When most little girls dream about meeting Mr. Right, they don’t factor an ex-wife and child support payments into the picture.  But this “picture” is reality for an estimated 20 million American women who find true love with men who have children.

The good news is that society has come a long way in accepting non-traditional families.  The bad news is that stepfamilies are still a mystery and largely misunderstood by many. As a result, stepmoms are no strangers to bad advice and trite comments from well-meaning friends and family members.  If you’re paired with someone who carries a little baggage from their past into your relationship, you’ve likely heard: “just try to be a friend to the kids” or “suck it up, you knew he had kids when you met him”, or the very popular “don’t worry about fill in the blank you’re JUST the stepmom”.

Being a stepmom is complicated business.  So, in order to be successful, it’s wise to do a little homework on the topic.  After all, you’d never think of launching a business or starting a major home improvement project without doing a little research first, would you?  Joining the ranks to today’s modern family structure is no different.

StepMom Magazine offers the following survival tips for anyone contemplating, or already in, a relationship with Mr. Right (and all he brings with him!)

1. Build a strong support network.
If you don’t have any stepmom friends or relatives look for an in-person or on-line support group.  Stepmoms can offer insight and perspective that other women simply can’t.  A quick Google search of “stepmom support groups” or www.meetup.com can help you find others who share your experiences.

2. Educate yourself.
Read books and subscribe to magazines to learn about typical stepfamily behavior patterns and issues. Understanding the terms “loyalty bind” and “outsider syndrome” will help you recognize and handle situations that can otherwise knock a stepmom off balance.  We recommend “Stepmonster” by Wednesday Martin, “The Smart Stepmom” Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge and “StepMom Magazine” to name just a few!

3. Realize you don’t have to love his kids.
It can be very upsetting to realize that even though you’ve found the love of your life, you feel less than ga-ga over his kids.  Listen to us when we say THIS IS NORMAL! Many a stepmom beats herself up over the fact that she doesn’t feel loving or maternal toward her husband’s kids.  Strive for kindness and respect first.  If love comes, consider it a bonus.  If not, let go of any guilty feelings.

4. Be patient.
Most of the experts, and those who have been there before, confirm that it often takes 4-7 years (sometimes longer) for stepfamily members to really settle in and feel like a cohesive unit. Most new stepmoms want it to happen in the first year.  Don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting an “instant family”.  Remember, The Brady Bunch was a only television show and solid relationships can only be built over time.

For more articles by this author visit stepmommag.com