Editor's Letter: Making Peace with the Enemy

Read Lesley Jane Seymour's July/August 2012 editor's letter here and share your reconnection story in the comment section below

by Lesley Jane Seymour • Editor-in-Chief
lesley jane seymour more editor in chief image
Photograph: Greg Delves

After 30 years of absence, my stepmother has parachuted back into my life. I know, it’s hard to keep up with my family drama. But stay with me here: I learned something.

Rewind to 1967, when I was 10, crunching barefoot across the shards of a childhood shattered by my parents’ divorce. For years afterward, my mother was unable to get out of bed, leaving me to pack my younger sister’s lunch and take care of dinner.

So imagine how I felt when a glamorous, stable British lady appeared on the arm of the father I worshipped. Imagine what I replied when he asked if I (but, unfortunately, not my sister) wanted to live with them once they married. Imagine how I thought I was going to heaven. But what I got was a private hell.

My stepmother’s father had left when she was born, so she couldn’t comprehend my relationship with my dad; she told our family therapist that I made her feel competitive. The rest of her emotions were buried beneath a bulletproof British veneer. Dinner table banter often dissolved into a cultural showdown, once prompting me to ask, “If everything British is so much better, why are you living in America?”

I was sent to boarding school to help save their marriage, but they soon divorced. When my father married again, my now ex-stepmother called to enlist me on her side, but I refused. For the next 30 years, we never communicated.

A few months ago, she tracked me down by e-mail. In her seventies, she is a practicing psychologist in Europe. Her mother and sister have passed away, and she never had kids. She said old photos had prompted her to get in touch. When I replied that I’d found life with her to be “harsh,” her e-mails stopped for a few weeks. “That word took my breath away,” she later wrote, saying she’d been unprepared for parenting another woman’s child and for life with a man who, in her words, wouldn’t “allow” her to have children of her own. “That’s what we fought most about,” she told me, something I’d never known. Today she phones me and prattles on about British gossip, and I no longer flinch. The silly judgmentalism that used to tear deep into my heart, as if she were slighting me personally, makes me laugh out loud. That paternalistic word allow threw a rope bridge across the chasm between our lives; I’d never imagined that this tough, intimidating woman could have suffered equally under my father’s autocratic regime.

Have you found a new connection with someone you’d given up on? Tell me about it here in the comments section below.

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Comments

sarah 02.20.2013

i am 45 years old woman and was raised by an amazing mom and step-dad from birth, after my step-dad died more than 17 years ago my relationship changed with my mom. Not sure why... i think because i was a young mom and didn't want to or could afford to go out partying all the time like we use to with my mom, 2 years ago i was contacted thru facebook from a lady i found out later was my aunt(my real fathers sister) and wanted to tell me that my real father was dying..(I have never met this man that i remember) he had COPD and caught pneumonia, his lungs were shutting down. I chose to go see him at the hospital, not sure why or what was leading me there... i paced the halls for an hour before getting the courage to walk in the ICCU at the hospital. i didn't know he was even in the same area as me until a couple years before.(but still had no contact) When i walked in I wasn't prepared for what i saw, he was on life support with tubes coming from each lung. His wife, whom i never met looked at me and knew my name instantly and recognized me. I almost collapsed on the floor still not knowing why i was there, over the next week it was very emotional for me. I am also a woman of faith and I prayed for him and had others also praying for him. Long story short, he survived(a miracle) and we have been in each other's lives since then and i have chosen not to know the details of why this wonderful man was not in my life and forgive him and my mom. My mom does not understand this but we have chosen to agree to disagree on this subject. My mom is now going thru some possible serious medical things and has contacted me and has called me almost every day since then... not sure why it takes people to almost die or think they are going to die to forgive and move on but .. this girl is very blessed to have both parents now in her life and to hear a dad say your beautiful and he loves you is "priceless" thanks for listening.

08.18.2012

Sixteen years ago my best friend from college asked me to be the godmother of her third child. We were living on opposite coasts by then and I had a busy career. Even so, I was able to make the cross-country trip about once a year. I got to hold and play with my goddaughter when she was an infant and watch her grow from a toddler to a little girl. Then my career became more challenging. Money was tight and I wasn't able to travel to see her as often. Years went by and she was a preteen by the time I came out for another visit. I was disappointed when I realized that there was a distance between us. She didn't seem interested in my attempts to have conversations with her or the one-on-one outings I tried to arrange. I went home in tears. I tried phoning every so often but she seemed distracted by the television, which I could hear in the background. Sometimes I would get a thank you note for a present I had sent or a nice letter, which kept me from giving up hope entirely. Then a few weeks ago my college buddy asked me if my goddaughter--now 16--could fly out for a visit. I was surprised and thrilled. During her four-day visit we went on a trolley tour around the city, took a harbor cruise, got our nails done, saw a comedy show and went to a costume shop and bought identical retro-60s sunglasses. More importantly, we laughed a lot and got to know each other, and had meaningful conversations. When I dropped her off at the airport at the end of her stay my goddaughter gave me a big hug and promised to come back for a return visit. I believe she will.

Cheryl Spencer07.16.2012

A few months ago I was contacted (through Facebook)by a girlfriend I hadn't heard from in close to 30 years. In grade school we became best friends. We were 'thick as thieves'. After high school she went to college - I didn't, but still we were close. I was in her wedding and shortly after that we started to drift apart. Looking back now I can't point to any specific event. I think life just took us in different directions. And I can't say that I've thought of her much over the years. There was marriage, kids, divorce, re-marriage, divorce.
But when I saw her friend request it was overwhelming. I'll be 52 in October and I'm at a point in my life where I'm settled and wasn't expecting any new beginnings. She told me she was nervous to reach out to me not sure how I'd react after so long. Time has a way of falling away when so much has been shared with someone. We email each other almost every day. I'll get to see her in September (isn't that a song?)and I can't wait. Her finding me again has truly been a blessing in my life and I thank God every day that she did.

Roberta Codemo07.09.2012

I have been estranged from my famiy for almost three years. It is my choice. There are times I long to reconnect with them; however, I cannot forgive them for the circumstances that led to the estrangement. I wish I could. It is also not easy to forget about the year I spent living on the streets nor the threats of physical violence and verbal and psychological abuse. There are some circumstances where reconnection is not only impossible but not recommended to preserve one's own mental health.

07.05.2012

Forgive and Reconnect
“This is the last time you hit me!” I yelled. My mother paused for a moment which gave me the opportunity to run out of the house and on the street, not realizing I was 12 years old and had nowhere to go. I was able to hide the bruises, but what to do with all that rice stuck in my curly hair?
“What’s wrong with rice pudding for breakfast?” my mother asked after I refused to eat it.
“I don’t want rice pudding right now,” I replied.
“So you’re not having any?” she insisted.
“No,” I nodded.
Suddenly, my mother hit me in the head and then threw the rice bowl at me missing my eye, but the rice spilled all over my hair.
I looked at the clock. It was 7:15 and if I started cleaning up, I would have been late for school. So I combed my hair hoping I will lose the rice. However, the rice was sticky and unwilling to leave my hair. All the way to school I kept on tugging my hair, but wnen I arrived, there were still traces of the usually sweet treat. I continued looking for yet another grain.
That was not the first nor the last time my mother assaulted me. Looking back, I tried many times to find reasons for her behavior and came up with various excuses: she was 43 years old when I was born and possibly already pre-menopausal. She did show signs of a woman who couldn’t care for a young and a very active child. I liked to run and climb and became especially good at that when my mother was trying to catch me. “It is not proper to skip all the time,” I remember her saying sternly. She wanted a child that was her mirror image and I was just like my father: sensitive, quick to respond, and both of us did not like gardening. Gardening was what my mother did most of the time, possibly one of her few passions. I often thought she liked flowers more than me.
With time, my mother softened or it was I, who had convinced her with my actions that I was the better daughter. Years earlier, an old gypsy predicted that my mother’s younger daughter will take care of her and mother pursed her lips in disbelief and rolled her eyes. I heard and saw everything, and once again, she managed to hurt my feelings. Many times I doubted myself. Maybe she was right; I was not to be trusted. After that and for a while, I wanted to prove her right: I became critical, provoked adults with my ideas about life that I adopted from reading Nitze, Hegel, and Tolstoy since the age of 12.
Early in my marriage, I moved to U.S. with my husband and infant daughter. Our parents financial situation became dire after the Berlin wall forced Eastern Europeans to start not depending on their governments as much as they did during the Communist regimes. I suggested to my husband that we should start helping my parents financially. He was surprised, knowing the abuse I suffered by mother. He understood why I wanted to help my father. He was my best friend and numerous time he tried to shield me from my mother's anger, saying “Your mother is not feeling well. Let’s go to the movies”. But my husband did not expect that I will be willing to help my mother. Still, he agreed with me.
Every month, a friend brought a few hundred dollars to my parents’ residence. My father was very vocal about the money. “We don’t deserve…, you need them more,“ he always said. So I started asking him for little favors, such as going to the local store to find a favorite book of mine or finding a long-lost friend living in the old neighborhood, and called my gifts “salary”. This went on for 20 years.
My mother was 88 years old when she finally decided to visit us. It must have been very difficult for her to travel alone, changing airplanes and not speaking English. One night, we were watching a movie depicting a mother physically abusing her son. In the movey, the child was taken into custody.
“If we lived in this country when I was a child, you would have been arrested and put in jail for the way you treated me,” I said in a kinda joking manner. My mother just looked at me with a surprised facial expression and said nothing.
Shortly after she returned home, I received a phone call from my sister, informing me that my mother had a stroke. Upon receiving the news, I asked my boss for a month-long leave and left the U.S. within a week. I found her limp in her hospital bed and paralyzed on her left side, but her eyes were still sparkling green color, dotted with yellow. She was mostly silent, but when I asked her a question, she replied slowly and rationally. She asked for my daughter, her favorite grandchild.
After she was released from the hospital, I came to visit and take care of her every day.
One day, she wispurred something and made a gesture with her good hand for me to approach her. I put my ear near her lips and heard the unexpected, “I’m sorry”.
“Why are you sorry, “Mom?”
“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you,” she said with a difficulty, not just because she suffered a stroke.
“Don’t worry about anything right now, just try to get better,” I uttered.
My mother died a few days later. I think she expected me to say that I forgive her, but at the time, those were the only words I mastered to say. I’m almost certain she was happy that her daughter, who she loated years earlier, was there in her last moments.
I've forgiven my mother long time ago as I loved her too much and still do.
Ironically, now I work for the Department of Justice and help victims of crime, including children abused by their loved ones. I’m happy today that I was able to forgive her and reconnect with her in a way I never could as a child. Today, I have her picture at work. Every time I glance above my computer, I can see her smiling face

Kathi Long07.03.2012

Thank you for the reconnect story. It seems that as I grow older, friendships are harder to nurture and fade away without increased effort to sustain them. I recently reconnected with a dear friend with whom I parted ways 6 years ago when she got a divorce. It was a difficult time for her, and I did not approve of her choices post-divorce. I felt that she was not making smart decisions in her best interest, and so I abandoned the relationship. I have mourned this friendship for 6 years. Since I do have contact with her grown children, I took the opportunity to pass a letter to her via her son. I am so glad I did this. I apologized for my judgmental attitudes in the past, asked her forgiveness, and luckily, she felt the same way and forgave me. Now we are having so much fun rebuilding our friendship and rediscovering it anew. I intend to make the same attempt with another dear friend and hope that I am equally successful with her!

Vicki 07.03.2012

My parents divorced when I was an infant. My dad said he wasn't ready to be a parent yet. I only saw him a handful of times when I was growing up. It hurt that shortly after divorcing my mom, he remarried a lady who had a daughter from a previous relationship who was about my age and my dad adopted her and raised her as his own. He did always send child support, but I felt I was nothing more than a financial obligation to him. My mom remarried and my step-dad was an abusive man...both to me and my mom. I lived in that abuse for 9 years before she found the courage to get us out of there. I never understood why my dad didn't want to get to know me and to be a part of my life. He didn't respond to my high school or college graduation announcments. I would be lucky to get a Christmas card from him. Then probably 2 years ago, I found him on FaceBook. I scoured his page and debated whether I would "friend" him. I decided the pain was too much and the fear of rejection won out. I would for months stalk his page just to see what was going on in his life. I knew that he and his current wife had a son so I had a half-brother that I didn't know. One day my dad posted pictures of him and his "grandkids". It was purely impulsive on my part, but I messaged him immediately and told him that technically he had another grandchild too. (I have a 15 year old daughter). He IMMEDIATELY messaged me back.....it was a process, but we worked through our issues and now for the first time in my 43 years, I can say that I have a dad. Not only that, but I have met my brother, sister-in-law and have a neice and nephew! My family has expanded greatly and I feel very blessed to have entered this chapter of my life. It feels great to not carry around the anger anymore towards my dad and to be able to just move forward and get to know each other. It has been like a movie, in real life!


I cannot thank you enough for writing this. Being a Stepmother is hard enough, but being a CHILDLESS Stepmother is even harder. Sometimes the children do not understand and no woman can get it unless they are in it.
Thank you for trying to understand what your SM was going through, despite how all the fallout effected you.
I write a blog on this subject: http://childless-stepmother.blogspot.com/

Linda Mueller06.28.2012

I guess this is more of a connection than a reconnection story. My husband was contacted by a young lady two years ago who said she thought she was his daughter. Thirty years ago, Bill had had a drunken one-night stand with a fellow classmate and she conceived a child. However, she informed Bill that she had also been with someone else and it was his child, not Bills. Then, after rearing this child along with three others, Meagan discovered that her blood work through a routine blood test did not match her mother and father. Meagan approached her mother and asked for the truth. Her mother denied any wrong-doing and continued the lie until four years ago. At that time, my husband Bill had to undergo a life-saving heart transplant. Meagan's mother finally admitted that Bill could be her dad - her reasoning was so that Meagan could find out if Bill's medical history would be hereditary and would affect Meagan and her two children. When Bill was contacted, needless to say, he was blown away, as was I. We had no idea this was a possibility. We have a 21 year old daughter and were unable to have any more children. Once Meagan finally built up the courage to contact us (it took her two years), we found that she was indeed Bill's daughter. To say that the discovery was a bit unsettling is putting it mildly. Liz, our daughter, was let down by her father in her eyes. Bill had always preached to her about responsible behavior and watching out for yourself. Liz' dad was her idol and that was indeed shaken by Meagan coming into out lives. however, two years have passed and many hours have been spent sorting through feelings, emotions, and reasons why it all happened like it did. We are now a meshed family with happy times yet to come. Our family went from two parents and a beautiful daughter to two lovely and successful daughters, a wonderful son-in-law, and two awesome grandchildren. Our re-connection of sorts has made our lives so much more fulfilled.

06.23.2012

My first ex-husband (I don't collect them-I only have two) contacted me after forty years. He had been searching for quite a few years and finally hired a private investigator. He was guilt ridden and apologizing for his bad behavior. In the past two months we have exchanged letters (we are in our 60's and 70's, so that is our style). I was initially apprehensive, but it has turned out okay. It is like making a new friend who still knows a little about you. I find him far more interesting and adventuresome than he was as a young man; I hope he finds me more insightful and empathetic.

06.23.2012

Recently a distant relative contacted me to fill in a piece of the family tree on Ancestory.com. She gave me access to the tree and I saw my father's first marriage, which was always never talked about and hidden, and to whom he was married to (the name) and they had one child, a daughter. I knew I had a half sister out there, she came to see him when she turned 18. I was 13 and I remembered it. I never saw her again, and honestly couldn't remember her name. Here she was on this family tree. I tracked down her address in another state and sent her a letter. A week later she replied, it was her, the letter made it. It's so sad that my father never acknowledged her, he died in 2008. I told her he was not responsible or accountable for a lot of things in his life and that I felt bad about it all. She had no pictures of him. I sent a few. I have not heard from her yet again. It might have been too much and things should have been left as they were, but you never know, sometimes things happen for a reason.

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