Sarah Lehberger | Portrait Photographer | Fairfield County, CT » Celebrating the Dreamers and the Doers of the World

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My Thoughts on the Perfect Holiday Card

Each year we try and each year it’s painful. Like most Americans, we attempt to send out a holiday card so you can see how much the kids have grown or how many gray hairs they are giving us. Some years are better than others. And yet something has been bothering me this year. Why do we all try so hard to make it perfect?


I posted this photo (above) on Facebook and captioned it “Wreck the Halls” and everyone told me it was either cute or they loved it and I should send it. It’s our real life, after all. I would have loved to, except my husband (the eternal blinker) wasn’t thrilled with the photo. He doesn’t need perfection, he just wanted his eyes to be open (can’t argue with that). People assume that it’s easier for us photographers to get a nice family photo. Nope. Easy isn’t the word I’d use. Torture, maybe? And this wasn’t even a professional photographer who took these, it was my brother in law (thanks Ken, I owe you a few drinks of course!) who had to put up with my unruly kids. And believe me, there were at least 30 photos of my family NOT looking at the camera or smiling, and one of us was always blinking. ;-) The thing is, WHY do we even bother? WHY must we send a photo or holiday newsletter sharing the lengthy stories of “who did what”?


I think there are three main reasons why people send out holiday cards.

  1. Competition
  2. Tradition
  3. Guilt

Which category do you fall into? Or is it a combination of all three? Sending holiday cards with photos has become as competitive as children’s sports! A certain photographer I know is asked every year to create the perfect backdrop or holiday setting for his adult clients and they pay an obscene amount of money to send out this Photoshopped idea of perfection. And then there’s this family member of mine (who shall remain nameless) who sends out their card with full letter each year and tells of their news, health woes and lengthy paragraphs about each child’s career, travel, hobbies, etc., because it’s what they’ve always done. Lastly, there are those who despite all their best efforts just never got around to taking a photo or sending a card and now with the holiday upon them they are feeling the guilt. So why do we to this to ourselves? I honestly feel like we (Americans) have forgotten what it’s all about! The real reason why we send these cards isn’t to impress or “one up” the competition. It isn’t to spew your family’s entire past year into one letter because you forgot to email or correspond more regularly with your loved ones or (gasp!) use a phone. And it isn’t because we feel like we should (or we have to) send one like it’s a chore or mandatory parental responsibility. The real reason behind them (cards or letters) is the sentiment or emotion that we are trying to convey during the holiday season. It’s a celebration of life, sharing of joy and love, and for some… a reminder of faith and hope.


So here’s what I have to say. Enough already. This thing called life, it’s not a competition. We are all doing our best to just get by, day by day, without feeling like we need to fake it to be worthy of hanging on someone’s mantel or windowpane. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there is *magic* in that one rare moment (see above) where everyone is smiling (not screaming, frowning or dripping boogers) or looking in the same direction. I am thrilled if I can get this photo at least once a year for my own family, and the things is… I don’t want it for the card. I want it for me and more importantly for them. And I want to tell you that some of my all-time FAVORITE cards aren’t the kind photographed by professional photographers. Here are some examples below. My friend Marisa is so great at coming up with a family poem about her 3 sons each year, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do the following year! My friend Karen just sent this creative card, with scrapbook style cut outs of photos and it featured her family lizard – awesome! My friend Jo’s kids all had on their pajamas and were laughing and being their authentic selves. And lastly, my friend Linda’s boys were just chilling outdoors wearing their bike helmets – totally them! See the examples below in the quick iPhone image…


The point is, perfection is so overrated! Send something that reflects you (the creative, the goofy, the athletic, the messier or nerdier the better!). And if you still have the urge to write and send an entire letter about the past year, ask yourself, “why do they need to know, and if it is so important than why didn’t I tell them sooner”? Find a way to abbreviate those letters and maybe keep the whole (scary) colonoscopy story to yourself. ;-) Now, maybe you are one of the people feeling guilty because you didn’t send a card or anything out yet? Well, do yourself a favor and quit feeling guilty. Don’t let yourself feel ashamed for not living up to the grand expectations of others… OR… for feeling like you didn’t do enough. We all have bad years or busy months. Life is overwhelming at times. Let yourself off the hook! You do plenty! You are enough. 

You aren’t screwing everything up. You are busy nurturing relationships, celebrating those loved ones, and riding the wave (and adventure) of life! So next year, when you are trying to remember why you even bother with holiday cards and you are stressing about what to do, keep these things in mind…

  • Authenticity is Beautiful – real life trumps all, no matter what your photo (check out Beyonce’s) or family looks like!
  • Heartfelt Traditions Matter – share your sentiments for the season along with a personal note or best wishes!
  • Offer Gratitude – maybe it was a long or hard year, so try expressing your thanks for the encouragement or support!
  • Let Go of the Guilt – if sending in December is too much than try a Thanksgiving or New Years card, and online e-cards work well too (like this one from Lucasfilm mentioned on CNET)… or just skip it!
  • Share your Talents – you love to write poems or maybe you have a flair for humor, so why not try doing something unique and hand-crafted that your friends will appreciate – and maybe even via social media where it can go viral?!
  • Celebrate your Joys + Gifts - be sentimental, show the spirit of you or your family, and don’t be afraid to be bold in your thoughts or wishes!

Regardless of how you send something (or don’t), isn’t it time we started to celebrate just how beautiful our imperfect lives can be? I have a wish for the New Year that we (as humans, parents, individuals) will want to compete less for perfection and encourage each other’s unique gifts or talents more. I have a dream that we will all celebrate our traditions and let go of the expectations of what they have to be (or used to be), and instead make them what we want them to be. I hope that we can begin to let go of the idea that being busy means we are validated as successful individuals, parents and children. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. If you are unhappy or filled with guilt, and don’t have time for yourself or the things that truly matter, than what kind of success is that? I’ve been there, on that sinking ship where competition, expectations and validation have dictated too much in my life. I don’t want to go back there. I want to be happy while living a life with purpose and intention.

So here’s to embracing our imperfections, celebrating traditions, and letting go of guilt and validation so we can start living the life we’ve always dreamed! Happy and Merry Everything!



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A Lesson in Confidence, Being Bold and Peeling the Layers

Have you ever had a first impression of someone and gotten it completely wrong? Yeah, me too. I first met Sarah over email a few years ago. We had been trying to set up an extended family photo session and due to weather and other issues it didn’t end up happening. I thought for sure that I had let her down. And here’s the thing… when we first met I could sense this bold quality about her. She was self-assured, forward in her requests, and brazen which intimidated me a bit. Well, I want to admit to you all and to Sarah that I was wrong. Let me explain…

It’s hard for me to write this, and I think that’s because it is coming from a place of embarrassment. I realized that I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know Sarah. I misunderstood her, and I was probably judging this beautiful woman who seemed to have it all. I am sharing this because I think (as women) we feel threatened by someone’s confidence quite often. And what I have learned through the years, is that there is more to that confidence than meets the eye. There is more to that hard outer shell (of us human beings) and if we simply took the time to peel away at our outer layers, we would find so much truth, beauty and vulnerability at our cores. We might find a real connection and build truly meaningful relationships. And for me, this extends into my work because it is so very personal.

So, what I’d like to do is tell you about the Sarah that I’ve gotten to know, and the woman who is so very BOLD and for reasons that you may not know. When her daughter was 1 1/2 years old, Sarah was diagnosed with cancer (after a few months of suspicions that something wasn’t right). She had to undergo a radical hysterectomy and the recovery was tough. Sarah told me that, “while it was very emotional and painful to go through the diagnosis, procedure and recovery, I knew I had to be brave and fearless for myself and my family.”


Motherhood was something that Sarah longed for and she was not going to let cancer take that away from her. Learning about this part of Sarah’s journey made me realize one thing. The boldness I had sensed in her, it was really her bravery shining through.


Thankfully, Sarah gave me a second chance as you can see. :-) I’ve learned so much about the amazing and sentimental woman that she is, and how she loves family snuggles in her bed. I’ve witnessed her emotional side especially when it comes to her supportive husband, their spirited daughter, and fur baby, Murphy. I’ve been touched by the gratitude she shares for this life and for her health. Sarah prays for a child to come into her family through adoption. If you are the praying type, I know she’d appreciate yours as well.


The more I work with courageous, resilient and gutsy women (like Sarah), the more I want to show the world that there is so much more to them than meets the eye. I hope you’ll see that there is a softer side too. There is a playful, romantic, affectionate and optimistic part of her. A side that believes in living out her dreams. A side that believes in fighting for what matters. A side that is tender and wants to keep her loved ones close. A side that is nurturing in so many ways.


Sarah, I hope you’ll know how much I have appreciated you letting me in. Not just into your home or your family life. Letting me in and peeling the layers so I could truly get to know you. Sharing some of your deepest and darkest moments. We are women who (through our struggles) have had to be our most daring selves possible. This kind of daring can sometimes be misunderstood as too confident or bold. People have misunderstood mine. I misunderstood yours and for that I am deeply sorry. And thank you for proving me wrong! I now see you as the… VIVID, BRAVE and UNSTOPPABLE woman that you are!

PS – If any of you are drooling over Sarah’s navy nails up top, you can visit her store to get them yourself!


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Seeing the Magic in Your Everyday Life

I am constantly looking for the magic in your everyday life. Those hidden gems that I know you have a picture of in your mind and you can’t seem to preserve (or make it last) before someone runs screaming and it’s over. Those are the moments that I live for. I believe that our kids need proof of them because when they get older, they may only remember a handful of things about their childhood. I want them to be able to look back and see the magic moments. And I want you to see them too. Because on the days when you are so tired, too busy, totally frustrated, and feeling guilty for not doing more… I believe you need to see the magic so you can remind yourself that you are doing great. You are present. You are their universe. And you are loved beyond measure.


“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” 
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


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Hey Moms! Where’s your Oxygen Mask?

There have been some relevant stories lately about celebrity Moms making waves for saying things like… I have to put me first in order for us all to be happy. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen was one of them and she was criticized after telling The Sunday Times that she puts herself first. She said, “You know how they say on the plane you have to put the oxygen mask on first and then put it on your child? So, I think it is the same, as a mum, to take care of myself. You can feel a bit guilty… But if I put my oxygen mask on first, if I’m feeling fulfilled and present and good about myself, then I’m going to be a much more patient, loving, understanding mother and wife. You have to fill your glass so that everyone can drink from it.”


Image credit: Anonymous via Apartment Therapy

CNN posted a great question in a similar article asking…

And another celeb whom I adore, Jennifer Garner, recently made the news rounds for delivering an authentic speech about gender equality at the Elle Women in Hollywood event. She pleaded with Elle and the attendees to “think progressively on behalf of womankind”. If you haven’t read the article you can do so here and you’ll probably love her even more for saying what we’ve all wanted to say — out loud.

So, I’d like to ask you all too. Why doesn’t anyone ever ask men about work-life balance? Why are women criticized for putting themselves first? Why do we try to be Supermom even if it means we are losing a part of ourselves in the process? When did we start carrying all of this weight (and guilt) for wanting some freedom to be ourselves — as individuals?!

I say, it’s time to put a stop to the madness! Here are my suggestions…

  • Let’s end this vicious cycle of racing for the Supermom cape when all they want is our presence.
  • Let’s make it our mission to divide up the household (adult) chores. (We deserve it and quite frankly, they can handle it.)
  • Let’s stop trying to live up to the “Pinterest Mafia’s” idea of being a perfect Mom and embrace our lop-sided cakes and #PinterestFails for what they truly are… real life.
  • Let’s stop trying to do it all and be everything to everyone (except ourselves).
  • Let’s delegate more to our kids, even if they pour a few helpings of Cheerios onto the floor and not necessarily into their bowls. They are capable!
  • Let’s stop feeling guilty for taking some much needed “me time” even if it is simply reading a book while hiding in your car in the garage. (Because we all know they would have found you in the bathroom, right?!).
  • Let’s stop holding ourselves to unattainable standards (beauty, body, parenting or otherwise) that no one can live up to.
  • Let’s stop judging the women who put the oxygen mask on first. (After all, it is for her own survival!)

Most importantly, let’s try to live our most authentic life possible and just worry about being true to ourselves. And in the meantime, I’ll keep grabbing my coffee mug as it’s the oxygen mask I put on daily before helping anyone in this house. ;-)


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She’s Going Back to Work

I often get asked if I photograph newborns. You mean, the beautiful and tiny little beings that come into our lives and leave us forever changed?


Why yes, I do. And it’s important to note that I will only photograph your newborn if you also believe that you are part of the story and your presence matters. I would especially love to photograph them if you are heading back to work and are struggling with the guilt that sometimes follows this decision. Because boy do I remember that guilt. And boy do I remember the shame that told me I was less of a Mom if I went back. Recently I photographed Jess and her sweet boy, Mason. Soon she is heading back to work, and I’m pretty sure I know all of the fears that are racing through her heart and mind.


And whatever you do, Jess, don’t listen to those irrational fears. Instead, trust your intuition and listen to it. If deep inside you know that this choice (although not easy) will be the best for your family, listen. If deep inside you know that just because you have a career, passion or ambition it doesn’t mean that you are any less of a Mom, listen. If deep inside you are confident that this work provides you with growth and fulfillment, listen. Intuition is our compass and it will guide you.


Remember, that at the end of the day, you will always be enough for your little one(s). You are the smile that they come home to. You are the warm embrace after a skinned knee or a tough day. You are the woman that they look up to and the one who will have taught them that they could be anyone or do anything if they worked hard and believed. You are doing great, and it’s your right to do what works best for your family. Together we can let go of the fear, guilt and shame, and enjoy raising kids on our own terms.



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