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Conflict, hostility, resentment, anger, rejection, patience, flexibility, sacrifice. If you are a stepparent, you may identify with some or all of these keywords. Unfortunately, stepparents have always had bad press. Have you, for example, ever heard of a stepmother being described as anything but “wicked” in fairytales?

Maybe you have custody of your stepchildren or maybe they live with their biological parent and stay with you and your partner at weekends or during vacations. Whatever the situation, it requires sacrifice, time and emotional energy. Nobody ever professed that being part of a blended family would be easy and it soon becomes apparent that the happy-ever-after scenario that is portrayed in soppy films, rarely exists in reality.

When you become a stepparent, you find yourself not just playing Piggy in the Middle between your partner and his/her children, but often between your partner and his/her ex, your partner and your ex, your partner and your children, your children and your partner’s children. The combinations are endless!

There is no magical solution, but adherence to the following ground rules can certainly bring you one stride closer to living in harmony with your stepchildren.

· You and your partner must establish firm ground rules in your home, irrespective of how your stepchildren have been allowed to behave in their own homes. When the children are on your territory, you have authority and responsibility for their behavior

· Explain that everybody has different rules and that everyone has to abide by the rules of the house they are visiting, in exactly the same way as they have to abide by certain rules at school

· It is imperative that you and your partner agree on a level of discipline and stick to it. Serious conflict can arise when parents have radically opposing views on discipline and what is or isn’t acceptable behavior in children

· Try not to demonstrate obvious favoritism towards your own children in front of your stepchildren. Consistency and fairness are the order of the day

· In the beginning, accept the fact that the stepchildren may expect their parents to reconcile and that your relationship with your partner is only a temporary interlude. Sit down with the children when the time is right and explain to them that sometimes two people who are married may find that they are unable to live together anymore, but that it doesn’t mean they love their children any less. This is particularly important for the parent who has moved out, since the children will inevitably experience a sense of rejection and desertion

· Don’t allow your stepchildren to play one parent against the other. Whatever your feelings towards the biological parent, you should not condone any derogatory comments about that parent. After all, they are probably saying similar things about you or your partner to the other parent. The only time when it is imperative to listen and act is if you believe that the other parent is being abusive in any way

· Accept the fact that however perfect a stepmother or stepfather you are, you will never be the biological parent of your stepchildren. It is natural for a stepchild to feel a level of resentment towards you when you are imposing rules or restrictions upon them. However, life revolves around rules, wherever the place or whatever the situation, so it has to be explained that it is not only biological parents who are qualified to enforce law and order

· Show love. Sometimes children need love the most at a time when it’s hardest to give it to them. While bad behavior should never be rewarded with a cuddle or treat, when children are behaving well it is important to praise them

· Don’t be afraid to defend your own children if you genuinely believe that they are being treated unfairly by your partner. Likewise, don’t interfere and try and condone their behavior if you know that they are in the wrong. Undermining a stepparent’s authority can lead to children having no respect for that parent. Similarly, if you fail to step in when they have been wrongly accused of something, they may lose respect and faith in you

· Set aside special time each week for your partner and yourself. You both need time to be yourselves and to show each other just why you chose to be together