Book Reviews

The Enlightened Stepmother

by Perdita Kirkness Norwood with Teri Wingender

If you read the back-of-the-book promotion, you might assume that The Enlightened Stepmother (Avon, $14) will be like dozens of other books: why you should give your marriage top priority, how to handle relationships between your kids and his, how to overcome guilt of not loving your stepchildren and on and on.

But this book is different. It's real. It's powerful. It's rich with ideas.

What it is not: a manual on how to become an ideal stepmother. (Thank heavens!) That's because it rests on a number of premises that haven't been well-connected before - but should have been.

If all this sounds harsh (what about the poor stepchildren who through divorce, death or abandonment have suffered loss), it isn't. The "poor stepchildren" are not shunted aside in the pages of the book. In fact, their issues are clearly and poignantly described. No suggestions are meant to harm them; most are designed to feather the marriage nest for a secure, respectful, and eventually loving home. But the kids are not the focus here. It's the stepmom. The twenty-year old stepmom, the thirty-year old stepmom, the forty-year old stepmom, the fifty-year old stepmom and the stepmom of adult stepchildren.

"You have the central role in building new stepfamily relationships."

"You're not the bystander in your own life."

"Assume your role as female head of your household right away, in conjunction with your mate." "If you allow others to determine your function in the early stages of step-motherhood, later on it can be difficult to claim your position."

The authors' emphasis is to remember to be you and be true to your personality, beliefs, dreams and goals before the wedding and through the years of marriage that follow. Starting with the wedding, the authors write

"Opinions vary widely about what is appropriate for a second marriage. Wear white or not? Religious or civil? Accept from the start that you will not please everyone, whatever choices you make. The most important thing to remember (and to keep reminding yourself about) is that your wedding day is your wedding day."... "At the risk of horrifying critics who believe stepmoms should give way for the sake of the children, we recommend, 'Go for it!' "

The emphasis on expecting respect continues throughout the marriage, say the authors. "No apology or compensation can make up for disloyalty between spouses, even though we might understand a father's own difficulties with divided loyalties. A mate who continues to put his children ahead of his wife is perpetuating an intolerable situation and a continual erosion of the marital relationship."

The stepmoms interviewed for the book didn't all wind up with marriages made in heaven. A number never made it long enough to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. But by sharing their mistakes as well as their creative ways of handling situations, they enlighten the reader far more than any book I've read on the subject in recent years.

I wish I had the space to share more of the wonderful ideas crammed into this book. But if I did, you might not read it. And that would be your loss. The Enlightened Stepmother needs to be on every stepmother's reading list, then on the bookshelf, to be pulled down and reread from time to time. It's a fabulous soft-cover support group.

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