It takes time to get used to living comfortably with your partner’s kids, and that’s okay.

Todd came home from a work trip to Tennessee two nights ago. It was 1 a.m. when he arrived, and I had hoped to stay awake to welcome him properly. Instead, I drifted off by midnight. When he walked into our bedroom, he discovered that someone was sleeping in his spot. That someone was my almost-4-year-old, Halle. I woke up just in time to see his reaction, which I would describe as annoyance.

Then I got the lecture about how I would regret letting her sleep in our bed because the next night she would make a big fuss about having to sleep in her own bed (he was right; she did–and you should have seen his self-satisfied grin as she carried on). But I feel in my heart that the real issue behind his reaction was something I myself am familiar with: sharing a bed is very intimate, and while it is easy to do with your partner and your own children, you don’t necessarily want to share your bed with someone else’s children.

The sight of a sleeping Halle is very compelling. Her face in repose is pure heaven, and Todd softened quickly. I wonder if he was thinking of one or two of his daughters curled up on his pillow.

Sometimes Todd’s 4-year-old Cali likes to take a little nap on the weekends. She disappears and we find her in our bed, snuggling under the covers. When his oldest Ella needs to recharge, she’ll slip away and watch the Disney Channel in our room 30 minutes. Todd thinks this is the cutest thing ever, but it took me some getting used to. Early on, I had to check myself. My impulse was to redirect them to their own bed for some down time, but I resisted sending them away because I sensed that my boundaries on this weren’t fair. If I welcomed my children into our bed, the same had to be true for Ella and Cali.

I felt guilty about my mixed feelings. Why did I love these sweet angels so much yet get touchy when they got in my space?

It’s possible that since Halle was only 2 at the time, and I was still in the first throes of love with her, that I didn’t have enough room for more. As it was, I was trying so hard to uphold my relationship with my son Xander, who had been an only child for 6 years and was now integrating Halle as well as Ella and Cali, and dealing with the aftermath of my divorce. Maybe I feared that the natural ebb and flow of step-parenting would be more painful if I truly let Ella and Cali in. I had spoken with step-moms whose step-kids refused their love out of loyalty to their mothers, and I wondered if this could happen to us.

I’m of the mind that as grownups we can guide our emotions instead of always following them. If we recognize a truth, we can embrace it and let go of the feelings that may have held us back. In this case, I understood it was a tremendous honor that Ella and Cali felt comfortable enough around me to share space. Part of loving them well would be to go with their flow, and the feelings would follow.

This change in my posture has opened up the floodgates.

All three girls like to get into my make-up, clothes and shoes. They play dress-up in my closet. Ella is especially fond of my shiny witch boots; she darts around the house in them like she’s training for a life in heels. Cali and Halle drag me to their own closets to help them choose outfits for school, or for no reason at all. They both like to expressdifferent fashion looks for daytime and evening. These days I am painting their nails, doing their hair and steering toward the Hello Kitty lipgloss when I’m at Target. These ladylike delights are just a few of the many benefits to having an open heart. Where I would have enjoyed such fun with one daughter, now there are three mamacitas to get girly with.

I’ve read that a sign of a healthy family dynamic is that there is plenty of love to go around for everyone, and that everyone gets their needs met. So it is a sign that blending is going well when Cali jumps in my arms for a snuggle, and Halle notices it but doesn’t object. We’re onto something good if four children stumble into our bedroom at 6:30 a.m. and pile on top of us, and instead of begging for solitude and sleep, we wrap them up and relish the joy of that moment, which I am sure we will remember for the rest of our lives and talk about when we’re old.