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Nicole Avant Celebrates Mom Jacqueline’s Legacy – and Their Joint Birthday — with ‘Dear Friend’ Gwyneth Paltrow (Exclusive)

The author and the Oscar winner discussed mother-daughter relationships at Visionary Women’s International Women’s Day Summit in Beverly Hills

<p>Araya Doheny/Getty</p> Nicole Avant and Gwyneth Paltrow at the Beverly Wilshire

Araya Doheny/Getty

Nicole Avant and Gwyneth Paltrow at the Beverly Wilshire

When Nicole Avant sat down to write her book about surviving the grief of losing her mom Jacqueline, one person urged her to share even the uncomfortable parts of that relationship — Gwyneth Paltrow. And it was the Goop founder who was on hand to help the Think You’ll Be Happy author explore that mother-daughter dynamic even further at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Wednesday.

“Gwyneth definitely understands me as a woman and she understands how important it is to honor our female sisterhood,” Nicole told PEOPLE backstage at Visionary Women’s International Women’s Day Summit ahead of their “fireside chat.” “She understands the importance of all relationships, especially mother-daughter relationships.

“I wanted to have somebody who is focused and honest and obviously a very dear friend to have the conversation with me, especially on my mom’s birthday.”

<p>Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Netflix</p> Nicole Avant (center) at a 2015 event with her late parents Jacqueline and Clarence

Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Netflix

Nicole Avant (center) at a 2015 event with her late parents Jacqueline and Clarence

Had she lived, Jacqueline Avant would have turned 84 on March 6, the same day Nicole — the former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas — turned 56. Three years earlier – the last time they celebrated their joint birthday together — mother and daughter healed old wounds. Sitting over lunch, the philanthropist apologized to Nicole for not “acknowledging” her “feelings” when years earlier the author said she wished her mom had paid “a little more attention” to her while she was growing up.

Months after that heartfelt discussion, Jacqueline was killed by a home intruder at the house she shared with music exec Clarence Avant.

Related: How the Obamas, Gwyneth Paltrow and More Comforted Avant Family After Philanthropist’s Murder (Exclusive)

Nicole says it was Paltrow who pushed her to include that bittersweet moment in her book. “She was the one to give me the courage to write the funny things about my mom or the quirky things. She was the one to convince me to talk about my mom taking accountability when she did hurt my feelings.

"I didn’t know if it was too much to put into the book, and you need a friend sometimes to remind you that other people will need this. If it’s healing somebody and not making fun of somebody, but helping somebody, then why not?”

Later, during their fireside chat, Nicole and Paltrow discussed a topic that they hoped would be helpful to other people — coparenting. Or, more specifically, the challenges they both faced as stepmoms. (Nicole, who is married to Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos, coparents his children Sarah and Tony. Meanwhile Paltrow — who shares daughter Apple, 19, and son Moses, 17, with ex-husband Chris Martin, is helping her husband Brad Falchuk to raise his teens Isabella and Brody.)

Onstage at the summit, after asking the audience how many of them are stepmoms, Paltrow playfully quipped, “Yeah, it’s a bitch, right, guys?” She added, “[I’d] really like to talk about this because it’s one of my biggest learnings as a human being, and my area of growth personally came from the initial difficult relationship I had with my stepkids.

"And now they’re like my kids. I adore them. I would do anything for them.” The actress, who has been married to Falchuk for six years, admitted that “the path to here was really rough.”

Nicole, whose stepchildren were 14 and 12 respectively when she married their father in 2009, agreed. Even though her mom Jacqueline told her to “set boundaries” and “reclaim” her power, she said “it was hard.” She told Paltrow, “But, the beauty is [my mom] did tell me, ‘One day they’re going to appreciate you and the more you respect yourself and put your boundaries up with love, they will turn… might be years later,’ which they did. And now I’m closer to them than ever.”

After their fireside chat, Nicole told PEOPLE that she loved that Paltrow broached that subject, which included tips on how she coped. (The Goop founder said she learned to “embody the spirit of the sun and just give and not expect anything back.”)

“I love that she shared what she learned because I think all of us put on this front that everything’s okay, or we say ‘everything’s difficult,’ but we don’t really talk about tools to use during that phase in our lives if we find ourselves as a stepparent,” Nicole said.

“It’s hard for the men, too. I think the importance of sharing stories is that everyone gets a new tool. We all have a toolbox in life, and we know which tools to grab from which situations and the stepmom tool I did not have.” She added, “My mom couldn’t give me advice because she was not a stepmom, and then women just weren’t talking about it.”

<p>Rob Latour/Variety/Penske Media via Getty</p> Nicole Avant with her late parents Jacqueline and Clarence

Rob Latour/Variety/Penske Media via Getty

Nicole Avant with her late parents Jacqueline and Clarence

Although Jacqueline didn’t have firsthand experience of being a stepparent, her presence and ability to inspire was still acutely felt at the event. Sharon Stone, for example, whom Nicole presented with the 2024 Changemaker of the Year honor for her philanthropy and leadership, donated the $40,000 check that she received to the Jacqueline Avant Children and Family Center in Los Angeles.

In her acceptance speech, Stone, 65, tearfully remembered the philanthropist, noting that “every time she spoke to you it was like pearls fell from her mouth.” The actress added, “She was the president of the Neighbors of Watts organization center. She created a safe place for children who were in trouble, children with mental health and substance abuse problems to go.”

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It is that legacy that Nicole, the daughter, wishes to celebrate every day but especially every March 6, the birthday that she shares with her mother. “For me today it’s about giving to others that are in need in any area of their life. Also celebrating just, the idea of being alive, of being with friends, sharing information, meeting people, being fully human,” Nicole said. “That’s what Jacquie embodied all the time. She really loved being alive."

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