Parenting, even in the most conventional of settings, is never an easy task.
Raising a child involves a lot more than the everyday tasks of keeping your child alive (surprise, surprise). It requires constant learning, evolving and adapting to situations you’ve never encountered before and dealing with every twist and turn to the best of your abilities, all while everyone you know, and society as a whole, sit, watch and judge your every move. Sounds like a piece of cake, right?
Now to make this even better, try going through all of that while parenting someone else’s child; more new, unique hurdles, more grey areas and undefined lines, and more judging eyes. Yay!
Step parenting combines all of the traditional troubles that other parents face with the added stress of a whole new set of potential obstacles.
Many of these fun new obstacles arise when a stepparent crosses a boundary, either intentionally or by honest mistake, and upsets the child, their new spouse, or the child’s other parent. To address this common stepparent problem, we’ve decided to address and give advice on boundaries that are typical in many blended families today.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries, specific to the world of step parenting, are figurative lines drawn in the sand by a child’s biological parents on what the step parent should and should not do in relation to raising their step child.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
When there are multiple people involved with the raising of a child, there are a lot of opportunities for toes to get stepped on.
A stepparent crossing a line can cause distress between the stepparent and stepchild, but it can also cause problems within their marriage. Additionally, overstepping can result in unnecessary hard feelings between the stepparent and their spouses ex partner.
For The Parents
Without having some sort of guidelines, it is often difficult for a stepparent to know where their role ends and where the biological parents’ roles begin. That being said, these boundaries are not in place to limit the stepparent’s role. They are simply to keep everyone involved happy, respectful, and involved. Boundaries enable co-parents and stepparents to keep up a healthy level of co-operation and understanding.
For The Children
Not only are these boundaries important for the parental figures, they are also important for the children involved.
Children require consistency in their day-to-day lives. Parents and stepparents may have incredibly different parenting styles, tempers, daily routines, etc. Having two parents and a stepparent involved in raising a child, each with their own way of doing things, is only going to create an unstable, or at minimum a confusing, routine for the child.
It should be with the child’s best interests in mind that rules and boundaries are discussed, created, and implemented into a family’s dynamic.
Each Family Is Unique
We can preach the importance of boundaries within a blended family, but the truth is that every family is unique, and each will have their own opinions, techniques, and routines, etc. What works well for one family will not necessarily work for the next.
Maybe Your Family Doesn’t Need Boundaries
Some families are able to co-parent seamlessly and naturally. In some cases, all parental figures involved get along great (but probably not most cases), they do not need to set rules or discuss roles, and things run smoothly, for the most part, without any sort of organized intervention.
This type of effortless co-operation requires a lot of common sense, mutual respect, and similarities in parenting styles.
Maybe Your Family Can’t Function Without Them
On the other end of the spectrum, some groups of parents, stepparents, and exes have the unfortunate tendencies to argue, cast blame, get jealous, etc. It is in these situations where boundaries are a firm necessity for the sake of everyone’s sanity and the child’s happiness and wellbeing.
Or Maybe Your Family Sits Comfortably In The Middle
In this case, they may lay down some rules so everyone is on the same page, are almost always able to come to agreements, and have no problems compromising when necessary.
No One Is Judging Either Way – Whatever Works Best For You, Works Best For You
The boundaries that families choose to run their household with, and how they decide on and implement these rules are also unique to each individual family.
Some parents may play by ear and discuss the different rules as they become needed. Some parents may have regular scheduled discussions to determine what is working and what isn’t.
Neither of these techniques is better than the other; there is no right and wrong way of going about this. The best way to do this is the way that is the most effective, comfortable, and convenient for you and your family.
Common Boundaries That Step Parents Should Not Cross
While some families enforce boundaries out of necessity and some simply go with the flow, there are some lines that no stepparent should cross, no matter the situation.
- Physically Disciplining Your Step Child
As a stepparent it is not your call on whether or not to physically discipline your stepchild. It is inappropriate for you to spank or hit them, and any behaviour you feel demands this type of discipline should be brought to your spouse’s attention.
It can be easy to become frustrated, especially if your stepchildren are prone to lashing out against you by misbehaving. However, it is important you do not lose your temper.
If you feel yourself starting to get worked up, remove yourself from the situation. Most likely the children are acting out for that particular reason, and backing down will dissipate their behaviour.
- Speaking Poorly of the Ex/Other Parent
Your stepchild should never hear you speak negatively about their other parent. Even if your child is complaining about them, it is not your place to agree or add comments on the topic.
It is important that you listen and support your stepchildren, offering them a safe place to vent their emotions, but remember to remain neutral when it comes to situations involving sensitive topics such as this. When you do speak, ensure that you are providing value to the conversation by offering empathy, understanding, and positivity.
Just because your stepchild is speaking negatively about their parent, it does not mean they wish to hear someone else do so. Hearing you insult or judge their parent may feel like an attack on themselves, as they are related to and connected to their parent. It can be hurtful, and even damaging to their self-esteem and the relationship you two share.
- Inserting Yourself Into Conflicts Not Involving You
This can refer to conflicts between your spouse and your stepchildren, but can also refer to conflicts between your spouse and their ex.
An argument between your spouse and his/her child is not a calling for you to jump in. It is unnecessary and unhealthy for you to feel that you need to run to the rescue of either party involved, as quite frankly the conflict probably does not concern you.
Give them space and they will hash things out on their own. Any attempt at involving yourself may only make things worse in the moment, and can make things awkward or uncomfortable in the aftermath.
Even more so than the previous situation, it is definitely not your place to insert yourself into an argument between your spouse and the other parent. You may feel as if you have to defend your spouse, but once again, they can handle themselves. Adding a third person into the mix when tensions are already high is not a good way to solve any problems.
- Assuming Immediate Authority
This particular boundary depends on the age of the children involved.
If your stepchildren are still quite young, establishing a commanding role in their lives is more important and will be easier to do (most times). The younger the child is, the more they need an authoritative figure, and the less likely they are to reject or challenge your authority.
As the children get older, especially once they’ve reached their teen years, the opposite becomes true.
Rather than attempting to showcase to your teen stepchildren that you are in charge of them, try befriending them. Enter their lives as someone they can count on for support, someone they can talk to, and someone who is there if they need help, rather than someone who is going to boss them around. Work on building a positive relationship with them, and let your spouse worry about keeping them in line.
- Acting As A Replacement
Your stepchild should never get the impression from you that you are attempting to replace their biological parent. It does not matter whether the parent is present in their life, is out of the picture, or is deceased; it is not up to you to take their place.
This can be detrimental to your relationship with your stepchild. If they feel that is what you are doing, they will resent you for it. It is important that you understand, and make it clear to your stepchild, that you are “in addition” to their biological parent, not “instead of”.
You Can Do This
The thought of step parenting can be daunting, but having the opportunity to bring together two families is worth it.
While it is true that being a step parent is much different than being a parent, and that it comes with it’s own set of obstacles and hardships, there are many resources out their to help new stepparents gain their footing. These resources can help you understand how to ease into the role of stepparent, the different situations you will encounter as a blended family, how to effectively delegate parental roles, etc.
The most important things to remember are to bond with your stepchildren. Form positive relationships with them, provide them with support, earn their trust, and provide them with a healthy and happy example of a marriage to look up to.
As a stepparent, you will never be alone. Don’t forget that there are one or two (or maybe even more) parental figures helping you. If you all work together, your blended family will be as happy and healthy as can be.