For many, the word "stepmom" conjures up some ugly connotations: the wicked stepmother from "Cinderella" perhaps, or someone who presses their stepkids to use words like "bonus mom" while crossing every parenting boundary in the book.
As pervasive as those images may be, it couldn't be farther from the truth for many blended families. In plenty of households, stepmoms are not only integral, loving members of the family, they're allies and close friends to their stepkids' biological mothers.
Below, five bio-moms who are proudly friends with their kids' stepmoms share their inspiring stories.
Candice and Ashley:
In last year's viral blog "An Open Letter To My Daughter's Stepmom," writer Candice Curry confessed she didn't want to like whoever ended up with her ex-husband. But when she met Ashley, the woman who would become his wife and the stepmom to her daughter Stiles, it was damn near impossible to dislike the woman.
"Ashley was so respectful of my place as mom and from day one, she treated my daughter like she was her own," Curry told The Huffington Post recently. "I'm so thankful that she's in our daughter's life."
Ashley and Curry's daughter Stiles
Today, Curry firmly believes that the friendship has made her daughter's family life less splintered, while teaching the teen that love can survive any circumstance.
"We all wanted to allow our daughter to have all four of her parents together for birthdays and school events and to never make her uncomfortable about the situation that we put her in," she said. "It was not her choice to have divorced parents -- it's our responsibility to do it in a way that is easiest and most beneficial to her."
Sheree and Jada:
Sheree Fletcher doesn't see ex-husband Will Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith as a friend. Family is more like it. And to think, it all started with a regifted, unopened candle.
"My son Trey was 3-years-old when he first met Jada. Will, who I was freshly divorced from, gave me the heads up about the introduction," the jewelry designer and reality star told The Huffington Post.
Jada made such a good impression on the little boy, he wanted to give her a present -- which of course meant Fletcher would have to buy her ex's new girlfriend a gift.
"My personal compromise was to re-gift a beautiful unopened candle to her -- I laugh at that now but that's where I was at in the process," Fletcher said. "The reality was, I didn’t want to like her, I just wanted to respect her for being good to my son. The gift may have been from Trey but the elegant blank card included was from me. It simply said, 'Thank you for making a good impression on my son.' I truly believe that simple gesture was the olive branch that paved the way for our entire relationship."
Sheree and Jada with Sheree's son Trey and Jada's kids Jaden and Willow
Twenty years later, Fletcher says Jada has been more than she could ask for in a stepmom: "She has loved my son as I have -- unconditionally and consistently."
Shelley and Jill:
Shelley Wetton says she and her son's stepmom Jill became friends by acting with compassion and maturity whenever they ran into each other -- even when it felt a little forced.
"I'm grateful we made this choice (and it was a choice) because our behavior set the tone for our relationship and allowed our friendship to blossom," said Wetton, who wrote an open letter of appreciation to Jill on The Huffington Post.
Shelley and Jill
After twelve years of co-parenting, the moms and their families now celebrate all holidays and special events together.
"I'm grateful and our children are thriving," Wetton said. "The thing is, society expects and even condones nastiness between women who are bound by a child, which I hope changes. But the reality is, it does take all parents involved to commit to a healthy relationship in order to sustain a family dynamic like ours."
Lisa and Deena:
Lisa Lavia Ryan will be the first to admit that her friendship with her ex's new wife Deena has had its ups and downs. They first crossed paths as Little League moms during their kids' school years -- and then had to get acquainted in a new way when Deena married Lisa's ex-husband. Though differences in parenting styles kept relations frosty for years, these days they consider themselves close friends.
"Perhaps it was a matter of finally growing up, perhaps it was the passage of time and the fact that the kids were no longer small but Deena and I became able to talk honestly about our differences and even laugh about some of them," Ryan said "And by the time my daughter's engagement rolled around, Deena and I were good enough friends that we were able to work closely to plan the wedding!"
Deena and Lisa at Lisa's daughter's wedding
Though the relationship has been tested through the years, Deena told The Huffington Post that the core friendship has always been there. "Lisa is my husband’s ex, my stepchildren’s mother -- and yes, she is my friend," the stepmom said.
Jessica and Katie:
What divorced mom doesn't secretly wish they could pick the woman her ex dates? For Jessica Denis, the wish became a reality a year ago, when her ex moved back to town. Denis was quick to play matchmaker and introduce him to her good friend Katie. Today, the couple is living together and Denis says she couldn't be happier for them.
"I truly believe it's in the best interest of my teenage daughter to see three grown adults who all equally have her back," she told The Huffington Post. "Our friendship shows my daughter that we are all fighting together for her -- and that she has no reason to try to manipulate or pit one of us against the other!"
Jessica and Katie, selfie-style
But more than anything else, Jessica hopes the friendship communicates to her teen one important lesson: "Divorce really doesn't have to be the end of a family."
Keep in touch! Check out HuffPost Divorce on Facebook.