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Angry words melted over time and moved me.

For a family with a 'step,' a tale of hope

Nancy Lapid

is a Philadelphia writer

I'd like this to be a story of hope, for stepfamilies with teenage daughters.

When I started dating my husband, my stepdaughter was 12. Her mother had died the year before. When she first met me, she was sweet and friendly. And then for the next four years, she was almost unremittingly hostile.

I married her father when she was almost 14. I don't think she hated me. But she hated the idea of me.

By the time she was 17, however, she had started to thaw. By the time she left for college, we were becoming friends.

I'm skipping the details of how we got from Point A to Point B. Today's story is not about pain - although it does have a thread of sorrow.

Fast-forward eight years. She's out of grad school, about to become engaged to the boyfriend she's been dating since freshman year. We know he's going to propose. They have picked out the ring she'd like to have "if" she were to have one.

And one day on the phone from where they live on the other side of the country, this child who wouldn't talk to me for four years asked me, "When I'm engaged, will you come here and help me pick out a dress and go for fittings and do all the things a mother would do?"

"Of course," I told my stepdaughter. "I would be honored to do those kinds of things with you."

And I did. I traveled to help her pick out her gown. I came for her fittings, and for the "tasting" at the wedding venue. I helped her with the florist, the invitations, the hotel for the out-of-town guests. I helped keep her stress levels down.

Here's the thread of sorrow. Through it all, I kept a running conversation in my head with her mother. I told her, "I am going to take care of her. I will make sure she has a beautiful wedding."

Many aspects of the process made me teary. My eyes filled at the first wedding venue we looked at, with Pachelbel's Canon playing in the background, and in my head, I told her mother where we were. I told her when I was going out west to go wedding-dress shopping, and when we settled on the most beautiful one. I told her when we went for the first fitting, and when it was the day of the bridal shower.

In the end, the wedding was beautiful.

It's the custom in Jewish families for both parents to walk their child down the aisle. On a warm fall day in the southwestern sunshine, with family and friends around us, including many who remember and miss her mother, my husband and I brought my stepdaughter to her fiance's side.

All those years ago, she was a child in pain. We didn't know if she would heal in five years, or 25, or never. Back then I used to say, "No matter how unhappy she is now, it can't be bad for her to live in a house with a husband and wife who love each other and treat each other with kindness and respect." I had to trust my instincts and hope for the best. I had to hold in my heart the possibility that one day we would be friends.

I'm sharing our story because today, if you search online for "stepdaughter's wedding," there's little but bitterness.

No two people are alike, and no two paths are the same. But when I was the stepmother of a hostile teenager, stories of happy outcomes gave me hope. I'll forever be grateful to stepmothers and stepdaughters who told me they'd gotten past the pain and become friends. If you're in that position today, my stepdaughter and I hope our story will help sustain you, too.