Being Mama: Kelly Rutherford
Kelly Rutherford, who’s appeared on our screens in Gossip Girl, Being Mary Jane and Quantico (among many others) has a unique perspective on motherhood. In 2012, her ex-husband – who lives in Monaco – received sole custody of two children, Hermes and Helena. Here, she explains how the custody battle has made her a better person – and mother
Imagine, for a minute, what it might be like if your children didn’t live with you. Imagine if someone had taken them from you in a custody battle, and you had to go home each night, without tucking their little bodies into bed or telling them a goodnight story. Imagine not waking up to their smiling faces, or making them breakfast, or listening to them sing their new favorite song to you.
Imagine if you lived in one country – and your children lived on the other side of the world.
For actress Kelly Rutherford, this is no hypothetical – this is her reality.
In December 2008, Rutherford filed for divorce from her then-husband, German entrepreneur Daniel Giersch. She was pregnant with their second child at the time, and Giersch filed a custody suit that ultimately ended in the couple’s children, Hermes and Helena, living with their father in France, while Rutherford stayed in America. The court’s decision, says Rutherford, was devastating. “I was in huge shock; I had no idea something like that was even possible,” she says. “Navigating divorce, for me, was almost like navigating life with a newborn all over again: I had no idea what I was doing, it was all new and shocking to me. And in the midst of it all, I knew I needed to protect my kids from the worst parts of it. I probably made some mistakes and looking back, may have done a few things differently, but at the time, you just do the best you can.”
“As a mother, the need to protect your kids is so overwhelming,” she says. While many of us might have broken down in the face of such overwhelming tragedy, Rutherford remained mindful of the image she projected to her two young, impressionable kids. “When my husband and I were fighting for custody of the kids, I was very conscious of how young they were. I wanted to protect them, and I thought the best way to do that was to handle myself with as much grace as possible. I still try to live by that.”
Nowadays, Rutherford splits her time – as much as possible – between Monaco, where her children live with Giersch, and New York City. “I get to see the kids a lot; I was in Monaco for eight weeks over the summer, which was amazing. Of course, I wish they were here with me, but I have to be grateful for the time I do get to spend with them,” she says.
It’s a sanguine response from the grounded actress, who says her two pregnancies were both healthy and normal. “I loved being pregnant. I did pre-natal yoga, lots of hiking – I was living in LA at the time, and that was just part of life for me.” With Hermes, says Rutherford, she craved salads and vegetables. With Helena, her body demanded carbs and burgers. “It couldn’t have been more different!”
Rutherford, who has been a successful character actress since she was a teen in the late 80s, went back to work six weeks after Hermes’s birth. “Looking back,” she says, “it was probably a mistake. I was still trying to get breastfeeding going, and so it was tough. It was all so new to me, too.” While she was supported on set, Rutherford said the real challenge was missing her baby. “It wasn’t the work that was tough; I just wanted to be with my baby. I hadn’t anticipated how much I would feel that, and how hard that would be for me.” The second time, she says, was a lot easier. “I found my rhythm a lot faster and I knew what I was in for.”
Life now is much changed for Rutherford – she has to fit her work schedule around visits to Monaco, and she has become an unlikely poster girl for custody battles. “I met a woman recently who told me that she had been taken away from her mother as a child,” she tells me. “I was so shocked, I’d never met an adult who’d been through that. She said that later, as an adult, she went to find the judge who had ordered that she be taken from her mother’s custody; she wanted to tell him what it had done to her, how it had changed her.” The judge who presided over the case had passed away, so the woman didn’t get the closure she wanted, says Rutherford. “She seemed incredibly resilient, this woman,” says Rutherford, “and I told her that. She told me that the experience had made her resilient – just not in a way she ever wanted.”
For Rutherford herself, the custody battle has changed her life forever. “In a funny way, it has changed me for the better,” she says. “I think this challenge has made me find peace in other places. If nothing else, it’s really hit home how precious and treasured my children are to me.” She adds that the experience has – against all odds – made her a better mother. “I take a lot of peace in the fact that kids get older, and eventually they make up their own minds. I do believe that babies should be with their mothers, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case this time. And this process has made me so appreciative of mothers. We do so much – including fighting for our kids, every step of the way.”