice for my children before they were able to have a say. And it sounds like your son already has said his piece in various non-verbal ways.
I love your blog with or without the children but I hope you will continue to feature them very very rarely as they get older.
Ditto. My daughter is a few months younger than yours, so I am so interested in any posts featuring your kids … and yet, I think digital privacy for kids is incredibly important.
I know that for my own kid, any photo shoot with strangers in the house moving things around would be traumatic. We did a small family shoot with a photographer in a nature area near us and she had a really hard time with that. So a home shoot? Yikes. Home is her safe space and part of that atmosphere of safety is having sameness, routine, and predictability. I’ve wondered how yours handle it and thank you for pulling back the curtain on this.
While I am interested, I would not be at all bummed if you stopped/restricted showing the kids on your blog and social media, especially as they are getting older. You don’t owe us, your readers, anything! The kids come first, always. XO
I agree. Until the children can readily voice their opinion I think they shouldn’t be featured in blog posts. Kids born nowadays will have the rest of their lives to put themselves on social media, I think parents need to really take a step back from sharing as much as they do and just let their kids grow up without putting them on a platform accessed by millions.
I agree that it is good to think carefully about how much the children are being published. But while we do live in a social media world and that can turn bad, we also need to recognise that it is part of our lives and featuring children, in a sympathetic way, could be a valid part of real life in the modern world. I think Emily does this pretty well as she shares the children organically. I know Emily jokes about featuring “america’s patio” to increase traffic but you can tell that she absolutely wouldn’t do that with the kids. She’s also not giving a blow by blow account of bed wetting or similar things. Her openness about the children in this post is a clear example of how much thought she put into it.
Personally, I’m much more annoyed with one blogger in particular who has a dog on the furniture IN EVERY SINGLE PHOTO ?.
I think it’s great that you are so thoughtful about all of this? I am a writer and business owner and a wife and mother who frets over it. What are the unforeseen consequences of making your business/your “brand” tied into your life as a mother (and to some extent, as a wife)? What happens when our children (and their friends or employers) get old enough to read about what we’ve written? What happens when they get too old to be “marketably cute” (not that they will ever be less adorable to me!)? What happens when there are rough spots in their growing up/my marriage? What am I selling, exactly, and when does that start to feel icky to me? It’s all tricky, isn’t it?
That’s meant to be a statement, not a question, in the first line. Sigh.
Look, as a mom to a larger than normal family, 6 kids (5 of our own and one sweet foster baby) I don’t think you need to feel terrible about bribing your kids with tv, milkshakes or even a kitten. There will be a lot more things happening to you that will require “negotiating” of some sort with our kids. It’s not like you bribed them with alcoholic drinks and rated R movies. Life is real and messy and a little tv, chocolate and kittens isn’t going to kill them in the long run. It took suckers and special hand soap to get our oldest to poop in the toilet months after she already peed in it. And I’d do it again!
Agree wholeheartedly. Give yourself grace. We’re all turning on the TV, and I bribe myself with milkshakes. Don’t be mortified; own it!
Your anecdote about the crying kids reminded me of a story: in the movie “Giant” there’s an important scene where Elizabeth Taylor’s little boy and girl are crying. On the commentary track, we’re told that to make those 2 kids cry, the kids were first given some new toys. Then when it was time for them to cry, the stagehands took the toys away and BROKE them in front of the kids, which made those poor little things bawl their eyes out. Disturbing, isn’t it!?!
Whoa, that is harsh!
As far as brides, I’m an adult who can be brided with kittens.
What to say that I love how you let your kids be a part of the creative behind the photos. What a wonderful idea and way to give them some control of the situation! I think that when a business slightly blurs the line between family and to let everyone be a part in an age appropriate way makes everyone feel that they have ownership in the outcome and will serve you well down the road. Great Job Boss Mom!
We just did our annual family photo at the house and our four boys were OVER it. It was almost sack time, so I brought out some watermelon slices. They sat on the front porch and quietly ate them on the steps! I haven’t seen the shots yet but I think those last ones of them eating the watermelon will turn out so cute!!! Next time, opt for watermelon instead of cherries;) (and make it the final shots bc they were a cute sticky mess!)
Snack not sack…lol
I so appreciate your thoughtful writing but more importantly the thoughtful way you live your life. Your kids are very, very lucky to have you.
Thanks for sharing- you seem like a thoughtful and considerate mom 🙂
I’ve loved following along on your work/family/life journey! It’s so nice to hear what goes into all of this for you.
But may I say that the most encouraging thing I took away from this post is that it gets better at four years old, haha. Three is ROUGH sometimes!
Jenny- mom to 3 year old twin boys
This made me teary. You’re such a good Mom. Thank you for sharing the honest, behind-the-scenes of your life. We’ve all been there, including giving in to a video. xo
As usual, Emily’s Honesty is sweet 🙂
I worked as an art director in advertising for over 30 years and saw some stage parents who were true nightmares. BUT, I also saw some that were gems and obviously great parents to allow, and help their kids follow a dream. I would always wander thru the casting office’s waiting room like I was nobody, checking out the kids and the parents. Did the kids want to be there? Were the parents people I’d want on my set? Crazy but true.
Good job, Emily.
Love this post about your kiddos and the shoot experience 🙂 But it makes me even more excited to see the post with all the tips, product links, and more eye-candy photos (AND here about your castle paint makeover)!
The milkshake, tv, and kitty techniques seem to be a part of my every day. Bribes are TOTALLY a valid parenting technique when used sparingly. No need to feel bad!!!!
But anyway, I took a parenting class a year or so ago and the teacher said that all of these “bad” parenting things we do are fine if they aren’t your go to every day solution. If you do the “good” parenting techniques 60% of the time–you are winning.
Your family is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing them with the world. I love to see them on the blog and I can’t wait to get the Rachel Ray magazine. Emily Henderson and Rachel Ray in one package–YES please!!!!