If you’ve read one fairytale, you’ve read them all when it comes to stepmothers. The words “evil” and “stepmother” are pretty much interchangeable. But is the stereotype true?

Who can forget Cinderella? Her real name was actually Ella, but her stepmother and sisters gave her the horrible nickname because she slept next to the fireplace and was permanently dirty from burned coal dust.

What about Snow White? This paragon of beauty was sent out with a hunter and her stepmother demanded her heart in a box to prove that he had murdered her in the woods. What in the actual &%$#…??

So what does it mean to be a stepmother today in a so-called “blended family,” words that describe the common occurrence of spouses having children in their homes that aren’t related to them by blood?

Well, I should hope that stepmothers are not trying to get their stepchildren killed these days, but how much involvement should stepmothers have in the way their partner parents his own child?

It gets tricky when you’re in a blended household as children who have been brought up differently by their parents are now under the same roof and suddenly need to follow the same rules. To make the transition easier, it’s best to knock out these rules before you move in together.

But who makes the rules and whose existing rules stick? Can the biological parent override the stepparent, or are all the parents in the house treated equally? And if a stepparent has no kids of their own, is that person’s opinion about discipline automatically discounted?

For a blended family to work, all the children’s parents need to come together and agree on the fundamental rules of parenting, regardless of who gave birth to whom. Simple things like TV time, behavioral expectations, homework, eating habits, etc., need to be discussed and presented as a united front.

And the unit of parents must unanimously agree on discipline and who implements it. The general consensus is that biological parents do the hardcore discipline for big issues like sex, drugs, rock n roll, but any of the subsidiary parents can discipline over general issues like wet towels on the floor.

If one parent needs to travel for work and the other parent will be alone with all the kids, children should be given the choice of going to their other biological parent for that period. It is always good for children to spend time with their parents, regardless of custody arrangements.

Special care must be taken not to favor your biological child over the rest. When in the same house, all children should be treated equally by all the adults raising them. What’s good for one should be good for the next—no exceptions—where possible while taking age into account.

Children who go to other parents on weekends and come back with expensive gadgets and toys may create feelings of resentment amongst their stepsiblings. If one parent enjoys spoiling the child they see less often by buying expensive things, the rule should be that they keep it at their own house.

Stepmothers should also not cross lines when it comes to the child’s relationship with their biological mother. Same with stepfather and biological fathers. Many beautiful relationships have grown from a new stepparent opening their home up to their partner’s ex on special holidays for the good of the children.

There need not be any jealousy involved, and your partner’s kids or ex are not your competition. Remind him about their birthdays and school events. If one of them seems down, approach them with kindness and ask if you can help or if they want to speak to another parent. Dial their mom/dad for them.

Involve your children in decision-making about the holidays, new home, getting a pet, and even adding another baby to your brood. Sit down and hear them out. Children who are allowed to say their piece will feel heard and loved, even if the family votes a different way.

When they reach teenagehood, have another family meeting and discuss living arrangements. Some kids might move to the other parent for school/college or just for a change. Support their decisions and stay in touch. Their moving out is not about you, so don’t make things awkward.

Ultimately, being a stepparent can be as simple or as difficult as all the parties involved choose to make it. Ask yourself how you would have wanted to be treated as a child or teenager, and then treat them like that. At the end of the day, children living in your home are your responsibility, blood or not.

If the children are missing a parent through abandonment or death, then you need to step up without stepping in. What that means is that you support them as a good parent would without trying to fill their bio parent’s shoes or take up space they haven’t offered up yet.

Remember, a well-loved child is a gift to the world.