Stepmoms Speak

23 12 2008

Ann Orchard, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist who provides individual, couple, and group counseling through her private practice in Edina, Minn. Ann has also published research on stepmothers and has led stepfamily support groups. She is a stepmother of two. www.drorchard.com

 Time Heals 

By Ann Orchard 

Who would have imagined 20 years ago that Bob, my husband, and I would be celebrating my stepdaughter Elizabeth’s 30th birthday with Bob’s ex? And happily so! Twenty years ago we were enmeshed in an acrimonious custody battle. Bitter words were hurled at each side, resulting in lasting hurt and anger.

My relationship with Bob’s ex – I’ll call her KB for short – had started amicably enough. By the time I came on the scene, KB had already moved east to Boston, leaving Bob with their two kids, Elizabeth (age 7) and Ben (age 5). When Bob and I became engaged after a year of dating, KB was one of the first to congratulate me and wish me the best. However, soon after Bob and I were married, the relationship between KB and me soured. Bob had been trying to amend the original divorce decree to reflect the change from joint custody to his now having sole physical custody. There would then be a legal record of his entitlement to child support.

All hell broke loose. After one year of an intense and expensive custody battle, I found myself depressed and extremely angry. The part I resented the most was her intrusion on my marriage and her contribution to making my first year of marriage the absolute worst year of my life. No honeymoon period for me. On our first anniversary, I even said to Bob, “We’ve been married for a year now- just you, me, Elizabeth, Ben, and KB.”

The custody issues were finally resolved, yet the bitterness remained while the kids progressed through middle school, then high school. The two sides were civil to each other (with some blowouts along the way), but no love was lost.

The “big thaw” started with high school graduations. Enough time had passed, and I felt it was just time to let go of my anger. I believe we each have a choice how we’re going to live our lives, and that anger is toxic. By the time we hit graduate degrees for each child, we all were having a good time at our joint celebration dinners. The dinners included the two kids, KB, KB’s second husband, Bob, me and other family members. Of utmost importance was the inclusion of KB’s mom and my mom – the “neutral parties.” A little bit of wine also helped.

Once we were done with graduate degrees (and no weddings in sight), I realized I genuinely missed our joint celebrations. So when Elizabeth turned 30 last fall, I was thrilled to receive KB’s invitation to travel east to help mark Elizabeth’s milestone birthday. It was truly an act of graciousness. Bob and I went and had a wonderful time at the celebratory dinner. No, I doubt KB and I will ever be best of friends, but I feel good about how our relationship has grown. As I said, who would have imagined?

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