The morning of school picture day can be anything from comical to terrifying and everything in between. From fighting with your kids over what they want to wear to the importance of brushing their hair to cringing at the obnoxiously big bow they want (or in some cases, you want them) to wear can start a family’s day off on the wrong foot. That’s why it is imperative that we practice mindful parenting every day—even on school picture day. 

Why Is Picture Day So Important?

The short answer: it’s not. But the longer answer is that it is important, at least for us parents. I remember that when I was in high school, I actually cared about school picture day. But as an elementary student, I couldn’t have cared less. However, as the kid of a parent who cared about school pictures and now being one of those parents myself, I have to really check my intentions and question my mindfulness when the morning of school pictures is upon me. 

Here’s what I humbly (very humbly) realized: picture day is a show for me, and maybe it’s a show for most parents. It’s a way for parents to display how adorable their kids are, how cute their outfits and matching bows are (or collared shirts and matching plaid shorts), and to be honest, how put together their families appear to be. Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of this, because believe me, I love nothing more than a pleated dress and matching knee socks, but to what extent? 

If my child leaves the house crying because she hates what I made her wear for one picture in the yearbook or is upset because the six-inch bow I jammed on her head is pulling her hair, is that worth it? Is this her picture day or mine? As a parent, is it more important for me to feel like my kids look good or is it more important for me to know they begin each school day feeling good about the day ahead, including being dressed in clothes they feel comfortable in? I’d like to say that my answer is always the latter, but if I’m being honest, it falls somewhere in the middle. But this year for school picture day, I decided to practice mindful parenting and the results exceeded my expectations.

What Happened This Year?

This year’s school picture day started out as a recipe for disaster. I put out my twins’ dresses the night before. I knew one of my girls would not care what she wore, as she still allows me to pick out what I want her to wear. My other twin definitely has her own stylistic ideas and what I had picked out was NOT what she had in mind. She mentioned it that night, but I was in my mindless parenting mode and told her that it was only one day that I was asking her to wear something she didn’t like. One day! And that was that. Conversation over. The poor thing knew I was adamant about her picture day wardrobe so she went so far as to ask if she could pack something to change into after, trying to be a good sport for her mama. The lightbulb of mindfulness should have gone off in my head at that point but it didn’t.

The next morning, the twins came out and before a good morning hug or a sleepy smile, my one twin told me that she really didn’t like those kinds of dresses. I started to go into my bulldozing parenting style (which I sometimes have), but then I looked at her face. I know my children well enough to see when they are holding back tears and she was on the brink of torrential downpour of tears. So, I asked myself one question under my breath: “Is it worth it?” Was my desire to have a picture-perfect outfit on my child worth ruining her entire morning over? That answer was a hardcore no. 

I looked her in the face and told her that she absolutely did not have to wear it. I suggested a collared shirt and at that, she happily agreed. And, the cherry on top, she even let me put a (small) bow in her hair, because she knows this mama does love a little hair bling. It was a win-win. She got to wear something she felt comfortable in and I still got to have her look a little extra done up for picture day. 

How to Practice Mindful Parenting Every Day, Even on Picture Day

1. Tune in

As a parent, the world fills our heads with ideas about how we should be the best parent. But when we quiet our minds and tune in to our intuition, we can operate from a place of authentic truth, instead of outward “shoulds.” When you are about to argue with your little one, pay attention to what really matters. Make sure that what you are about to disagree on is worth the conversation at all. 

2. Check yourself

This phrase, made even more popular by the lyrics of an Ice Cube song (I’m totally dating myself), is so true. We need to stop and think before we act. We say this to kids all the time but parents need to practice this as well. Check your intentions. Check your why. Check to make sure your reasonings are valid or unnecessary. If you realize that what you are fighting for is not worthwhile, then do your part and apologize. Kids need apologies from their parents just as much as the reverse is true. 

3. Stay present

“Being present” is often used synonymously with “mindfulness” but in this case, I mean it in chronological terms. Don’t fight with your kiddo on school day mornings because it’s familiar from your own childhood. Don’t battle about picture day just because your mom did that to you. And don’t futurize that if you let up on a certain issue that means you have lost control as a parent forever. Stay present to the situation that is before you—your current situation, not your past and certainly not your future. 

4. Pick your battles

Okay, this phrase has probably been used in every parenting book, but it is still relevant. There are certain situations that I will not budge on for moral and spiritual reasons (and sometimes nutritional). And that’s good for kids. They need to know there are boundaries that cannot be crossed. But for much else, the world is not so black and white, so practice a little grey in parenting. Make sure that what you are fighting for is worth the battle in the big picture. 

5. Know your kids

Of course you know your kids! But really get to know the individual quirks of each of your kiddos (if you have more than one) and learn how to navigate each one. If I’ve learned anything from having multiple children (including twins), it’s that they are ALL so different. They think differently, they act differently, and they process differently. So engage with them where you can relate with them best.   

Friends, I truly believe our hearts and intentions are in the right place when it comes to our kiddos. We want them to look back at their yearbooks and remember themselves as adorable little humans, even when they are totally awkward, braces-wearing teenagers. We want them to know that mom and dad took the time to make them look like they didn’t just roll out of bed. But if our drive to make them look a certain way taints their entire day, then that’s what they will remember instead. Let’s be a part of making their school day great, even if it means letting go of our own expectations for how those little wallet-sized pictures turn out.