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Woman scared to become a stepmother

DEAR AMY: I am in desperate need of your help. I am getting married in three months. I am marrying a wonderful man. He has three children by his ex-wife. I've never been married before. I'm worried about becoming a stepmother. The kids are 15, 13 and 9 -- all boys. They are with their mom during the week and with their dad on the weekends. We all get along, but I don't know if am ready to be a stepmom. I don't want the boys to feel like I am trying to take the place of their mom. And I don't want them to take anything the wrong way. Can you help?

New Stepmom

DEAR STEPMOM: Nothing can prepare you for being a stepparent. Unlike parents, stepparents are thrust into a parental role with children who are already formed, complete with habits, challenges -- and often with concealed hurts and divided loyalties.

Stepparenting is an experience that presents most of the challenges of parenting, but with very different rewards.

My most succinct wisdom on stepparenting is this: Be a friend to the children, and supportive of your spouse. You are NOT their mother, and if you forget that -- trust these boys to remind you of it. All the same, it is important that they realize you and your husband are building a family -- and that they are a vital part of it.

Slide into your role gradually. Get to know the children as individuals and spend the majority of your time with them listening. Do NOT punish them if they misbehave (and they will definitely misbehave) -- discipline is their father's job (for now).

Discuss all of your concerns with your husband and try to present a consistent and united front. Convey to all of the children that you and your husband are on the same team and that you and he discuss everything regarding them.

Being a successful stepparent relies on being in a successful and strong marriage. Your marriage will be tested. Hang in.

Much of how well this will go depends on your husband. He needs to be very patient with everyone as your new family forms. It takes a lot of time -- at least a year's worth of birthdays, holidays, school days, soccer games, school concerts, triumphs, arguments, misunderstandings and reconciliation -- before you will feel confident in your new role.

DEAR AMY: I live in a neighborhood of 10 houses. Half of the residents are over 55 and others are in their 30s. Every year one of the "older" residents has a Christmas party and a summer barbecue. She sends out invitations requesting an RSVP. The newer neighbors either don't RSVP until the day before, or RSVP earlier and either cancel or don't show. It's almost as if they wait to see if a better offer comes up. If she runs into someone who hasn't RSVP'd and asks if they are coming, they tell her, "will let her know." Is this a generational thing? Are they so busy they forget? Are they constantly weighing their options? Or are they so pompous that they think their presence is a gift to the rest of us and we should tolerate their lack of consideration. And we wonder where the old neighborhoods have gone!

Glad I'm Not Hosting

DEAR GLAD: The reason the younger neighbors behave this way is because they don't host things. They've never had to deal with the frustration of not knowing if anyone will show for their shindig. Your neighbor is kind and generous to try to pull the neighborhood together in this way. She might have a higher RSVP yield if she sends her invite electronically -- but there is no guarantee of this.

DEAR AMY: Regarding "Nervous in Redlands," who worried about small children playing among dogs in the new dog park, why not go to the city officials in charge of the park? They could and should post the park for "Dogs and Owners Only." The city may be liable if a child is injured and there is no posted warning.

Concerned

DEAR CONCERNED: Definitely. But in the moment, a responsible adult should intervene.

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