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©2001 Karon Goodman

It's that time of year again -- the kids go back to school, study hard and learn something new. They have new teachers and textbooks, friends and finals, and sometimes hardest of all, new rules to follow.

Becoming a stepmom is sort of like going back to school, only there are few textbooks and fewer teachers. There are, however, a whole new set of rules to learn. But relax, most of them are in your favor.

If you aren't new at this stepmothering role but just a bit stressed and unsure of yourself, these rules will give you a little guidance and support, too. And best of all, no tests!

So get ready, class is now in session. Take a seat, face forward, and learn the rules. Then you can have a snack.

Rule #1: Share. You're sharing your husband with his children, and they're sharing him with you. You and the children will benefit by sharing each other, too. If your relationship isn't as close as you'd like it to be, move nearer to them.

Kids have a tough time taking the initiative with a stepparent, but they will usually respond if you'll make the effort. Let them know that you have much to give. Learn what makes them tick -- and let them get to know you, too. Get involved in their lives, and invite them fully into yours. It can be scary, but it's the way to a meaningful relationship.

Rule #2: Take a time-out. Some days, it just won't work. You try your best, but the tension mounts, and you're ready to send everyone to the principal's office. When a tough day comes along, recognize it as just that and let it pass.

You can't study calculus 24 hours a day every day, and you can't be the world's greatest stepmom 24 hours a day every day. (Believe me, I know....) So take a break when you need one. You'll get another chance to work on your relationship, and sometimes, it's best to just let the bad moments go without too much worry. Rest, recharge and focus on tomorrow.

Rule #3: Enjoy recess. On the days when it *is* good, hold on as tightly as you can. Recognize the value of a "good stepfamily moment." Say it out loud so that everyone else recognizes it, too.

"Didn't we have a great time outside this afternoon?" sounds like a pointless question to ask the kids, but it reinforces the moment in their minds. Talking about your time together will show them that it was important to you, too.

Rule #4: Take notes. Remember what you did when those great moments happened. How can you build on that and recreate those feelings again and again? Talk to your husband about the good times with your stepchildren. Be proud of your progress.

Not nearly as much fun but equally as important, understand what went wrong in moments of failure, too. Evaluate what happened and what contributed to the unpleasant times. Most likely, it's a pattern and you'll recognize it quickly. Try to consciously change what's not working into what does, then put it into practice the next chance you get.

Rule #5: Learn at your own pace. The local newspaper probably won't print a headline that reads: "Wonderful Stepmom Adored by Stepchildren!" Being loved by your stepchildren isn't a contest you can win or a deadline you can meet. Your relationship is as unstable as nitroglycerin and twice as volatile. You can't move it real fast or it'll blow up in your face. Take it slowly. Measure your gains in inches, not miles.

When you take the rules here one day at a time, you'll make tremendous progress in your relationship with your stepchildren. If may often feel like two steps forward, twenty-eight steps back, like you lost all your notes and there's a pop quiz today. But remember, you're in for the full term, and one poor grade won't mean you'll fail.

Trust that the relationship you want will grow with time. Then give it your best. The rewards are better than graduation day.

Karon Goodman, a mom and stepmom from Alabama, is a freelance writer and the Stepparenting Guide at ( ). Her book, The Stepmom's Guide to Simplifying Your Life, will be released next spring. Karon's ebook, It's Not My Stepkids -- It's Their Mom! is available here Visit her monthly newsletter, The Stepparenting Journey, now online. For a free Course-by-Email: Establishing Your House Rules -- send a blank email to . Contact Karon at