A. First of all, divorce is a traumatic experience for any family. And in a blended family, figuring out the right roles for parents and stepparents can be almost as tough. I say almost because there are so many factors that have to be considered—the age of the kids, parent-child loyalties and how much time has elapsed since the divorce, to name just a few.

First step: Avoid doing anything that

might make the situation even more difficult.

When families are first blended, stepparents probably can’t do anything to make the situation better, and their initial goal should be not to do anything that makes it even worse. Stepparents should let the parents lead the way with their kids. Let them decide what the stepparent’s role should be.

Stepparents should be open-minded and wait to

find out what role the new family wants them to have.

It may take a while to sort things out, so stepparents must be patient. In my experience, the kids will eventually express what kind of relationship they want. In the meantime, stepparents should tread carefully, because it’s easy to create a competitive parenting situation, which is one of the key liabilities of blended families.

Both parents should work to help the kids in any way they can, and this may include doing things that might be a little uncomfortable or take some extra effort. For example, a stepparent may have to be accessible to anyone who’s an important part of their world—including grandparents, aunts, uncles and even his/her spouse’s ex.

Make the most of the time you have with your new, blended family.

Custody and visiting agreements may limit the time your new family can spend together as a unit, so make the most of every minute. Even though you might only be getting the kids every other weekend, you can still find ways to introduce memorable activities and create new family traditions that don’t compete with those favored by your new spouse or his/her ex. Most importantly, take it all step by step. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your new family won’t be either.