Boundaries with the stepkids is part 4 of a series of articles by Erin Careless on the Stepmom’s Guide to Peace. Click here for Boundaries with the Stepfamily, Boundaries with the Man and Boundaries with ex-wife
A lot of stepmoms go overboard trying to “win the kids over”.
Whether intentionally or otherwise, they may put all their energy into doing nice things for the kids, never saying no to any demands, buying them gifts, and generally bending over backwards.
I hate to break it to you, but this WILL fail.
It is one of the hardest things in the world to love a man who has kids, and to realize that you are an outsider to their little family unit.
You can’t do anything about that – it’s life. You weren’t there from the beginning, swaddling them as newborns, cleaning every little scratch, comforting them when they are sick.
Some stepmoms are there from a very early age, but I know I came into my stepkids lives when they were 5 and 7, and I absolutely was the outsider coming in.
Setting boundaries with children is tough, but a necessary part of raising mature, capable, responsible human beings. It’s perhaps harder when they’re not biologically yours and you’re trying to put your best foot forward.
Let’s say you have a twelve year old stepdaughter who is with you and her dad every second weekend. Some of those nights, your partner is called into work for an emergency and you are left with your stepdaughter to watch movies, have snacks, or whatever the night brings. All goes well until bedtime.
The last few times it’s been just the two of you, she has convinced you to let her stay up until midnight – way past her bedtime. You really feel as though you can’t say no, and when you try to she gives you “the pout” and you cave instantly.
Your man has set a 10:30pm bedtime schedule, and makes her stick to it when he’s home, but when it’s the two of you the rules go out the window. Initially you started letting her stay up so you could spend quality time together, but now she spends that time texting friends and searching funny videos on YouTube.
Here we go – Boundaries with the Stepkids:
- Identify your inner thoughts.
Do you think she’ll hate you if you stick to the house rules around bedtime? Do you think your partner will be upset if there is any strife between you and his daughter? Do you think it will make you an evil stepmother if you make her go to bed?
- Challenge your inner thoughts.
What will happen if you make her go to bed, reminding her that her dad set bedtime at 10:30, so you are following his guidance? Will she be grumpy and pissy? Sure. But you know what? She’ll get over it. And in fact, she might actually respect you for not being a doormat. Will your partner get mad at you for enforcing his rule? No.
- Establish and implement the boundary.
You may want to talk to your partner about this. Inform him that you’ve been lax on the bedtime schedule, but that you’d like to get on a predictable routine with your stepdaughter. Ask him to remind her of the 10:30 bedtime when he leaves for work, and if she moans and pouts, tell her that you’re only following what her dad has said. It doesn’t have to be all on you – after all, he is the dad. Again, the most important thing is that you stick to it!
- Revisit and reevaluate.
One night, a few months after you decided to stick to a routine bedtime, you realize that your stepdaughter went to bed without batting an eyelid. She’s been happier and perkier in the mornings because she’s getting more sleep, and you’ve felt much more comfortable turning off the TV at 10:30 and giving her the heave-ho. Not much has really changed in the grand scheme of things, but you feel happier and more connected to your stepdaughter.
Erin is a PhD Candidate in Adult Education at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
A certified Stepfamily Coach, Erin has started her own business, Steplife – Stepmom Coaching and Support.
Erin and her husband Matt share their home part-time with his two kids, Oliver and Waverleigh.