An untidy but good-natured consideration of the problems of stepparenthood, by an American who married an English widower with two young children--later joined by the couple's own two. Ms. Maddox lingers over the ancient myths surrounding stepparents, with wheezers from Chaucer to Snow White, and there are many personal anecdotes and informal interviews with men and women who have acquired ready-made families at their weddings--for better or worse. The obstacles, hitherto not given much attention in print, are often formidable. ""Stepparents are, in a fundamental sense, unwanted parents,"" and are torn between the roles of ""nonparent and new parent."" The author takes up many legal, financial and sexual conflicts, as well as specific domestic irritants: the children's fantasies in which the usurper always comes off second best to the natural parent; the intruder's tendency to be either oversolicitous or callous; territorial disputes which arise when two sets of stepchildren are lodged in one house, particularly at the table (""Just as the image of stepmother is witch, so the image of her food is poison""); the matter of surnames, etc. Ms. Maddox sees the crux of the difficulties in two irreconcilable facts of life: children do not like divorce or substitute parents; adults want the freedom to live with whom they love. Her solution--face up to the inevitable tensions and concentrate on a happy marriage which usually brings benefits to ail; aim for honesty and less pretense. The stepfamily is ""open and tough"" and ""not a bad place to live."" This will help you to live there.