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Prof. Susan Shapiro Barash: A Guide for Human Relations Harmony

by Gad Nahshon

In her groundbreaking book, WOMEN OF DIVORCE: Mothers, Daughters, Stepmothers- The New Triangle (New Horizon Press, December 2002), Susan Shapiro Barash explores the dynamics that take shape among the three women who find themselves members of the new "extended" family. A divorced and remarried mother herself, Barash has witnessed firsthand how differently divorce affects daughters and sons. She has conducted hundreds of interviews with mothers, stepmothers and daughters of various ages and ethnic groups to find answers about the impact divorce and remarriage has had on their relationships with each other.

With seventy-five percent of divorcees remarrying and the majority of those second marriages involving children, the conflicts and adjustments between mothers, daughters, stepmothers and stepdaughters are a day to day reality in many women's lives. Barash's pioneering research is among the first to look exclusively at the effects of the husband's/father's remarriage on the three women impacted.

And to daughters of divorce see the following fact sheet: *Daughters under the age of eight when their parents divorce will not know father loss *The greatest population of daughters who mourn the loss of the intact family are over the age of 13 when the divorce occurs *75% of the interviewees over the age of 20 consider their stepmothers to be confidantes and supporters *75% of adult stepdaughters/daughters report a determination to succeed in their own marriages as a result of their parent's divorce *65% of adult stepdaughters/daughters report the strength to leave a failed marriage as the result of their parent's divorce *60% of interviewees who expected their parents to divorce felt prepared for the aftermath of divorce *65% of mothers and stepmothers respect one another *60% of daughters felt their lives were enriched by two mother figures *65% of mothers advocate co-mothering *70% of stepmothers advocate co-mothering *More children under the age of 18 in the U. S. live with a stepparent than children living with a set of biological parents (Stepfamily Foundation).

In her new book. WOMEN OF DIVORCE: Mothers, Daughters, Stepmothers- The New Triangle, Barash delves into the lives of these three groups of women of all social strata and all ages. Based on hundreds of interviews, Barash uncovers how mothers, daughters and stepmothers suffer and triumph in their connection to one another. In this exploration, Barash shows us how daughters have benefited from being raised by two mothers, a biological mothers and a stepmother. In an interview, Susan Shapiro Barash, a professor of gender studies at New York City's Marymount Manhattan College, will discuss: *How women feel as single mothers following the divorce *How stepmothers approach their role with their stepdaughters *What messages mothers give to their daughters about their stepmothers *Why a daughter might hesitate to become close to a stepmother *Why a stepmother might hesitate to become close to a stepdaughter *How the age of the daughter affects the relationship between daughter and stepmother *How mothers and stepmothers learn to co-mother *The benefits of co-mothering for the daughters The following is an interview with Prof. Barash:

1. Why did you write this book? "While there are literally hundreds of books on divorce, there is nothing that concentrates on the triangle between mother, daughter and stepmother. I wrote this book as a guide for all three members of this triangle. I hope they will recognize themselves in the interviews and benefit from the advice of experts.

2. Did you find in your research that the world of stepmothers and stepdaughters is filled with negativity? To the contrary, I found that while it is complicated to be a stepmother to a stepdaughter and sometimes difficult for a mother to share her daughter with a stepmother, both women need to go slowly and take time to build the relationship. There can be many positive aspects to this relationship.

3. What is the mother's impact on this triangular relationship? So much of the daughter's attitude toward her stepmother is influenced by the mother's reaction to the stepmother. If the mother approves, then the daughter has a chance to forge a meaningful bond with her stepmother. If the mother resents the stepmother-perhaps she was the reason for the divorce--perhaps the mother is single and lonely-then the daughter feels she has to defend her mother and hesitates to allow a closeness between herself and her stepmother to develop. The mother's approval of the stepmother makes all the difference.

4. Why is the stepmother so maligned? Throughout literature and history we have seen wicked stepmothers: Snow White's stepmother, Cinderella's stepmother, Queen Anne Boleyn and many others who seem opportunistic and disinterested in their stepdaughters. And this often has been a current day experience as well. A mother cannot choose her daughters stepmother and often times she will not like the woman who, as her ex-husband's new wife, becomes the stepmother to her daughter. The stepmother might make a few attempts to connect with her stepdaughter before withdrawing or giving up, feeling she is in a lose/lose situation.

5. What part does the father play in the relationship between his ex-wife, his new wife and his daughter? While the father's role is significant, in that he is the father and he can demand respect from his daughter for his new wife and, hopefully, from his ex-wife, what he cannot do is make the three females like one another. So often a divorced man goes blindly into a new marriage, believing that because he loves his daughter and he loves his new wife, they will love one another. It usually doesn't happen that easily. In fact, the stepmother and daughter may feel that they are competing for the father's/husband's attention and love. If the father can step back a bit, wait it out patiently, all the while encouraging both his daughter and new wife to communicate with each other and spend time together, it will be incredibly helpful."

Susan Shapiro Barash is a well established writer. She is a lecturer with wide media experience. She wrote many books such as: Mothers-in-law and Daughters-in-law: Love, Hate, Rivalry and Reconciliation (New Horizon Press), Second Wives: The Pitfalls and Rewards of Marrying Widowers and Divorced Men (New Horizon Press).


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