The CoMamas and Dr. Krausz have been
featured in People Magazine, The New York Times, The Chicago
Tribune, The Palm Beach Post, Redbook Magazine and The San
Diego Union Tribune. Articles have also appeared in
several newspapers in the United Kingdom (The London
Telegraph, The Independent and The London Observer.)
Television appearances include The Today Show, CNN, The
Judith Reagon Show on the Fox News Channel, Fox TV/LA and
KUSI newscasts, as well as on To Tell The Truth. Radio
interviews have been conducted all over the United States,
Canada and the United Kingdom to include The Mitch Albom
Show as well as, KPBS, San Diego's most popular morning
show, Jeff and Jer, Magic 94.1, and the Jack and Joe Morning
show. The book, STEPWIVES, was highlighted as book of
the week on the Dr. Laura Show.
Magazine, July 8, 2002
Repairs, Page 101
longer enemies, a first and second wife bottle their peace
plan and sell it
For nearly a decade Louise Oxhorn and
Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood steadily stroked the fire of their
mutual resentment, Louise, Greg Ox horn’s second wife,
hated living among possessions—from the car to the living
room couch—that he had shared with Lynne, his first wife. "I felt saddled by her stuff," she says.
For her part Lynne felt that Louise had usurped her
old life. "She
had my child and my ex and even my friends," she says,
"or so it seemed to me."
As for Greg, he was often put in the middle.
"I was always trying to negotiate peace,"
he says. "We
had some pretty intense moments.:
The low point came in 1998, when Lynne
saw Louise wearing strappy sandals identical to ones she
demanded, 'Why are you wearing those?'" says Louise.
Appalled at how petty their feud had become, says
Lynne, "we realized we had to end it or it was only
going to get worse."
Now the two former rivals have joined
forces to take that message to the more than 90 million
American who are part of a stepfamily.
In May they published Stepwives: 10 Steps to Help
Ex-wives and Stepmothers End the Struggle and Put the Kids
First, which offers a point-by-point program for achieving
peaceful coexistence. Among
the tips: observe boundaries (for example Louise and Lynne
don't go to each other's houses but meet on neutral turf)
and show mutual respect (which includes referring to each
other as a "stepwife').
After all, explains Lynne of their newly coined word,
"you can't go on calling the woman married to you ex
his new wife forever."
Louise and Lynne also dispense advice
the Web site they launched in 1998.
And with the help of San Diego marriage and family
counselor (and coauthor) Marjorie Vego Krausz, 53, they
train family therapists to conduct group workshops—which
typically meet for two hours a week for six weeks and cost
around $200-—based on the principles outlined in
recommend their program," says David Levy, president of
the Children's Rights Council advocacy group.
"We can see that their work makes a
It certainly did for Jeff Levenson, 42,
a San Diego property manager; his wife, Monika, 34, and his
ex-wife, Debi Levenson, 47, both sales reps. The three had
frequently fought—mostly over parenting issues such as
time spent on homework and music lessons—since Jeff and
Monika married in 1999.
But after completing one of Louise and Lynne's
workshops in January 2001, they all got together to
celebrate the 12th birthday of Brittany, Jeff and
Debi's daughter. "If you had told me this could happen 18 months ago, I
would have laughed in your face."
Now Monika and Debi are jointly planning bat mitzvahs
for Brittany and her sister Jessica, 14.
Success stories like that inspired
Louise, 44, a sales executive and Lynne, 51, a speech
pathologist, to quit their jobs earlier this year to focus
on Stepwives business full-time.
But reaching this stage of civility wasn't easy.
Lynne had met Greg Oxhorn when they
were students at Cal State Northridge.
Married in 1972, they had Evan, their only child 10
years later. In
1988 they split, citing irreconcilable differences.
Later that year Greg, now 54 and the
owner of a computer accessories business, went on a blind
date with Louise, a University of Buffalo grad who had moved
to Los Angeles in 1980.
They married in 1993 and settled into a two-bedroom
San Diego home—just 10 minutes from the three-bedroom
house Lynne shares with second husband Paul Ringwood, 57, a
FedEx pilot she wed in 1993.
The proximity enabled Evan, now 19 and
about to start his sophomore year at Georgetown University
in Washington, D.C., to divide his time evenly between his
up, Evan Says, Louise and Lynne were good about not fighting
in front of him and sharing holidays like Mother's Day.
"But consciously or unconsciously," he
says, "I didn't talk about one of them to the
Thanks to Stepwives, which grew out of
meetings Louise and Lynne had to address their gripes,
that's no longer a concern.
In fact, last fall, when Evan started college, both
couples traveled to Washington to help him settle in.
Before returning to California they all went out for
sat at the table together and enjoyed the moment," says
Lynne. "I couldn't believe it was happening," says Greg.
More special still was what had occurred in Evan's
dorm earlier in the day.
"Louise and I," says Lynne, "made his
Maureen Harrington in San Diego
By Alex Witchel, May 12, 2002
At Café Luxembourg, the waiter
approached just as one of the women was leaving for the
ladies’ room. “I
know what she wants—we always get the exact same thing,”
the other said. Ordering
the chicken paillard, she asked, “Can we share one?”
Well, yes, the waiter said, though each could have
her own. That idea hadn’t seemed to occur to either of them.
For years now, Louise Oxhorn and
Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood have been sharing their lives; Louise
married Lynne’s ex-husband, Greg, in 1990, and she is the
stepmother of Lynne’s son, Evan. Greg and Lynne had divorced in 1987, and later that year he
met Louise. The
women became bitter enemies, a situation further aggravated
by the custody arrangement for Evan, which called for him to
spend alternating weeks in each parent’s house.
Their enmity continued until the day in 1998 when
Lynne saw Louise wearing a pair of strappy sandals almost
identical to her own. One
nuclear explosion later, the two decided to change their
ways and have now written a book, “Stepwives: 10 Steps to
Help Ex-Wives and Stepmothers End the Struggle and Put the
Kids First” (Fireside), along with Dr. Marjorie Vego
Krausz, a marriage and family therapist.
“We never really knew what to call
each other,” Ms. Oxhorn-Ringwood said.
“When Evan was a kid, I would call Louise my
ex-husband’s new wife, but after 10 years I couldn’t do
that anymore. We
came up with stepwives to describe the relationship between
ex-wives and current wives.”
Ms. Oxhorn nodded, “Usually
stepwives hate each other,” she said, “but when they
learn to get along they become what we call CoMamas.”
In addition to writing the book, the two women and
Dr. Krausz have started the CoMamas Association (www.comamas.com),
based in San Diego, where they live.
It sponsors seminars and support groups and has
devised its own workbook to help stepwives learn how to put
their differences aside and be more effective parents.
Its Web site has registered responses from more than
10,000 women since it was founded in 1999, many of whom
answered questionnaires that provided material for
association uses as its slogan “Step into her shoes.”
Certainly, with today being
Mother’s Day, that’s advice to heed.
For one, two or maybe three families in the country,
the holiday will have the rosy glow of a cotton commercial:
the breakfast in bed will not spill onto the heirloom
quilt, the flowers will arrive without looking as if they
spent the better part of the day in the delivery truck and
the man of the house will book a five-course meal for his
in-laws with a big fat smile on his face.
Everyone else, however, has a few adjustments to
did so many things wrong, but we always did Mother’s Day
right,” Ms. Oxhorn-Ringwood said of their arrangement to
split the day. “Louise
did countless things for Evan all the time, and she deserved
my respect. I
could never verbalize thank you, but that was my way of
acknowledging what she had brought to Evan and his life.”
Ms. Oxhorn noted that Mother’s Day
can be a touchy day for stepmothers, who live in a society
where the word has not quite shed its Brothers Grimm
painful as that is, think how painful it is for a mother to
have to share her kids on Mother’s Day,” she said.
“You have to empathize with your stepwife.
And by sharing the day we allow Evan to feel good
about himself and not disloyal, that if he likes his
stepmother it will make his mother feel bad.”
The empathy and respect, along with
the effort to focus on what is best for the children, form
the basic tenets of the transformation from stepwife to
“It’s not that the women are bad,” Ms. Oxhorn said. “But the situation they find themselves in brings out the
worst in them. They’re
predisposed to dislike each other.”
Indeed, the dichotomy that usually
defines the stepwife relationship as it begins is that the
most joyous moment of the new wife’s life coincides with
what can be the most devastating for her predecessor.”
“It was one of the saddest days of
my life,” Ms. Oxhorn-Ringwood recalled of the day her
husband of 15 years remarried.
“I felt I had been replaced.
I did expect Greg to remarry, but only when I was
realized how many unrealistic expectations I had.”
The women exchanged brief,
It seems incredible that they have gotten to this
moment, when they can finally be rid of each other—Evan is
19 and just finishing his freshman year in college—and are
instead collaborators and traveling companions.
“We see the irony,” Ms.
Oxhorn-Ringwood said. “But
we feel we have a message to carry and are fortunate to be
able to do it.” Her
co-author chimed in, “We feel a lot better being CoMamas,
though we don’t recommend stepwives become friends, which
is often unrealistic.”
Then her co-author chimed in, “You can get too
close and say too much, and the whole thing can backfire.
The point is to parent the children and only that.”
In happy accord, they began to eat.
Though there are some similarities between the
two—they are both quite slim and were dressed in black
Ringwood, 51, is blond with big
green eyes, and Ms. Oxhorn is brunette with big blue eyes.
Ms. Oxhorn-Ringwood seems the calmer of the two, but
she is also the one who usually speaks first: first wife,
first voice. She has also remarried, and understands the stepwife
conundrum from both sides now.
Ms. Oxhorn, however, attacks her
food with an almost manic energy, slicing the chicken into
She has been unable to have children and seems
grateful for the relationship she has built with Evan,
though she does not discuss it in interviews.
In accordance with the ”limits and boundaries”
recommended in the “Stepwives” program, she and Ms.
Oxhorn-Ringwood have agreed that questions about Greg are
answered by his wife and questions about Evan are answered
by his mother.
“We found that the primal feelings
that are triggered in stepwives’ relationships are
territory issues,” Ms. Oxhorn-Ringwood said.
“That’s what causes the conflict and the
“The numbers of families doing
that fighting seem to be on the rise,” Dr. Marjorie Engel,
president and chief executive of the Stepfamily Association
of America (www.SAAfamilies.org), a nonprofit organization
dedicated to successful stepfamily living, says that
statistics on stepfamilies err on the low side.
In an interview, she said that while the 2000 census
put the number of children living in stepfamilies at 16
million, that is based only on those children whose mother
is the custodial parent. It doesn’t include people
living together or unwed mothers or gay and lesbian
couples,” she said. “So you can see how wrong that number is.”
While family combinations, can seem
endless these days, the most common still involve what the
Stepwives” authors call “the man in the middle, who, in
their book at least, seemed somewhat absent during their 10
year battle. Wasn’t
his the cooler head that should have prevailed?
Ms. Oxhorn leapt to his defense.
“Greg did take responsibility,” she insisted.
“It’s just that I didn’t like Lynne, so there
were times I did take over.” Well, wasn’t that rather childish? They are the parents, after all.
Ms. Oxhorn nodded sheepishly and took a big gulp.
“I can say that I was extremely immature,” she
Lynne and I were struggling, he tried very hard to get us to
get along. He
Mr. Oxhorn, in a telephone interview
said: “If I
felt the tension level getting too much, I told them I would
step in and take control, and I did.
I only wanted us to stay focused on having a healthy
when they would lose sight of that, it was like watching two
children play, getting more aggressive, and I would say,
“Enough—go to your corners.”
To their credit, they were always willing to look at
wanted very much to be a part of Evan’s life, but it had
to be not at the expense of his mother.”
As if to comfort her stepwife, Ms.
Oxhorn-Ringwood also admitted to her own bad behavior, like
refusing to sit with her ex-husband and Louise at school
“For me, as the mother, I felt
like every happy event in my son’s life was clouded by
Louise being there, she said.
“I thought of her as my karmic punishment for
leaving my marriage.”
Ms. Oxhorn looked startled. “Isn’t that a nice compliment,” she said somewhat
Oxhorn-Ringwood shot her a steadying glance.
“That’s the beauty of being able to come out of
adversarial positions to the other side,” she said.
Her co-author nodded, mollified, as Ms.
Oxhorn-Ringwood went on to say that since the two started
working out their differences, Evan seemed happier.
“I think that part of the
ex-wife’s responsibility is to acknowledge that it’s not
easy to take care of someone else’s child,” she said.
“And even though you would rather be doing it
yourself, it doesn’t negate the fact that she’s doing
Well, it seems their next step is to
become co-grandmamas. They
nodded eagerly. “The
point of our program is that it never ends,” Ms.
Oxhorn-Ringwood said. “It’s
not over when a child turns 18.”
Ms. Oxhorn added: “We speak to
families where the children tell their parents, “We
don’t want any of you coming to the hospital because you
still can’t get along.’
So who wins in that situation?”
Ms Oxhorn-Ringwood smiled placidly.
“You have to keep the skills you developed, the
respect and empathy,” she said.
“The stepmother is entitled to come to the hospital
too. There’s room for everyone.”