When Barbara Goldberg became a stepmother 25 years ago, her stepchildren labeled her “Wicked One.” It’s a title she wears with pride, “especially when given the opportunity to shoot at them at laser tag. I made it my personal mission to make sure that I showed those kids a good time and appropriate revenge on a daily basis,” she writes on her website TheEvilStepmotherSpeaks.com.
Goldberg, a Scottsdale blogger, life coach and author of The Evil Stepmother Speaks: A Guide for Stepfamilies Who Want to Love and Laugh, married a man with three children, ages 15, 13 and 10 at the time, and brought along a 6-year-old son from her first marriage. “My No. 1 concern was how it was going to affect my son,” she says. “At the same time, I was trying to assess what would be best for my stepchildren.”
Goldberg’s approach to stepparenting has always included humor, something she says is necessary for living happily ever after.
“People would see us as a family and be shocked because we were always having a good time,” Goldberg says. Some would ask her favorite question: Do you really love your stepchildren like you love your own son? “Yes, I really do,” she says.
• Don’t believe everything you hear. “Don’t assume that the kids’ mom is a horrible person. Women fall into that trap because it makes them feel better about themselves. The truth is that the woman on the other side is a loving mother who is worried about her children, loves them to death and just wants the best for them.”
• Don’t lose yourself. “We very often lose ourselves in a well-intentioned effort to make things better for everyone else. It doesn’t work in life, and it doesn’t work in a stepfamily. Lead by running your life in a way that is strong and powerful and independent, by pursuing your own dreams.”
• Don’t try to be everyone’s friend. “Even though you’re not their parent per se, you’re an authority figure, and you’re not there necessarily to be liked. You’re really there to lead. It’s way different.”
• Don’t ignore your partner. “Without the relationship, the whole house of cards falls down. Give the relationship the attention it needs and don’t become resentful… [or] turn on your partner.”
• Don’t think you always know best. “Just let it go.”
Connect with Barbara Goldberg
Two decades of these comments resonated with Goldberg, and after retiring in 2011 from a 20-year career with a Fortune 500 company, she decided to apply her business acumen to help other stepmoms navigate the landmines of stepparenting.
Goldberg studied with sociologist and best-selling author Dr. Martha Beck to become a certified life coach and launched TheEvilStepmotherSpeaks.com. Her mission statement: Saving the world one stepfamily at a time. “I started blogging and talking about my experiences on a podcast and on social media,” she says. “There weren’t a lot of resources out there for stepmothers then.”
Now, Goldberg offers personal coaching sessions in person or by email. Stepmoms can also connect through her website, videos and blogs, including Goldberg’s guest blogs on The Huffington Post. She also has a Facebook page with private groups, including Stepmom Life Class, a “sacred space” discussion group where participants can candidly share their thoughts. Husbands are welcome, but few jump in, Goldberg says.
Goldberg has a large Twitter following (around 16,500 people), and uses the platform to post videos and dole out advice on how to connect with stepchildren, what the relationship with the “ex” should look like, what role the stepmom plays in the family and a host of other useful topics. Her end game is to help stepmoms master the art and science of stepfamily management.
Goldberg and fellow stepmom coach Jenna Korf stage four-day immersive stepmom retreats where they teach useful strategies and offer support. Retreats take place in upstate New York (where Korf lives), Santa Fe and Scottsdale and are learning-intensive. “People come to learn, and I think it’s important that they literally sit in class like they would learn anything else,” Goldberg says. They use research drawn from psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, human development and business. “I always combine these teachings with some good, ol’ fashioned mom know-how,” Goldberg says.
In the evenings, participants eat and swap stories. After each retreat, Goldberg and Korf set up a private Facebook group so that the stepmoms can keep in touch. “They have each other forever,” she says.
In 2013, Goldberg published The Evil Stepmother Speaks, a whimsical look at the serious business of stepparenting. The reader is introduced to the cast of characters: the king (biological dad); the queen (biological mother); and the evil stepmother. Goldberg tells the story in fairy-tale form, peppered with witty observations and practical strategies. Each chapter presents a topic integral to stepfamilies and ends with “Tales From My Enchanted Reality,” where Goldberg combines her own stories with other stepmoms’ experiences to protect the innocent. “Sorry, this is not a tell-all book about my family,” she writes in the prologue.
The stories she does relate about her family reveal her wicked sense of humor. During their first year of marriage, Goldberg and her husband rented an RV and told the kids they were going to Yosemite for vacation. It didn’t go over well, and complaining ensued. Goldberg’s reaction: “Future vacations became mystery vacations. They received the dates of the vacation and packing lists,” she writes in the book. To up the ante, she would put items on the list they didn’t need. “They have schlepped their heavy coats to beach vacations. They have brought sporting equipment to places where that sport was not available.” Goldberg claims those vacations set the tone of her stepmom life and prove she is “consistently funny” despite what her children might say.
Today, her children are grown (the oldest is 40) and they’ve added six grandchildren to the mix. They all live within 10 minutes of each other and get together on a regular basis, always with laughter.
“My stepchildren and grandchildren do sweet things for me all the time. I love the sweet notes that they have given me over the years,” Goldberg says. “I adore the grandchildren [my stepchildren] have given me. I honor the respect and love that they show me every day.”
Helping other stepmoms has become Goldberg’s passion. “I lived through it and I have adult children now. When you’re in the middle of it, like anything else in life, it’s hard to see the future,” she says. “People tell me all the time, ‘You saved my marriage.’ It’s incredibly rewarding work.”