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What Not to Say to a Stepmom

When you get to be "40licious," your choice of partner usually comes with some baggage, and I'm not talking about a nifty gym tote. More like the contents of a Pullman train car. This can include ex-wives, children from one or more previous relationships, financial complications … you get the idea. My husband, Steve, is a maestro at the barbecue, does a Jimmy Stewart that will make you pee in your pants, and is probably the most solid guy I have ever known. He came with all of the above.

For most of it, there were easy fixes, such as sitting down and making a money plan, or taking the high road when dealing with the ex. Suddenly becoming a stepmother to his 28-year-old son (who has his own baby) wasn't too difficult, as we're all adults with the requisite manners and social niceties. The tricky part was navigating the relationship with Steve's two teenage girls, who were, shall I say, underwhelmed with the situation. I felt as if I'd landed on a whole other planet where I didn't speak the language, didn't know the dress code and didn't have the currency. This is even after my own journey across hot coals and through flowery meadows with my own bonus mother that turned out so well I got married in her backyard.

Lots of people offered me advice—some sage, some better left unsaid. "Be yourself" was a helpful reminder to remain open-hearted and generous when any conversation with the girls was a struggle. But the most important thing I heard over and over, the words that got me through stony Thanksgivings and awkward hellos and goodbyes were, "It takes time." "Time" for one stepmom could be a few weeks of everybody getting used to each other, while "time" for another could be many long years of glacial progress. For us, it took me becoming mother to their adorable baby sister and three-plus years of unconditional love before the girls and I went shopping together. Which doesn't seem like a lot, but for me, a group stroll through H&M and lunch after was kind of a miracle.

RELATED: What Not to Say to a Divorced Mom

Should you run into another stepmother, know that everyone's situation is different. She may have landed into a blissful Maria von Trapp situation, or perhaps she's dealing with a stepkid akin to Chuckie. Before doling out unsolicited advice, think about the most sensitive way you'd talk to any friend with something big going on, and take it from there.

And never, ever, say any of these things:

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