A New Image for the Stepmom: Dance Recital Weekend

It’s dance recital weekend.

Across social media there are countless posts of children in tulle, bedazzled leotards, sparkled headbands, and giant bows. Moms and dads post photos as though their children have just opened on Broadway. These proud parents beam with excitement for their little people. And I love this.

But for this stepmom, this ritual of dance recital weekend feels like another reminder that I am not a actually their parent.

I want to take pictures, bring flowers, and be “that mom” clapping wildly at their turns on stage and attempt at a kick-line. But I’m not “the mom.” Taking photos of the girls, being in pictures with them, and posting them have all become “gray space.”

I’m introduced to dance teachers and the parents of other children, which I love. But it also comes with a specific brand of unease for me.

In one recent conversation, I met parents of another child in one of the girl’s classes, and they asked about my son. I had never met them before, and they’re not friends of my husband. So in the midst of polite conversation, my brain for an instant shifted to wonder about where they learned about my little boy. It wasn’t likely from my husband. Maybe from one of the grandmas that helps take the girls to activities. Possible, I suppose. A blog reader. Highly doubtful. Maybe the girls themselves. Most likely. Maybe. But I can’t help but wonder if it was from another source. What do they know about me? Do they think of me as just the stepmom that shows up when it’s convenient, or do they know that in our home they are all my children?

And that’s where the insecurity settles in. The same insecurity that took hold a few weekends back when we learned that our youngest was cast as the “evil stepmother” in the musical theater program. In hindsight my meltdown about this was ridiculous. No parts were named in the program, and she was in a cluster of similarly dressed little people. The nuance was totally lost on everyone. But when I first found out, that casting felt deeply personal. I got on my soapbox about the insensitivity of the directors. Did they know that our daughter has a stepmother? Where they intentionally trying to send a message? And what about the story itself, couldn’t it be washed with political correctness and be removed from the narrative? Or was this just another way to point out my step-ness, and that stepmothers in particular are often the antagonists.

It was quite the spiral.

The honest truth is that I’m still settling into this role. Clearly. After almost a year, a weekend of seemingly harmless dance recitals can still take me down a negative self-talk rabbit hole as I struggle with my new identity in the family, and personal confidence and self-assurance. I still struggle with my place. Do I take pictures? Do I have a right to take pictures? Is it okay that I’m the first to greet them with a hug and congratulations? Can I clap wildly and exude pride?

But through all of these questions, I show up. And in showing up, I give the most pure answer. I might be offending by my existence, making strangers feel awkward by my presence, but I am there. Because whether they are mine or not, they will know they are loved. They will know that I am proud of them, and excited to share in their moment. And in the end, that’s what matters the most.