01/14/2011 03:28 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ex-Steps and (Non)Evil Step-mothers: An Unconventional Fairytale

For as long as there has been Disney, female antagonists and little children in need of a good bedtime story, there have been evil step-mothers. There's Cinderella. Hansel and Gretel. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Baroness Von Schrader in The Sound of Music (well, technically it didn't quite work out for her. Julie Andrews took care of that). But you get the point.

I think it would be fair to stay that step-mothers get a bad rap. In Disney movies, the film typically ends with the princess trotting off on her white steed with Prince Charming, while the evil step-mother disappears in a green cloud of smoke (or some other variation of elimination). As in, out of the picture.

In real life, when a marriage involving ex-step-parents ends, they sign a piece of paper and it's over. Finito. Done.

As you may have noticed, there is no paperwork for the kids. Like a magical spell--poof!--that person is no longer your step-parent. No signature required.

So what happens when you have an ex-step?

First off, congratulations are in order. You are now part of an elite, exclusive club of individuals comparable to achieving American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum status (except you gain more points by the number of divorces you've endured--not your frequent flyer miles). This membership officiates that not only have you survived one divorce (that of your biological parents), but two! We deserve gold medals--or at least first-class flights to Bora Bora for all that jetlag. Geez. As if one divorce isn't exhausting enough.

Parents divorcing is complicated. Parents divorcing step-parents just took "complicated" to a whole new level.

As a child of three divorces (two of which have involved step-parents), I've noticed
two things have a tendency of happening following a divorce.

1.) The ex-step disappears very quickly.
2.) The ex-step slowly fades in the background.

This past year, scenario number two was beginning to settle in after my step-mom and dad made the decision to divorce. I finished up my junior year of college and headed to New York City for the summer to start an internship. We hugged good-bye and said we'd talk soon. It never happened.

I came back to school in August. One month went by. Then two. Then three. And then it was a week before Christmas.

You may be wondering why she never called...but I didn't call either. It was like a weird break-up. You want to make the first move, but you don't. You want to pick up the phone, but rationalize to yourself, "Well, if she wanted to call me, wouldn't she have done it already?" So you don't do anything at all. Meanwhile, she's sharing the exact same sentiment.

There's information and books out there that tell you how to deal with your parents' divorce. But ex-steps? Not so much. Your parents divorcing is different than your step-parent divorcing a parent, but it is by no means less complicated. You've become part of their family--her aunts give you Christmas gifts and her parents have the magazine that you were published in displayed on their coffee table, for crying out loud. You can't just cut ties.

I'm in no position to solicit advice, but what I can say is that when you're dealing with a divorce that involves step-parents, you have a choice: you can have them be as involved or uninvolved in your life as you want. They can just be that contact that remains in your cell phone that never gets called, but you keep it there anyway (like any kind of "ex" in your life), or it they can be something more. It took almost six months for me to realize that, but it's true. Here's the catch: they don't know that unless you tell them.

My ex-step is not evil, have ugly facial warts or concoct poison apple recipes. She's probably seen more episodes of Friends than you, and I can guarantee that you will not find a bigger Rachel Green fan. She makes really good "healthy pancakes" that have cottage cheese in them that I would never touch with a 10-foot pole if someone else made them. She helped me set up my first big-girl checking account. She gave me a hug when I got that dreaded, skinny envelope in the mail during my senior year of high school. She dropped me off in scary New York City the weekend before I started my internship with a smile. You'll be fine. I was. We'll all be. I call this person my step-mom because really, how could she be anything less?

It's not a fairytale or a perfect ending, but it can work--which is enough for me.