Early one morning, Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood woke to the sound of rain and started worrying. Her son, Evan, 6, was at his dad's house, and she'd forgotten to pack his raincoat. She decided to call to say she'd drop it off on her way to work.
Evan's stepmom, Louise Oxhorn, answered the phone. She said that coming by with a jacket wouldn't be necessary. "Was she kidding?" Oxhorn fumed afterward. "Did she honestly think we'd send Evan to school without a raincoat? How insulting!"
For her part, Oxhorn-Ringwood was hurt by the terse response. She realized she was no longer solely in charge of her own child's life.
These two San Diego moms might have liked each other if they'd met under different circumstances. But like millions of other American women, they were locked into what can be the most volatile stepfamily relationship of all: the one between ex-wife and stepmother.
About 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, the Census Bureau estimates, with roughly 75 percent of divorced people remarrying. That's a lot of stepfamilies. Experts tell us that civil adult relationships are key to the well-being of children of divorce. Easy for them to say. The ongoing -- and inescapable -- relationship between old wife and new wife is often full of conflict.
After ten years of conversations like the one they had about Evan's raincoat, Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood and Louise Oxhorn decided to make an effort to put their differences aside. Though it wasn't easy, today they head the CoMamas Association, a group that's dedicated to helping stepmoms and ex-wives coexist peacefully -- and they also came up with the term "stepwife" to refer to each other.
Other moms can make it work, too, says Marjorie Vego Krausz, a family therapist who cowrote Stepwives with the pair -- though you hardly have to go so far as to start your own organization together. Having a normal conversation and staying cool at the sight of each other are good goals too. To move in that direction:
Holly Robinson, a mom of five, has two children from her first marriage, two from her husband's first marriage, and one with her husband.