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family pic

{Author Barbara King, with her PERFECT family for their PERFECT holiday card}

For the latest installment of Coffee With Friends, guest blogger (and one of my best friends // mother to our flower girl Matisse) Barbara King is back with her series on mommyhood in L.A. Even though I don’t have kids, I can totally relate to her obsession with taking the perfect holiday photo… Luckily for my dogs, they already posed for photos at our wedding so they got a year off from having to dress up and visit Santa in their stupid dog-elf outfits that I love so much. Here’s Barbara’s take on getting that perfect Pinterest-worthy pic AT ALL COSTS.

Every mom has her “thing,” right? My friend is obsessed with the cleanliness of her daughter’s ballet tights. Another friend won’t leave the house until she makes sure her son’s hair smells like coconut.

My thing? I’m OBSESSED with the perfect family holiday card. To be fair, I’m infatuated with any kind of stationery and I’m pretty sure it’s my parents’ fault.

My parents never sent out holiday cards. Every December my mom would buy a pack of cards from UNICEF and every January she would move the unopened box to the closet. One year in high school I actually decided to send out my own personal Christmas cards to family members.

Also, my parents own a print shop, so I grew-up around glossy papers and colorful envelopes. My mom said as a baby I loved to take naps in the press room because of the soothing lull of the presses, but I’ve since realized it was more like the strong fumes of ink and chemicals that knocked me out.

Either way, I love custom made stationery – from simple business letterhead, to intricately folded wedding invitations, to twine-wrapped baby announcements – if it’s a pretty paper product and comes in the mail, I’m a fan. So when it comes to holiday cards I get a little crazy. For me, the best part about the holiday card isn’t even the paper and print…it’s the PERFECT family photo.  But what to do if your family doesn’t quite share the same enthusiasm? Well, I’ve long since realized there are a few major factors to achieving my goal.

lollipop bribe

{One of Matisse’s best friends, Zoe. That lollipop is a bribe, NOT a prop – the only solution to a full meltdown.}


I don’t like bribing my kids. But there are two occasions when bribing is completely, 100 percent necessary:

– on a plane

– during a family photo shoot

All normal rules go out the door in favor of appeasement. You want another peanut butter cup? OK. You want to watch Frozen (for the tenth time) after we are done here? OK. You want to play peek-a-boo with that band aid you found on the ground? NOT OK, unless it keeps you quiet for one more minute…

The coolest part about bribing is that in the end, everyone is happy – even the photographer when you hand over the check. You get your perfect family photo and sometimes the little bribes actually make the photo even more perfect.


{My son would NOT let go of this graham cracker throughout our photo shoot, but it kept him happy!}


Not all wives need to bribe their husbands into taking photos and to be fair, my husband is actually pretty compliant with these shoots. He knows this is my thing and that it only happens once a year after all. The standard “man bribes” work: sexy time with the wifey or football/beer time without the wifey. One year, I scheduled a babysitter for right after the photo shoot so my husband and I both had a fun dinner and movie date to look forward to – that’s a bribe that worked in my favor too. And my hair and make-up from the photo shoot was a nice change from my normal yoga pants zombie mom look.

CRYING LOOKS LIKE LAUGHING except when you’re sitting on Santa’s lap – we know that’s real terror.

Years ago – before I ever dreamt about having a family – I was at a New York City film premiere of an independent film I had starred in. During the climactic scene, my character breaks down in a bawling, sobbing mess. However, on the big screen I watched in shock as it looked like I was LAUGHING, despite the tears running down my face. I realized then how similar crying and laughing can look and sound not only on film, but also in real life. Take this is an important lesson for family photo shoot. Don’t think that perfect photo was ruined because little Sophie started to bawl – that very well could be the best one.


{This is my daughter mid-meltdown.}


Dig deep into your memories of your childhood. (Pretend you are having your 4 p.m. therapy session if it helps.) You’re at the local mall, standing in a line of smelly, whiney children. Your mom suddenly lifts you up and drops you on a stranger’s lap. Now describe the man. Is he huge? Yes! Is he hairy? Always! Does he lean over and ask you what you want for Christmas as the blaring mix of “Jingle Bell Rock” and camera flashes echo through your skull? Of course! The terrifying Santa experience from A Christmas Story can easily morph into reality if you aren’t careful. I’m all for going to the extreme to get a great holiday photo, but I have yet to see a picture of Santa with kids that isn’t in some way creepy, scary, or just plain sad.


kids hating santa

{More of Matisse’s pals, LOVING their moments with Santa}

In the end, I realize that my holiday photo obsession isn’t really about a perfect photo, it’s about capturing memories. Kids grow really, really quickly and in a blink – there won’t be any more holiday card photo shoots. So pour some more eggnog, get out your camera and don’t forget to capture those memories this holiday season!

Barbara King-Wilson is an actress and writer living with her family in Los Angeles. Follow her @TheBarbaraKing and visit her at!

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