A friend of mine moved house last week. Like so many of us, she is part of an extended and blended family, and her helpers on the day included her mum, stepdad, a stepbrother, her new partner, her adult daughter, and a stepson. Everyone got on extremely well and within hours they had transformed chaos into order.

This episode got me thinking about how the fabric of family life has changed and how different that gathering was compared with what it might have been 50 or more years previously when divorce and stepfamilies were much less common.

Nowadays it’s safe to assume that some of you are in the process of becoming part of a stepfamily – either because of a new relationship of your own or that of one of your grown-up children. So, I decided to write this column in praise of stepfamilies, because, let’s face it, in the past they’ve had a terrible press.

They’ve also been vilified in fiction – just think of the horrendous stepmother in Snow White or Edward Murdstone, the grim and bullying stepfather in David Copperfield.

Thankfully, we live in different times and in 2022, you don’t have to search very far to find Facebook and Twitter posts praising step-parents.

Only last week I saw a lovely tribute from someone whose stepfather had died. He called him, ‘my second dad’. And he wrote in a deeply touching way about how much he would miss this man. Plenty of people go on record nowadays to say what wonderful care and love they’ve had from step relatives.

And it has become quite commonplace for brides to choose a stepfather to walk them up the aisle, because he’s such a special support.

So, stepfamilies can be fantastic. But for anyone new to them, let me warn you that it can be a while before that happens.

In the late-1980s, when I married my husband, who had a family in their late teens and early twenties, I remember talking to someone who had been a stepmother for 15 years and she asked me, rather wearily: “Are you sure you’re up for this because it’s a long old haul.”

I was quite taken aback, but she was right.

Of course, it helps if you approach the whole thing with a positive attitude. I had a colleague back then who wed a divorced man with two youngsters under 10. She wanted nothing to do with these kids and, worse still, did her best to stop her new husband from seeing them either. I found this profoundly shocking.

I was the complete opposite. I couldn’t wait to get to know my stepchildren. But to be honest, they weren’t at all thrilled about getting to know me.

They were busy with their own lives and probably couldn’t understand why their dad, who seemed ancient to them, was up for new love and romance. So, it wasn’t easy. However, when I got the chance, I showed interest in them and their careers and friends but at the same time tried not to be pushy.

And I made the decision to keep out of the way when my husband met up with them because obviously they all shared history which I didn’t. Gradually, they began to involve me and, slowly, we all got to know each other and became close.

After about 10 years, they started to have children themselves and, over quite an extensive period, I became a granny seven times over. I’ve loved that. My stepchildren, their partners and our grandchildren mean the world to me and have brought incalculable joy and comfort.

During the summer holidays, I’ve spent some time with most of them and whether it’s been playing Snap with the six-year-old, or Articulate with a group of teenagers, it’s been terrific fun. And I’ve felt really delighted to see how these young people all have aspects of my late husband in their looks, behaviour and intellect. So, I’ve come home feeling lucky, grounded and grateful.

To return to anyone new to a stepfamily situation, you may be at the stage of life where a son or daughter has parted from their spouse and now has a new partner with children by someone else.

Perhaps you feel you can’t possibly grow to love these kids like your own flesh and blood but give them a chance. Often, after a while, such individuals can bring something refreshing and different into our circle, and our lives are all the richer for them.

And though it’s a very unsettling time, it’s important we remember that when our children change partners, their new love may well make them much happier than their previous one did. We can help these relationships to prosper if we make the effort to accept the men and women who matter so much to our offspring, and are welcoming, not just to them, but to their kids too.

Apparently, in Sweden they don’t use the term stepfamily. Instead, they say bonusfamiljen. Bonus family. That’s a good way to think of it.