GERALDINE and Jamie Kelly seem to have got things right when it comes to step parenting. After a courtship of three years, the Kildare couple got married two years ago. Geraldine already had a daughter when they met but says her partner worked hard to win the trust of the teenager without overstepping the mark.
"Nicole was 14 when Jamie and I got together," she recalls. "From the beginning he instinctively knew to take things slowly with her, taking an interest in what she was doing at school and what she was watching on TV -- basically becoming a trusted friend rather than someone who would dole out discipline.
Two years later, he moved in with us and while he became more active as a step-parent, he never took her to task or took an active role in parenting. Instead, he was there to listen to my troubles and offer advice."
But Geraldine always knew that in order for the family relationship to work, there had to be a mutual respect between her daughter and her partner and to that end, gave Jamie permission to chastise or advise Nicole in her absence or if the situation required it. "I think it is really important for the biological parent to involve the new partner in the child's upbringing, even if it is only in a small way," she says.
"Having said that, though, I feel the best role Jamie has played over the past few years was his constant support for me and how he realised that I was just as much Nicole's mother as I was his girlfriend."
Five years after they first met, Jamie and Geraldine are married and have another daughter, Eabha (who is 19 months).
And although 19-year-old Nicole is now at college in Maynooth, the two step sisters have a great bond and the family unit works very well together.
"Eabha and Nicole get on really great and with an 18-year age gap, there is no sibling rivalry at all," says Geraldine.
"Nicole really loves her and encourages her to call her sister. But she worries that we have to parent her really well as she doesn't want her to be wild. I find this amusing as she was never wild.
"Nicole told me recently if anything ever happened to me and Jamie that she would care for her little sister. So I guess that says everything about what the new family situation means to her."