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. 

 

 People Magazine, July 8, 2002            

         Spouse Repairs, Page 101

No 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 owned.  "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 on www.comamas.com, 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 Stepwives.  "We recommend their program," says David Levy, president of the Children's Rights Council advocacy group.  "We can see that their work makes a difference."

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 parents.  Growing 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 other."

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 dinner.  “We 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 bed together." 

Galina Espinoza

Maureen Harrington in San Diego

                                                               

  The New York Times On The Web

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 “Stepwives.”  The 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 make.

 “We 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 connotation.  “As 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 comamas.
“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 ready.  I realized how many unrealistic expectations I had.”

The women exchanged brief, understanding glances.  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 pantsuits—Ms. Oxhorn-

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 Cuisinart-like ribbons.  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 fighting.”

“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 said.   “When Lynne and I were struggling, he tried very hard to get us to get along.  He really tried."

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 kid.  Sometimes, 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 it.  Louise 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 functions.

“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 tremulously.  Ms. 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 it.”

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.”

 

By Carrie L. Morris
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 30, 2002; Page C10
When reflecting on the roles and rituals we're invited to play throughout our lives, few can stir emotions like marriage and parenthood . . . and stepparenthood.

When I first became a stepmom eight years ago, I approached it like any other job and challenge I've had, with full gusto and great expectations. At 35, soon after relocating to Maryland via California, I met my future husband, Mike, and later his two children, Stacey, 5, and Adam, 3 1/2. The children graciously yet cautiously invited me into their world -- a world rocked by divorce and defined by the weekly shuttle between two households, duffel bags filled with equal parts emotion, uncertainty and personal belongings.

Today they continue to shuttle to and fro, but with larger duffel bags and more complex emotions. You each wonder if anything has fallen between the cracks since the last visit -- roughly two to four days apart depending on the weekend schedule. Should we review the rules, expectations, schoolwork, routines? Or are we so familiar with the choreography that this week is an extension of last?

Struggling for my "steplegs," I would have my insecurities and desire for continuity surface mid-week, anticipating the children's arrival. I began to feel out of touch with my own life and conflicted about my value to the family.

Searching for answers and support, I enrolled in a parenting class and was surprised to be the only stepmom within that group. This prompted a search for community-based programs and support, which were then in short supply. Thankfully, resources and access to information have since grown dramatically, perhaps because there are now 20 million stepfamilies in the United States.

The Stepfamily Association of America estimates that in a few years, stepfamilies will outnumber traditional families.

According to sociologist Constance Ahrons, approximately 85 percent of divorced men and 75 percent of divorced women marry again within three years. These numbers demonstrate that most who divorce are hopeful about the institution of marriage and retain the necessary optimism to try again. Some stepparents parachute in, intoxicated by the promise of new love, a second chance to "get it right" and idealize the prospect of the instant family and life cozily ever after.

Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, says she receives numerous e-mails from stepmoms enamored of a fantasy to make the family whole again. She cautions stepmothers, especially, to consider the psychological and biological pact the birth mother has with her children, compared to the clay feet of the new wife -- there's no contest. "The biological mother's very presence is enough to start the engines," says Sollee. She says the role of stepmom and stepdad are equally pivotal in the re-divorce equation, and emphasizes the importance of skillfully managing disagreements in not only intact families but in remarriages, where 60 percent end in divorce, principally when children are involved.

While many struggle through "binuclear" adjustments, rearranging everything from emotional ties to simple logistics of more people sharing a bathroom, an evolving breed of stepparents realizes that a stepfamily is anything but one-size-fits-all, and are choosing to bridge the genetic divide between bio and step with patience, compassion and flexibility, if for no other reason than the health and welfare of the children.

One emotional adjustment includes the introduction of a new love interest by the primary parent. This can be tricky and should be handled delicately. Paige Eversole McMahon, 47, of Bethesda, gently applied the brakes despite the enthusiastic tenor of husband Tony Eversole, who early in the courtship encouraged McMahon to meet his three children, then ages 12, 14 and 16. McMahon, 35 at the time and divorced without children, recalled "not wanting to play ball initially." She eased into the equation with a two-year courtship. "As a result, we had no flashpoints, no fights, tears or recrimination." Years later, her youngest stepdaughter asked playfully, "You really had no idea what you were getting into, did you?" McMahon hadn't, but she defined her own boundaries in the relationship and saw her role as another adult in the cheering section. "As it turned out, it was exactly what each of us needed," she says. And while the "wonder years" weren't without their share of disappointments, McMahon credits the process of constant reconnection and joining the family with the right attitude: "People and relationships come unglued. It's implied in every family; stepfamilies are no different. That's what makes a family a family."

"The more the merrier" for Jim Borgeld, 39, of Wyoming, Mich. He and wife Christy Borgeld, 42, who is a board member of Stepfamily Association of America and founder of Stepfamily Day, have been married for 10 years and proudly bear the "yours, mine and ours" badge of courage, with seven children between them.

The Borgelds, or the "B-bunch," as they're often called, had a lot to consider before joining forces. "Christy had four, I had two and together we had one," says Jim. The children ranged from 18 months to 7 years of age.

"I won't kid you and say we didn't have our share of growing pains," he notes. "Most significant was the time my stepdaughter referred to me as 'Dad' in front of her biological father. That was a biggie! We went outside and handled it man to man. Now we play pool together and are good pals."

A vigorous advocate for stepfamilies across the country, Christy Borgeld drafted legislation that resulted in a proclamation of Stepfamily Day on Sept. 16, 1997, in her home state of Michigan. Today 38 states join in celebration and recognition with an annual Stepfamily Day Picnic. In 1998 President Clinton added "stepmothers" and "stepfathers" to the official Mother's and Father's Day proclamations.

Sometimes a custodial stepparent feels better equipped to handle the evolving developmental needs of a child if the biological parent is unwilling or unable to. The resulting modification of custody or visitation schedules, if handled amicably, may be just what the child needs. Christy Borgeld stepped up to the plate when the "rewiring" that often takes place between custodial visits proved too difficult. "The school knew when Jimbo was with us and when he was visiting his mother," says Borgeld.

Sometimes the division of labor is defined by circumstance, as when the biological parent is absent altogether. Such was the case for Ted Milkovich, 46, of Gaithersburg, who at 28 became the paternal custodian of his wife's two children, ages 6 1/2 and 9. "It was a heck of a lot of responsibility balancing my career during the high-tech boom and knowing I was the primary support system and male figurehead," recalled Milkovich. In the absence of traditional preparation, he feels it went smoother than he anticipated, and wonders how the "balance of power" may have shifted if the biological father had been present.

"As such, I'm grateful there was one uniform voice."

The flip side is often a discouraging fact of life for stepfathers: It can take a long time for the children to accept them. Whether the child feels their mother has been stolen or has chosen to begin anew, children internalize this as their father's place being usurped by the new stepdad. And this often inspires guilt: "If I like this man, then I'm being disloyal to my dad." Cambridge clinical psychologist Sam Osherson tells stepfathers not to see a child's anger as a sign of failure. "They have to be angry at you in order to grieve what they have lost, which is the intact family," he says.

A North Potomac stepfather was clear about the boundaries early on with his stepson, age 3 at the time: "The biological father was very much involved in his son's life, and I saw my role to counsel rather than discipline."

In my own journey, I stopped waiting for my stepchildren to authenticate my role. I incorporated the "three P's" into my daily life: patience, perseverance and perspective. In addition, I began to view the relationship as a process, not a stance, and released my anxiety about how the kids would turn out and my perceived role in influencing that outcome. At some point you realize that life happened before you showed up on the scene.

In my search, I found an abundance of materials; evidence of a growing positive movement with legitimate lifelines to the stepfamily community. For starters, there is the CoMamas Web site, which offers time-honored case studies of ex-wives and stepmoms voluntarily walking a block or mile if necessary in one another's shoes.

If technique is what you're after, a range of sites offer discourses on such themes as "The Second Fiddle Syndrome," "The Stepmom Under-Study," "Never a Leading Lady" and "Step Winning or Step Whining?"

Heard about parenting with fusion? It's there. And quizzes to determine whether you're a stepmom or stepmonster. Notable authors advise you to dig deep and "bloom where you are planted."

Building a stepfamily is an arduous process and a respectable job by any measure, I can tell you: Expect nothing and be prepared to give everything -- just because you feel like it. For the roots of this relationship are like nothing else you will ever experience and can be deeply rewarding if built, nurtured and fought for over time.

Let's face it: Parenting is no cakewalk. It's fraught with unexpected twists and turns, and your children are going to fight you and wish you'd just go away. So as a stepparent, you just have to develop a thicker skin and learn not to take it personally. This endeavor is its own deliberate reward. You must stake your claim in the family structure no matter how murky and blurred the boundaries often appear. You are a vital link in the family.

Among Web sites that offer solutions and support for stepfamilies:

www.stepfam.org

www.saafamilies.org

www.stepfamilies.com

www.secondwivesclub.com

www.comamas.com

www.momscape.com

www.boston.com/globe/columns/meltz/061898.htm

For a recommended reading list or support groups in your area, contact the Stepfamily Association of America at 800-735-0329.

 



The CoMamas are not licensed psychologists. Dr. Krausz is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist in California and a licensed psychologist in Texas. CoMamas workshops, emails, consultations and/or coaching is not intended to replace traditional therapy, but is based on the program developed by the CoMamas and Dr. Krausz and the book, STEPWIVES.
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