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Smart Stepfamilies

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The Smart Stepmom: Introduction


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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.

Excerpted from:
The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive by Ron L. Deal and Laura Petherbridge
Copyright © 2009; ISBN 9780764207020
Published by
Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.


Sept ‘09


Comments ( 31 )
Add your Comment
#31: by Ron Deal on 02.16.2017 @ 02:42pm CST

Yes, Alisa, we will pray for you.
#30: by Alisa A on 01.15.2017 @ 02:43pm CST

I was a young woman, when I moved in with my Husband. Shortly before my 25th Birthday. He had a 4 yr old Son from a previous relationship (non-married). I had no children, or experience with them. We "jumped in with both feet", I only met his son the weekend I moved in. God found me not too long after, when I felt I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I never felt so alone and alienated. I tried so hard to love the boy, but only with Gods help was I able to. His Mother has complete control over my husband, to the point its sickening. A woman he lived with for 3 months, that left him while still pregnant with their Son... Has more say in my Husbands life than I, his wife of 5 years. Then, shortly after our marriage we discovered I am Barren. My heart falls into my stomach just thinking about it. I feel like a stranger in my home, like I will never know family. True Family. I will only watch as my Husband raises his Boy with another Woman from the shadows. I can't bring myself to view the boy as my Son. I have tried, but only with Gods help can I even smile at him with sincerity. I go through the motions of "Parenting", but I struggle connecting with him. I tell myself I am a cruel woman. What type of a person struggles to like a Child? I stumbled on this website - this book. After reading the Comments, perhaps what I am projecting on to him isn't so unnatural after all. I desperately want to live in Harmony, possibly even with Comfort, knowing that this is my Role, and my Life. To be happy and Content with it. I think I will need to read this book, and ask God to meet with me while I do. Pray for me?
#29: by Cro Meakin on 12.18.2016 @ 04:12pm CST

Thank you for writing this book. I just wish my husband and I had read this book before we got married as it would have saved us both a lot of heartache. On the bright side we are implementing all the advice now. It's not too late and we as a couple are in a much better position now especially as we have being dealing with a bio-mum who falls under more than one category (protective, over involved, stonewalling, addictive and abusive). This simple information in itself has provided peace and clarity. Thank you!
#28: by Ron Deal on 07.13.2015 @ 12:59pm CDT

Mrs. RA,

Yes, there other books by Christian authors (e.g., 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, Kindle only) and non-Christian authors. Sorry, this book didn't speak directly to your circumstances. You might also get in touch with the Sisterhood of Stepmoms, a group that encourages each other and conducts weekend retreats (http://sisterhoodofstepmoms.com/). Blessings!
#27: by Mrs. R.A. on 07.09.2015 @ 10:47am CDT

I have been reading the Smart Step mom. So far it's not helping me. I am a Stepmom. Our teens (his biological. I am not a biological mom) and I clicked really well in the beginning. They trusted me before we got engaged. They were all for it, especially his daughter. I never told them to call me mom, they did that on their own. Their mom is the female version of a "dead beat dad". I don't say that as though I am better than her. I say that as that's the truth.... I have tried to meet with her, etc. But her immaturity shows and we've yet to have a sit down chat.
I don't have the issue of the mother thinking she runs our home or the kids running to mom telling her everything. I don't have the comparison issue between biological mom and me.
There's many things listed in this book that I am not going through. I have wanted out. I have brought up divorce. Other things don't pertain to my situation. Is there any other book for stepmom that can be suggested?
Thank you
#26: by Kerry on 06.13.2015 @ 09:24am CDT

There are emotions that you cannot express openly And you get days where you dont want to carry on. I have tried to divorce my husband twice and i couldnt go through with it. Love is all about sacrafice. I decided to focus on doing things for myself so Im doing a creative writing course. I find the more happy i am the happier the children are. I spend alot of time making everyone feel special and creating occassions to keep my mind off my true feelings. I feel like hissing like a cat in certain situations and immediately shift my thinking out of the situation. And go pray somewhere. Keep words kind and be blameless. Gee its hard. Ive recreated myself to live in the situation. Ive had to shed off my uglier parts and excuse myself when i feel a dose of antisocial isolation coming on. Do family councilling. If its worth staying for then its worth fixing and having coping skills
#25: by Kerry on 03.02.2015 @ 12:28pm CST

With God all things are possible. Thank God for His Mercy and unending love for us. Laughter is God strength. Laugh alot and have lots of fun. That means letting go of small offences and accepting growing changing children unconditionally. I have 2 of my own children and my husband has 2 children. Their mom committed suicide and my step daughter found her. My biggest challenge was also making sure my own children were not traumatized. My little girl felt i loved my step daughter more. Accepting a day in day out living circumstance can test you in all ways making one feel really evil at times. Love really overcomes a multitude of sin.
#24: by Samantha on 05.27.2013 @ 11:14am CDT

I just finished the book, it was all in all enriching and needed for my life. Yet I couldn't help but get the feeling of how nasty step kids are... The vibe I received from how to perceive step kids is scary. And truthful. Mine is 4, and still very new to the blended family with an evil and vindictive bio-mom. It saddens me that the main tone I took away from this is its okay to not truly love your stepchildren (very true for me..) and that you have to go through life just grinning and bearing it. I feel no connection towards my step child, and have no idea how to change this outlook. Ths book just told me to pray and try not to speak ill towards anyone when it came right down to it.
#23: by Renee Singletary on 12.28.2012 @ 02:12pm CST

My heart is sinking to know that so many people share the pain I feel when my step children and their mother decides they can visit their father (my husband). The moment they step through door something awful comes over me. I totally shut down and go into isolation mode. I have been married for 6 years. From day 1 the mother of the children has used the daughter who is the older of the two children to try and control what goes in our household by using visitation as a threat. I have two adult children who now live outside the home. They get along with my husband just fine. They respect him highly as a stepfather. My husband is an awesome man of God but he has no back bone when it comes to his children. I'm tired of going around this tree everything they decide they want to come around (only to receive something). I pray that your book will help me. I'm gong to go out and purchase it.
#22: by Brenda on 05.01.2012 @ 07:13pm CDT

It might sound strange but my problem is not with my stepdaughter: my problem is with her father (my husband) and the "Baby Mama."
My stepdaughter knows and follows my boundries while at our home - she knows if she is disrespectful or does not respect my boundries, I will discipline her accordingly.
At 16 years old she has a poor attitude, talks back to her parents and even teachers at her school....and both her mom and dad do nothing - absolutely nothing. They act like they don't see the problems and end up sticking their heads in the sand - meanwhile there's division in our home because my husband is horribly passive and lacks consistency, leadership and guidance in our home. Couple that with a lying, manipulative and selfish Baby Mama and you have trouble.

I have a decent relationship with the teen but I get upset when my husband allows both the Baby Mama and our teenager to run and ruin our home and home life. How do you get two parents past the age of 40 to grow up and parent their teen? Life would be great if it were just me and my step daughter - if only her parents would not come with the package, too!
#21: by Nora on 04.07.2011 @ 01:38pm CDT

For CW: I have expressed many times over that I feel like a visitor in my own home when my stepson is with us. My husband and I have two small babies of our own and he has an 8 year old who is with us every other weekend. I experience major depression, anxiety and sadness days before he even arrives, knowing that my world will be flipped upside down in an instant and my husband and I will turn into our alter-ego's when he walks in the door. I feel like I live a double life and it is tearing me up inside. I desperately need to feel that I am not so alone. I feel like I mourn the loss of losing my role as "mother" each week and do not feel comfortable or even know what my role is when he is with us. I can't wait to read this book and would also love to find a support group in my area where I could regularly discuss and relate to other women in my shoes. I love my husband and family more than anything and don't want to lose what I DO have, or become so depressed that I am unable to be the good mom that I know I can be.
#20: by Sally on 01.18.2011 @ 12:13am CST

I am HOPING this book will help. Married 2 years, my husband's daughter is with us everyother weekend. During his long drives to pick up and return her, he lets her tell him what to do. She gets whatever she wants and then he hides it from me. I am ready to RUN. She shouldn't have the same level of authority as me, the wife. But I feel that I am only his wife everyother weekend when SHE is absent. He is disrespecting me and our union by giving all authority to her.He thinks "its only for the weekend" but it affects everything.
#19: by CW on 11.29.2010 @ 10:03pm CST

Have been married to a wonderful man for 6 years, we have 6 kids (3 his, 2 mine, 1 ours) and to read these comments makes me feel a little less alone as well. The ex-wife has influenced our home more than I am able to and makes constant battles of the smallest items. I feel like a visitor in my own home when his kids are around. I so look forward to getting this book and hoping to help solve the issues that threaten our happiness.
#18: by Rebekah Hatcher on 11.17.2010 @ 01:56pm CST

I'm amazed at how good God is to meet us in the second we need him most! My 15 yr old stepson has been living with us full time over a year now. I don't know what has happened to him but a month ago he went to bed his normal congenial self, but woke up an alien we do not recognize at all. There is been no peace in our family since. It take everyone's full attention to keep him functioning. We have truly hit "rock bottom" with him. I've been so full of emotions--resenting him, feeling bad for him, wanting to help him, and wanting to send him back to his mother. On the way home from work Monday I heard your Focus on the Family broadcast and was overwhlemed that God heard my cry for help. I listened on Tuesday as well. I cannot wait to order your books! My spirit has already been lifted by knowing what I am feeling is normal, that I am not alone, and that there are things I can do to help the situation. Thank you for being faithful to minister to step-families. Can't wait to get to reading!
#17: by Sandra Wright on 11.08.2010 @ 09:13am CST

Dear Lisa,
I so understand how you feel. My question for you is, "Did you do it for God, or for yourself?" Because, if you did it for God, He saw your effort. My foster mother didn't feel capable of telling her step-mother she loved her until she was 35ish. You may have to wait a while. Meanwhile, you have been given gifts from God. Use them, and look for joy in being alive. You are still alive, so you still have a purpose. Don't let this relationship consume you. Sometimes we have to love from a distance. I lost my step-children about a year ago. All but one. It was tough. The last one is getting ready to leave too. I have prayed for reconciliation, and am leaving space for God to work in the hearts of my step-children, and in my husband's heart. I know I haven't done everything right. No one does. I am sure there are other ladies that have more experience than I that can give you more advise, but no one else has posted. God bless you and keep you.
#16: by Lisa Hilton on 10.07.2010 @ 11:26am CDT

I feel I'm reading this too late - Parenting is not for the faint at heart & Step parenting without a manual for success or good christian counseling in 1995 when we got married had me very ill-prepared to be the fulltime "mom" with an on-again, off-again "real mom" coming in and out of the picture. It's been very hard and I think one of the main reasons I've found myself taking depression medicine for 10 years -- it's just so overwhelming to always feel like everything you say & do is under a microscope. I felt I muddled through alright & had a good relationship with my "daughter through marriage" until she left the house to be on her own @ 19 1/2 years & now won't talk to me, seems to have rebelled against everything I thought God was requiring of me. I'm hurt, I can't turn back the clock but how do you move forward in God's plan if it seems to have shifted or you finally got the message right only to find out you've been playing a role you obviously didn't do well for 15 years...HELP! My worst fears are being realized - not loved, not appreciated & not wanted...that's the message I'm getting for my efforts.
#15: by Brandi on 09.28.2010 @ 05:47pm CDT

I got married 1 1/2 years ago to a man who has an 8 year old daughter that he gets every other weekend. I had no idea of the challenges that this would present to me personally, as well as to our marriage. Having a step-daughter is pushing me away from my husband and encourages thoughts in my mind of leaving him. I need help and guidance or I'm afraid that I might actually end up going...
#14: by Ella M. on 12.08.2009 @ 11:30pm CST

I did finish the book and was so encouraged by the godly advice throughout the book that is applicable in lots of situations. (For example, I have lots of highlighting in the section on the "destructive" ex-wife-in-law, even though there's not one in our family.) Teresa, I rejoice with you that your experience has been so good; and I do not blame my girls for responding as they have to a situation they had no control over. Though it may take a long time for the Lord to resolve these deep issues, may I always remember the wisdom Laura shared: "Keep your mouth shut, your eyes closed, and pray very, very hard." Thank you, Ron and Laura, for a wonderful book.
#13: by teresa on 11.30.2009 @ 04:40pm CST

I'm sorry but I have to say, as a step-mom for almost 5 years I have never had any problems to this extreme. My daughter (step-daughter) was MY only child for 3 years before my son came along. As much as everyone thinks otherwise, I love her no more or less than I do my son. She has taught me so much as a mother and a person. I think that sometimes we just have to admit that we aren't perfect and maybe these kids have very valuable lessons for us just as we do for them. I'm not saying I'm perfect, but I can say that I try very hard to be as understanding to her point of view.
#12: by Ella M. on 11.16.2009 @ 11:27pm CST

Please read it and heed it. I, too, was single, never married, and married a widower with five children 14 years ago. I searched for help like this but found none. Some months ago I found the Ron Deal website, and am learning much too late the consequences of my well-meaning ignorance. Two of the older girls have now turned against us, but especially their dad, in a most heartbreaking way. By the grace of God, the other adult daughter maintains a good relationship with us. The two boys are still in high school. The youngest saw this book tonight and said, "Why are you reading that? You're our mom!" I'm not even sure I can finish the book, as I am such an example of how it shouldn't have been done. Sorry to sound so depressing; but definitely read it, Sandra.
#11: by Ron Deal on 11.03.2009 @ 09:49am CST


Perhaps a couple of readers will reply to your comment as well, but I do think The Smart Stepmom will be helpful to you. At times we do speak to the stepmom who has children of her own (even have an entire chapter on that), but we wrote the book with broad application to different stepmom situations (e.g., adult stepchildren, when the bio mom is deceased, etc.). It's not just written for one stepmom situation. Hope that helps!
#10: by Sandra Gray on 11.02.2009 @ 10:45pm CST

I was wondering if The Smart Stepmom would be a book thet would be of help to me.Any books on steparenting that I have read assume that both parties have children.In my case I came into a marriage as a completely single person,never married before and not having any children.My husband has 3 childrem from his previous marriage .I would like to read some material that is from my angle rather than from the assunption that both parties are bringing 2 sets of children into the marriage .I have a wonderful husband and the children are great ,but everyone needs a little help.
#9: by Deanna on 10.26.2009 @ 10:02pm CDT

I cannot wait to read this book. I recently finished The Smart Step-Family. I have one stepson, & we have 4 "ours" babies after 7 years of marriage. After always having 50/50 custody we recently lost that and are now going down to 6 days a month. My biggest hurdle is the ex-wife & her influence in our home. I look forward to gaining some tools on how to deal or not deal with her. Thank you for this gift to us step-moms because it can be a very lonely and negative world.
#8: by Karen on 10.15.2009 @ 01:09pm CDT

I am about to be a new stepmom after 19 yrs of being single and no children of my own. He has three daughters from 21 - 29 and three new grandchildren. I am very concerned for them and myself.
#7: by Tina on 10.13.2009 @ 10:59am CDT

I at just about my wits end. Reading this introduction I am willing to give anything a try right now. I am so tired, feel so low and unaccepted and only after 7 years. I am going to buy my copy of this to find the encouragement I need. Seems anymore the more I pray for encouragement instead I get more responsibilities and more battles.
#6: by Carol on 09.20.2009 @ 08:31am CDT

I'm encouraged that such a book exists! I know Ron from Jonesboro and know that this book will be an aid in my relationship with his children. While we're not yet married, I recommend this book become a premarital tool.
#5: by Laura Petherbridge on 09.10.2009 @ 05:06pm CDT

I'm so thrilled that my words ministered to you. I pondered what to say to my 2 stepsons and this is the only thing that seemed appropriate. Because as a stepmom I think have been both wicked and wonderful...sometimes wihtin minutes of each other.

Your Sister Stepmom, Laura
#4: by Linda on 09.10.2009 @ 12:12pm CDT

I preordered this book and it arrived last week. All it took was reading Laura's dedication to her stepsons to bring me to tears.. and then reading the table of contents made me cry even more. It's amazing to know that someone else knows EXACTLY how I feel and what I'm facing. Your ministry has always been a personal encouragement to our family, and this is one more way that God is using you to help stepfamilies. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.

The dedication was to her stepsons and it read like this:

"To my stepsons, Scott and Todd.

We have traveled this journey together.

For the times I was a wonderful stepmom - give God all the glory.

For the times I was a wicked stepmother - please forgive me."

This is my heart for my stepsons, too. Replace the above names with "Jordan and Ben".. and put the rest of it in present tense, and there is my dedication to my own precious stepsons, ages 12 and 13.
#3: by Jesi B on 09.09.2009 @ 08:56pm CDT

I am looking forward to reading this book. I feel like I am battling my step-children and my husband. Thank you!!!
#2: by Leslie R on 08.27.2009 @ 09:52am CDT

I can not wait to read this book. I am in tears just reading the introduction because I already feel like I am not alone in this and my feeling are not "unusual". My husband has had no understanding or compassion for what I feel as a stepmom and I pray this book will help us both to understand my role better! Thank you for writing this.
#1: by Vanessa Goodspeed on 08.27.2009 @ 09:04am CDT

THANK YOU!! I felt that maybe I am just too needy or nuts. :-) I think this book is a wonderful idea and I look forward to reading it. Just knowing that I am not the only step mom to be surrounded by people but stil feel alone is so wonderful.

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