The Christmas card photo showed a family of five, posing in the lobby of a mountain lodge at Christmas time. At first glance, it evoked a festive and loving image to hold in one’s mind . . . family travels to mountain lodge for the holidays, gathers for photo while celebrating and hanging out together.
Further inspection of the photo revealed more. Seated in the front row were the youngest, middle, and eldest boys, in that order. The three teenage boys slouched with more than a little “-tude” across the sofa. The youngest was leaning away from the other two and the eldest glared into the camera. Also in the front row was the father with his arm around the eldest boy. In the back row was a woman, the mother of the youngest and stepmother to the two older boys. She was barely visible in the space behind the father and the eldest son. Just her face showed between her husband’s and the oldest son’s shoulders.
Sadly, this posing family had been together for 15 years and the space held for the mother/stepmother remained a tenuous one. It is just this issue of being brought into the circle of intimacy that is at the heart of how a stepmother integrates into a family (see Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin). Maybe you identify with the woman in the photo, who didn’t want to push herself into the circle, who didn’t want to make waves, and who felt uncomfortable with too much attention placed on her status as “not their mom.”
And, how did you take your place by your husband’s side? Have you taken your place yet? Are you preparing or beginning preparations to take your place? Did he make space for you? Did you notice when he made space for you? And, how often and how ferociously did children enter into the space, burrowing under the lines of “couple” and thinning down the thread that connected you?
The photograph was a stark reminder that it can take a very long time to find your place. It’s also a reminder to go gently with yourself and hold your integrity, making sure to take your time when you feel in your bones that you need more time. In volatile families, sometimes it’s enough to pose for the photo, even if it’s only your face that shows. Some days, weeks, months, and years . . . that is enough. It shows that you were there. Other days, just being there is not enough. It is on those days, that both you and your husband need you to take your place at his side.
Whatever the issues in a family are, when a stepmother takes her place beside her spouse, the quality of their togetherness grows exponentially and cannot be explained in words, it can only be felt. There comes a day when the place behind him is no longer acceptable. When that happens, it is time to come on out and take your place at his side.