The pictures of his ex-wife are scattered throughout the house, as though she is not only renting space in our home, but also in his brain. There are the pictures of her with his daughters on the beach with their footprints carved into the sand and the one where she is laughing while making a funny clown face with the youngest child.
There’s also a group family picture with all the cousins and grandparents; to me it’s as if the photo has become a giant 3D image and she is literally jumping out of it, a menacing reminder that she will always be in my life.
Do I mention that these pictures bother me or do I ignore it?
While we are dating, I say nothing, realizing it is not yet my place to make such a demand.
He had a life before me. The permanent remnants, these children running up and down the stairs, will be forever connected to that past.
I literally bite my tongue — even though I have slept over several times now and glanced at her picture while scrambling eggs in the kitchen.
Time goes on, and as my relationship with him deepens, I know the time is right to mention it. I am going to move in and soon these girls will be my stepdaughters, the man, I hope, my husband.
But I am also acutely aware that stepfamilies have their own dynamics, their own drills; to earn acceptance and diplomacy is essential for harmony.
I seek advice from friends, from family. How do I broach this subject?
All stepfamily unions require a lot of soul-searching and lots of patience. You can’t remove the past as you can if there were no children in the relationship. She will forever be a presence in your life.
Once you can accept this, you can be happy and chart out a roadmap for peace instead of hassles.
The first move I make is creating fun times for us together that I document with my trusty Kodak, the beach vacation in Nantucket, the pumpkin patch excursion in upstate New York, the bike rides in Purchase.
Then I buy frames where I put those pictures throughout the house, creating my own territory of memories.
A little later, I finally broached the subject of the ex-wife’s pictures.
But I had thought out my plan. I didn’t say I wanted all pictures erased as though chalk from a blackboard.
Instead, I said, "Darling, I understand you had a past — (validating the experience) — and I understand Ann will always be in your life because of the girls - (not making it as though it's a her-or-me scenario), and I understand that she is the girls' mother and that they want a piece of her in the house since they now live in two houses (showing sensitivity to his beloved children)."
"However, (drum roll), can the pictures of her just be in the girls rooms and not elsewhere since I am now living here?"
My boyfriend looked at me with such love. He kissed my check tenderly and smiled. There had been other girlfriends vying to be his wife who eventually blew a fuse and screamed about the pictures.
He had exed them out as if with Photoshop, believing they would not be accommodating to his life, which included an amicable relationship with his ex.
The way I had handled the request confirmed that we could work issues out reasonably as man and wife.
He removed the pictures and, in time, more and more pictures of our newly formed family decorated the house and cemented my role in it.
This proved to me, as it has many times since in our blended family, that it is not what you do, but how you do it, that produces the most glorious results.