The Smart Stepmom: Introduction
The following is an excerpt from the book The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive! by Ron L. Deal and Laura Petherbridge.
A counselor I (Ron) know opened a small envelope that arrived in his daily mail. The return address on the envelope and the Hallmark logo on the back told him it was a greeting card from a former client. Karen and Bill, a stepfamily couple each with two children from previous relationships, had been married about six years. The couple initially came to therapy because Karen felt lonely and completely powerless in her home. "My husband's ex-wife has more influence over what goes on in my home than I do," she said in the first session. "Bill is caught between me, his kids, and his ex; I just don't have a place. We've been married six years and I still feel so small in this family."
The counselor spent a number of sessions with the couple and their children working through issues. Karen seemed more optimistic about their future. The onset of summer break brought added busyness to the couple so their counselor hadn't heard from them in a while. He was pleased to receive the greeting card and was eager to catch up on how they were doing. He opened the envelope. The front of the card read "With Special Thanks."
That's a good sign, he thought to himself. Things must be going pretty well. He turned to the inside of the card and began reading. "I just wanted to thank you for trying to help me and Bill in our marriage. Unfortunately I have filed for divorce...." What? he thought. What happened to cause this downward turn? He called Karen and she explained. The stresses she had hoped to change had taken their toll, her husband was even less willing than before to support her role as stepmom, and her own children were showing signs of distress. She had lost hope. "It's just so difficult being a stepmom," she said. "I tried so hard not to get to this point. I'm tired and I just don't know what else to do. I'm going back to being a single mom."
We don't want this to happen to you.
One estimate suggests that the stepfamily will soon become (if it isn't already) the most common family form in America and it is estimated that at any given time somewhere between 15-25% of women in the US are stepmothers (representing between 23 and 38.5 million women). Despite this prevalence, stepmothers still don't have a clear model for their role and often do not feel significant to their family. Peace, for many stepmothers, is ever elusive.
I've (Ron) been working with couples and families as a therapist and family educator for more than two decades. When I started speaking and writing specifically about the needs of stepfamilies in 1997 I had no idea how hungry stepfamily couples were for practical guidance. Due to the positive response, I began speaking around the country on a regular basis, started www.SuccessfulStepfamilies.com, conducted media interviews whenever I could, and wrote my first book entitled The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family. I wanted stepfamilies to get smarter so they could beat the odds of divorce and find peace.
Today, through book and video resources, web articles, a free monthly e-magazine, and marriage therapy intensives, Smart Stepfamilies is touching the lives of thousands on a regular basis. Yet despite these efforts, thousands of emails from around the world and stories about well-intentioned people like Karen have taught me that our efforts were not enough. We had to do more.
Determined to offer more guidance I again approached Bethany House Publishers with the idea to follow up The Smart Stepfamily with several more books for stepfamilies; they agreed. This first book is for you—the stepmom. Partnering with me on this project is my friend and co-champion for stepmoms, Laura Petherbridge. She is a divorce recovery expert featured on the DivorceCare DVD series used in over 12,000 churches around the world and the author of When I Do Becomes I Don't—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce. A professional speaker, Laura conducts seminars on women's issues, divorce prevention, and spiritual growth. She has helped thousands of people walk through the transitions associated with divorce and remarriage. However, it's her personal credentials that make her the perfect coauthor for this book. As a child Laura experienced the trauma of her parents' divorce and later became a stepdaughter—twice. As an adult she has survived a divorce and has been a stepmother of two since 1985. Speaking as someone who has "been there, is doing that" she brings much needed practical insight and life-chiseled wisdom to this Smart Stepmom resource.
I Feel So Alone
Each member of a stepfamily deserves attention and support, but as I listened to the voices of various stepfamily members speaking to me over the years the one voice that has shouted for help louder than all the others is that of the stepmom. Ghastly images of wicked stepmothers still shape our social milieu; even though unfair, such judgments also haunt the consciences of stepmoms who struggle to love their husbands and find their place with young and adult stepchildren alike. Karen, for example, felt alone in her stepfamily and overwhelmed by family dynamics she had no control over. In the end she decided that the only way to get her sanity back was to divorce her husband. Continuing to slowly fall forward as a stepmother just didn't seem like much of a future.
But stepmothers don't have to be alone and they don't have to fall forward on shaky ground. With the proper perspective and tools, stepmothers can find solid ground on which to step.
In her Smart Stepmom seminars Laura shares the unique reasons why stepmoms struggle to fit into the lives of stepchildren. She also provides insight on how to overcome the loneliness, fear, and frustration often associated with being a stepmother. Laura explains, "I foolishly assumed that because I grew up having two stepmothers I would automatically know how to be one. I was wrong. The job was much more complex than I imagined. But as I began to pray and ask God to teach me how to influence my stepchildren in a godly way, he infused my mind and heart with his compassion and grace. This provided the wisdom and support I often needed. My greatest desire was to find a resource and a support system with other stepmoms who understood the journey, but I never found one. That's why I was thrilled to hear of this project. Now other stepmoms will have what I've been seeking."
Becoming a Smart Stepmom
This book is designed to take you from surviving to thriving. We will explore why being a stepmom is, in our opinion, the most difficult role in the family today and give you a hopeful perspective that will defeat that occasional temptation to run away and never come back. And we'll tell you how not to be "wicked," despite what his children and ex-wife think.
As a stepparent you need to understand his children, so we'll also teach you how their past influences who they are with you and what you can do to help. We'll discuss the roles both you and your husband must play in order for you to be successful as a stepmom, and we've even included two chapters for your husband to read so he'll know how to elevate your status in the home. For those whose husband has an ex-wife, we'll show you how to increase cooperation between your homes. If you have children of your own, we'll tell you how to care for them so they don't get lost in the stepfamily shuffle. And, in our effort to help you become a Smart Stepmom, we discuss vacations, holidays, keeping romance alive in your marriage, relating to adult stepchildren, and having an "ours" baby.
The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive by Ron L. Deal and Laura Petherbridge
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.