"You knew what you were getting yourself into," or the oh so popular "They'll never be your kids" aren't exactly phrases that you carry with you to the altar on the day that you commit to becoming a stepparent. No, you walk into the experience with expectations of only the best from every adult that's now involved in your life.

The role of a stepparent

Three court dates and years of parental alienation later, you finally understand what everyone warned you about: the powerlessness that comes with filling the role of the other parent. You may be good enough to watch the kids, to pay for their clothing or after school activities but you'll never be good enough to hold that coveted role of "parent." The term actually gets put on some kind of holy pedestal that conveys the power to call the school and to handle appointments of all kinds.

It's somewhere between the first "you're not my mother/father," and "I want -" that you start to question where you fit into this whole mess really. Exactly what are you responsible for, and will you ever see the rewards for your efforts?

The answers are (respectively), 'nothing,' and 'no.' You are technically responsible for nothing. This is part of what makes being a stepparent such a wondrously giving and kind person. A stepparent isn't responsible for fulfilling any of the parenting roles. Each family is unique, and every situation needs to be looked at as such. Yes, you're coming to the game late. It's important to realize that you may also be the object of extreme hatred or jealousy if the "other" hasn't moved on yet- and that's okay.

This is where you learn to be the most laid back and forgiving person in the history of mankind. According to Kate Bayless of Parent's Magazine, "a stepfamily offers a new chance at love and Family life, but it is also an attempt to bring together various Parents and problems." Yes, you're going to be the odd man out- the target.

If this sounds like too much, then back away from the ring and just say "no."

It's All or Nothing

Loving your partner means that you need to attempt to welcome their family with open arms. This includes their Children and their ex. The ex is a part of the children. The children will love this person regardless of whether or not your partner still does, and the best possible scenario involves all of you coming together.

This doesn't always work because it genuinely takes the cooperation of all parties involved. There are times when the ex is simply too high conflict, but when every party puts the needs of the children first- this is possible.

Strip away the roles and positions of everyone involved and then take an objective look at the best possible outcome for the children. Barring abuse or dangerous situations, this will almost always be the complete cooperation of everyone. Every single parent matters. It's not your job to replace the parent but to be a positive addition to the parenting process.

Step-parenting is one of the hardest family roles to undertake. Be realistic, love your family and always put the kids first. The rest will fall into line.