Step-Motherhood: How to Survive Without Feeling Frustrated, Left Out or Wicked by Cherie Burns (Times Books: $14.95).
"I thought that stepmothers were an isolated corner of the population, like six-toed cats and people who still have their tonsils," quips Cherie Burns, who at age 26 married a man with two children, one scarcely 10 years younger than she.
Displaying true grit, she decided at the outset not to fall into the Cinderella-stepmother trap. More importantly, it must have been the humor, forebearance and grace Burns so amply displays in this excellent guide that made her marriage a success.
More than 3.36 million women have become stepmothers in the last five years; by 1990, Burns predicts, there will be more remarried and single-parent families than "natural" ones, with 18 million stepchildren, identified by "my," "his," "her" or "our" children, effectively using many of the possessive pronouns in the language.
The motto of a successful stepmother must be: "I serve full time." To illustrate, Burns points out the labyrinth of connections and responsibilities of a second marriage, which is inevitably tied to the first.
She counsels avoiding comparisons with a former wife; treating stepchildren as individuals by distinguishing them from their mother, who might turn out to be an impossible "ex." Don't overdue the romancing of stepchildren by treats and gifts and, finally, maintain a gracious presence at necessary family gatherings.
Though visitation weekends or holidays may, in some instances, turn into nightmares, she lists realistic survival methods. As for a stepmother who wants a child of her own, this, too, can be arranged, though "superdad" may be hard put to balance the needs of his old and new families.
When all else fails, there are family counselors and organizations, such as the Stepfamily Assn. of America in Baltimore and the Stepfamiy Foundation in New York City.
Ultimately, a stepmother performs an important service, for "without her informed, sympathetic leadership, you have a forlorn divorced man and his children."