Laura Petherbridge, has been a stepmom of 24 years. Her website is a fabulous resource for stepmoms. Her books and articles are full of useful tips and information. Laura also offers retreats for stepmoms! It’s wonderful that stepmoms can find a community where they can relate with one another and find comfort, help, and support. Laura kindly did an interview with Family Fusion Community.
- The book concentrates on stepmoms. How does focusing on the stepmom help the bio parents and children? When the entire family works together on the complexities, everyone benefits. The stepmom can only work on the areas she can control. If each family member takes ownership, and begins to work on their part in the relationship issues and problems can begin to heal.
- Tell us about your retreats. What can stepmoms expect to gain from one of your retreats? I’ve discovered that stepmoms are desperately seeking a place to “let their hair down” and share how they really feel. This role is typically much more complicated than they thought it would be. Therefore, they are frustrated, angry, isolated, sad, and bewildered on where to find help or practical wisdom. First time family resources provide very little for them because they don’t address the issues she is facing. My team of 5 seasoned stepmoms, who have weathered every type of storm, offer help, healing and hope for today’s stepmom.
- Faith is a large part of your book, and your retreat. If faith is not a part of a stepmom’s life, can she still learn from your book, and your retreat? Absolutely! One of the best compliments I ever got was from an atheist who bought my book not knowing it was faith-based. She said that had she known it was faith-based she wouldn’t have purchased it, but she was so glad she did. Her comments stated that she just overlooked the faith portion and gleaned from the practical. She concluded with saying The Smart Stepmoms was the most helpful resource she ever read.
- You encourage stepmoms to start their own traditions, and to give stepkids permission to have a past that doesn’t include the stepmom. This was huge for my family, and something both Molly, my daughter’s stepmom, and Bob, my daughter’s stepdad do on a daily basis for my kids. Unfortunately, many people who remarry after a spouse is deceased assume they won’t face stepfamily issues because there is no divorce or co-parenting issues. This is a huge mistake. Therefore, I advise reading as much about stepfamilies as possible and attending stepmom/stepfamily conferences. And adding a new baby can either go very well, or very poorly. It depends on the emotional condition of each child. Children (young and older) who are still hurting can view a new baby as one more loss, even though the parents view it as an exciting addition that should bind everyone together. In general younger kids typically accept a new baby better than adolescence, teens, and college age kids.
- Another thing I loved about your book was the stepmom discussion section of each chapter. The stepmom in my blended family and I have open communication, but I know not all biomoms and stepmoms are in the right place for open communication yet. Discussions with other stepmoms is a wonderful idea. Would you suggest biomoms have similar discussions? I’ve been in this ministry for over 25 years and that rarely occurs, but it’s a great idea. A healthy divorce recovery support group could be the place for that to happen. But it would take an exceptionally mature and strong facilitator to keep the group from turning into a hate session toward the stepmom.
- The best things I ever did for my children, and for myself was to get to know their stepmom, Molly. My daughters get to have another mom with a whole other set of life experiences, morals, and most importantly, they have another mother to love them. I know there are many biomoms who are less than accepting to their children’s stepmoms. What is one piece of advice would you give to the stepmom in that situation? Your children are very fortunate to have two women in their lives who care more about the kids than they do their own issues and battles. I commend you. A smart stepmom learns that she is NOT the mom to these children, in their eyes she is their father’s wife. She needs to learn what that role entails, and let go of the things she wishes were true but are not. This includes accepting that she cannot change the mother’s attitude, actions, or responses. The only thing she can do is remain a lady, even if it gets ugly. And remember children are fiercely loyal to a parent, even if that parent is negligent, cruel, violent, abusive, or emotionally unstable. Learn what you can control, and let go of the things you can not.
- Laura, you have been a stepmom of more than 24 years, you share that in the early years you often felt like running away from home. Why does a stepmom sometimes dream about walking away? A stepmom is often ambushed by feelings of resentment, failure, and anger. No matter how hard she tries she feels as though her husband’s kids will never like her, so the instant response is to give up.
- Many of the stepmoms are shocked by the complex issues they are encountering in their relationship. Why didn’t they recognize these problems beforehand? One reason is that its human nature to ignore problems and believe that “love will conquer all.” Another is that the kids often don’t protest the marriage until after the wedding. And a third reason is because stepmoms inaccurately assume that since they have good intentions, the children will accept and honor them as a mother-figure.
- Fairy tales often portray the stepmother as “wicked.” Does this image affect how a woman views herself as a stepmom? Many stepmoms laugh at this image because they admit that they feel wicked sometimes. Other stepmoms hate the phrase and feel it is condescending. Either way, there is great pressure on stepmoms to act like a mother to their stepchildren–even when they don’t care for her to do so. This “motherhood mandate” generates a lot of stress and frustration for stepmothers who are hamstrung in their role.
- Some kids adjust well to having a stepmom and others don’t. What factors affect the bond between them? There are numerous factors. One is the age of the children, and another is the time frame before the dad remarried. A significant factor is the relationship between the biological mom and the stepmom. If there is tension or anger between them, the kids may feel they are abandoning their mom if they accept a stepmom. In my situation, I have accepted Molly, so my children have also accepted her. I believe there is some truth to that.
- What are some of the ways a stepmom can cope with a former wife that is unwilling to coparent in a healthy way? She needs to learn the things she can control and let go of the things she cannot. In addition, she should step aside and allow her husband to communicate with his former wife if at all possible.
- Many stepmoms have biological children from a previous relationship. What are some of the issues or concerns that a stepmom encounters concerning her biological children? One chief complaint is that her children are treated differently than her stepkids. If her stepchildren have no boundaries, guidelines, or chores, but her kids must abide by the rules, resentment is common. Plus the stress and work of stepparenting often takes her away from spending time with her children, which often makes her feel guilty or neglectful.
- You have two chapters in The Smart Stepmom designed for the dad. If the book is for stepmoms, why did you include him? She can’t do it without him. If dad is unwilling to insist that his kids treat her with respect, the chance of the relationship with his kids becoming healthy is unlikely. Therefore, we have provided dad with tips, strategies, and powerful insight on how to work as a team.
- You also have an entire chapter that focuses on adult stepkids. Why is that an important subject? It’s a myth to think that adult children don’t struggle with a stepmom. For example, stress over financial issues is often a catalyst for tension. Plus dad may be spending more time with his wife and neglecting his kids or grandkids, which causes resentment.
- If you could say only one thing to a woman thing to a woman about to marry a man with children, what would it be? Take the time to consider all the factors and issues surrounding stepfamilies. Listen to other stepmoms and don’t ignore the complex issues. Understand that it will take time to build a relationship with his kids, and they may or may not ever view you as part of the family. If you cannot foresee yourself putting up with this reality, don’t marry. Also, if the man you are dating is unwilling to set boundaries with his children or ex-wife, don’t assume that you can step in and provide “a mother’s guiding hand.” Odds are, you cannot.
- Whether to have an “ours” baby may be a big decision for this couple. What advice would you offer? In our research we discovered some stepfamilies that were strengthened by the addition of a child, and others where the baby caused a fracture. Therefore, we offer various issues which should be considered before making the decision such as:
- Before you marry discuss whether you desire a child.
- If your husband doesn’t want another child and you do, be careful not to assume it’s a sign of preference or lack of confidence in you.
- Consider the relationship that already exist in the home. Stronger connections contribute to an easier adjustment to the addition of an “ours” baby, but division may result in difficulty.
Laura advises that the marriage covenant must be the highest priority.
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of eleven and fifteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish is the owner and founder of Family Fusion Community. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.