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What I’ve Learned: Shelby Brakken, Photographer

This week we spoke with Shelby Brakken, an incredibly talented family and lifestyle photographer from Portland, Oregon for our “What I’ve Learned” column.  Shelby is a part of You Are My Wild, a weekly portrait project that brings together 14 photographers to document how they see their children.  You can view her personal website here.

shelby brakken for smartmom

“My daughter Indy is 7.  When she gets home from school, she usually fixes herself an arugula salad and turns on phantom of the opera. When my son, Sawyer, walks through the door, he immediately starts building things with cardboard toilet paper rolls and duct tape.  He is four and he wants to be a ninja when he grows up.Shelby Brakken for SmartMom

One of the hardest things for me as a parent is the constant process of letting go.  The slow realization that I can’t control everything; that i have to let my kids experience things as they will.  Learning to be there for them as a guide, but allowing them independence and self-sufficiency; trusting that they will be able to work out problems on their own, and that they will be better for it in the long run.  There is nothing harder than watching them make mistakes, but there is nothing as powerful as watching them learn from consequences.

shelby brakken for smartmom

Becoming a mother has has made me more aware, more grateful, more neurotic, more compassionate, more creative, and more chaotic.  My children constantly help shape me and force me to be more patient, more loving, more open.  They remind me to appreciate the little things, to be more present and to see the wonder in places I would overlook.

shelby brakken the smallest ocean

I have sought parenting advice from my mom, friends, books, and classes–I gather information and put it into my parenting arsenal.  But I have also learned to trust myself, and go with my instincts.  Some of my best parenting decisions have come when I simply listen to my gut.

shelby brakken little orange slices

I think about my time with my children as this long series of moments. There are the crazy and wild moments with laughter or crying, the big moments when something exciting or hard is happening, and there are the little moments–the ones that we barely notice because they are small and quiet.  I love the little moments with my children: the ones that are subtle and fleeting: the way Sawyer’s eyelashes look when he’s asleep; the way Indy’s hair looks in the sunlight.

shelby brakken for smartmom

All of these seconds, minutes and days eventually amount to a story and then a life.  My favorite thing about being a parent is helping create moments with my children, which ultimately shape their story.  I love the incredible process of watching them become themselves, and the part I get to play in that unfolding.

Shelby Brakken for SmartMom

I started my blog to document my children.  To keep track of the way they looked at certain ages; the funny things they did. I want them to be able to look back and know that I was by their side the whole time. I want them to be able to look back and know their story.”


Check out another photographer mom here.

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