What does a “wicked stepmother” look like? Does she have a wart at the end of her nose? Grey-tinged teeth? Most likely, she looks like somebody’s daughter, mother, sister or friend. And chances are that she’s a living, breathing, caring and feeling woman who’d be mortified if anyone thought her wicked. The nasty image, no doubt, comes from Cinderella, a fairy tale.

I recently met the polar opposite of a wicked stepmother. She not only had a wart-less nose and white teeth, but she was beautiful, both inside and out. She was on a weekend trip to Las Vegas with her husband and step-daughter to celebrate a milestone 21st birthday. We talked a bit about how she married a man who had four children from a prior marriage. It was obvious to me that the 21-year-old adored her stepmother. I had to ask, “what’s the secret?” The stepmother replied in one word: “patience.” Great concept! But I have a faster approach, and that is to really listen to each other. Have a conversation.

While I’m sure there are plenty of wicked stepmothers, there are ways to avoid that label in your family. Having a conversation, with the help of a neutral mediator, is a step in the right direction.