Every year my fiance’s family takes a portrait together and mails it out as their holiday card. His parents included their new son-in-law when their daughter got married. This is the first holiday since my fiance and I got engaged, and they have already commented on needing a bigger lens to fit everyone in this year. However, I have no interest in being in their picture this year or any year. They sign the card “The Smiths,” but I have no plans to change my name and don’t feel this last name would be mine. I plan to decline to be in the photo since I have always looked forward to having my own family and sending our own pictures to family and friends. How can I gently say to my husband’s family, “Time to cut the umbilical cord” and let your children start their own holiday family traditions? The thought of the upcoming family photo is making me sick and filling me with anger.
—Won’t Say “Cheese”
It used to be said that when certain hunter-gatherer tribes were first exposed to photography, they believed that if a picture was taken of them, it would steal their soul. You’re probably aware, however, that a photograph of you with your future in-laws will not forever capture your image and make it impossible for you to send a photograph of yourself for your own holiday card. Speaking of which, your fiance’s family is going to conclude that you’re quite the card when you tell them you’re not going to be in their picture, you will never consider yourself to be part of the “Smith” family, and that you believe your future mother- and father-in-law are infantilizing their grown children. Everyone will be filled with seasonal joy that you’ll be around for the holidays for the rest of their lives. There are two approaches you could take here. One would be to vent the rage you are feeling over your fiance’s family wanting to include you in their tradition. That might solve everyone’s long-term problem by making you a short-timer. (However, if your fiance hasn’t figured out by now that you have some issues, he must have issues of his own.) Or you could spend some time figuring out why a gracious and inclusive gesture from your in-laws-to-be makes you act like a petulant baby and work on growing up yourself.
I’m newly married, on the fence about really-officially-for-realsies changing my name, and also looking forward to establishing my own family traditions with my husband and cat-children. I also don’t like large group photos and making everyone gather around and pose. I tend to think it takes way longer than it should and get annoyed.
So if anyone can see where this woman is coming from, it’s probably me. And I think she’s flippin’ crazy.
As Prudence points out, absolutely none of her protestations is actually affected in any way by the fact that her in-laws want to take a picture and send it out. This doesn’t prevent her from going by her own name, nor does it prevent her from sending out her own card. Their card doesn’t supercede hers, especially since there probably won’t even be very much overlap between the recipients of these cards. They sign the card “The Smiths” because the card is FROM the Smiths–not because it is the official, legal, sole holiday mail to be sent out by everyone in the photo, who must by extension be a Smith. The fact that she’s in the photo doesn’t make her a Smith any more than a photo featuring the kids with Mickey Mouse suggests that Mickey is their dad.
No, being in the holiday photo doesn’t bind her to these people, something she seems to dread. But, um, marrying their son does. Why does she fear the commitment of a photograph more than the commitment of a lifetime?