Dear Emotional Hardbody,
I am a divorced mom of a 6-year-old daughter, Cassidy. When Cassidy was two, I found out that her dad was a pathological liar. From his educational background, to his present job situation, to his past relationship history, to his current abuse of prescription drugs, to his ability to keep his pants on, every last thing I thought I knew about him turned out to be untrue. After our divorce, he skipped town and rumor has it he now lives in Puerto Rico. As you may have guessed, he neither pays child support nor exercises his visitation rights.
Although our relatively brief marriage and sudden divorce were not easy, I have managed to rebuild my life. Thankfully, Cassidy seems to have adjusted well. But there’s one thing that’s keeping me from putting the whole mess behind me once and for all. It’s in a box that I keep in my bedroom closet — and simply knowing that it’s there gives me the chills. No, it’s not a voodoo doll I made with his fingernail and hair clippings, it’s both creepier and more powerful than that. It’s our wedding photos.
The wedding photos serve as not just a reminder, but actual evidence of how terrible I was at judging at least one person’s character back in 2006. This was a guy I shouldn’t even have exchanged pleasantries with, let alone vows. The fact that I have an album full of photos of us gazing into each other’s eyes makes my skin crawl. It’s not like I ever look at these photos (feeling sick to my stomach is not a sensation that I enjoy), but their mere existence in that box in my closet makes me feel tethered to my past.
I’d like nothing more than to run them all through my paper shredder or burn them in a bonfire in my backyard, but the thing that keeps me from doing that is Cassidy. My daughter and I have never discussed the pictures, nor does she spend any time looking at them, but at some level I feel like they might be more hers than mine anymore. To me, these photos are a really sucky party favor from something that started off as a celebration and ended up a nightmare. But to Cassidy, the photos are documentation of her family history. What the photos represent to me makes me want to get rid of them. But what they potentially are to Cassidy makes me feel duty bound to preserve them.
Is it fair for me to focus on my quality of life and get rid of the photos? Or do I need to suck it up and put my daughter's right to her family history first and continue to allow these to take up space in my life until she grows up and gets a place of her own?
Dear Photo Finished,
Your letter frames the dilemma clearly. I understand why you hate these wedding photos and want to get rid of them, but I also agree that photos of her parents' wedding could be important to Cassidy some day. Just because you and your ex are no longer married doesn’t change the fact that you two are still Cassidy’s one and only mom and dad.
Cassidy is lucky to have a mom like you. You recognize that however close the two of you are, you are not duplicate copies of each other. The fact that you're two separate people means that what is best for you is not always what's best for her. When it comes to a conflict between what’s best for adults and what’s best for their children, I believe grown-ups are required to put their children first. This is at the heart of being a responsible parent.
But these dilemmas are not always black and white, and luckily this is one such case. While your daughter is entitled to some of these photos, she doesn’t need all of them. On a day that your stomach feels rock solid, drag out that box, carry it into the bathroom, sit next to the toilet, and go through those photos. Take the ones that make you feel the worst (like any ones involving kissing, skipping through wild flowers, removing garter belts, or feeding each other cake) and run them through the paper shredder immediately.
Then out of the less stomach-turning ones that are left, give some thought to picking out a few that are the least nauseating to you. (Maybe there are a some group shots involving you, your ex, and your extended families, or some photos of just him or just you.) Put those photos in an envelope, seal it shut, and put in the bottom of a box of Cassidy's other keepsake items. If that doesn’t give you enough peace of mind, you can always ask a close relative to hold on to the envelope. That way the photos will be out of your house, but still set aside for Cassidy.
The exercise itself won’t be pleasant, but it will put a stop to any further negative exposure from your old wedding photos, while also preserving Cassidy’s personal family history. And that’s as close to a picture perfect solution as you’re going to get.