Archive for the 'boundaries' Category

How to Cope with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

I’m addressing a question today I received from a reader. How do you cope as a stepmom when you’re dealing with a biological mom who is belittling to you and doesn’t want you in her children’s lives?

angry catThe stepmom role becomes harder when the bio mom makes every effort to exclude you from her children’s lives and unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, particularly in the beginning. It helps to understand that at the root of this issue lies the fear that the bio mom feels the children are going to bond with the you – the stepmom, and form a deeper relationship with you than they have with her.

It’s an unfounded fear because children almost always have a stronger relationship with their biological parents than they have with a stepparent, but she is reacting out of her own fear and communicating to her children that she wants their loyalty. Women are territorial when it comes to their children. If you have children of your own, you understand these feelings, but it doesn’t give the bio mom the right to act belittling or antagonistic  toward the stepmom.

To help alleviate the threat the bio mom is sensing, the stepmom needs to send a message that she has no intention of interfering with the relationship between the bio mom and her children and isn’t trying to replace her in any way. In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal give an example of how to communicate this message which they call “The No-Threat Message.” They suggest doing it in person or via e-mail if the relationship is already strained.

“Dear Meghan, since we are both involved with your kids, I wanted to take a minute to communicate with you. I want to share that I totally understand and respect that you are the only mother of these children. I’m not their mom, and I will never try to take your place. They are your children. I am honored to be an added parent figure in their lives. I view my role as one of support to their father, and my desire is to be a blessing to them. I promise to speak well of you and work together for their benefit. I desire to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Please know that I pray for the entire family. If there’s anything I can do to help the situation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”

Sending the no-threat message doesn’t guarantee the bio mom will accept your position in her children’s lives but it offers her some perspective on how you feel about your role. She is more likely to allow a relationship between you and her children if she doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior and sees you live out the No-threat message.

Unfortunately, some bio moms are mean-spirited and vindictive. In this case, there’s not a lot the stepmom can do to have an amicable relationship. For further insight, I suggest reading the chapter from The Smart Stepmom, “Meet Your Ex-Wife-in-Law: Friend or Foe.” It gives additional scenarios of how to cope with a difficult ex-spouse.

What suggestions would you give this reader? I’d love to hear them.

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries

Setting Boundaries with Your Stepchildren

My stepson moved from Conway, AR to Austin, TX this past week. After graduating from college, he opted to explore the big-city scene of Austin as a single person. He spent a few days at our house during the transition.

The weeks prior to the move, we were in contact with him almost daily regarding details like renting a U-haul, finding the best apartment, budgeting his finances for the move, etc. A dilemma surfaced regarding how to pull a trailer when his Jeep didn’t have a trailer hitch. Since I drive a car with a trailer hitch, my husband suggested we let him borrow my car and pull the trailer behind it.

I bristled at the suggestion. My stepson has totalled one vehicle and allowed a friend to drive his next vehicle, which the friend totalled. Knowing my stepson has little experience in pulling a trailer made me even more uncomfortable. I pleaded my case for another option and thankfully, my husband agreed.

During the short period my stepson stayed at our house, he asked if I would help with his laundry. It was a small favor I knew would help without a huge sacrifice on my part. Our kids are taught to do their own laundry as teenagers, but saying yes to laundry that day was okay with me.

Boundary setting requires wisdom and sensitivity on our part as stepparents. The boundaries you set in your home will look different than what I set in my home. And boundaries change as our children mature.

Saying no to driving my car was a boundary I felt strongly about it. But doing my stepson’s laundry to help with his move was a gesture of love for me. If we can say yes we need to say yes – that’s part of building a loving relationship with our stepchildren. But when we need to say no, say no.

Our actions or inactions in setting boundaries teach others how to treat us. We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Team up with your spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed–even when you’re angry), and follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

I like the way veteran stepmom Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom, “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

As stepparents, we make endless sacrifices for our stepchildren with few rewards, especially in the beginning. It’s our responsibility to determine what boundaries we need to put in place to foster thriving relationships. When we allow disrespect, or behavior that goes against what we can tolerate, we invite resentment into our heart and home.

If you’re struggling with boundaries, I recommend reading Boundaries, When to Say Yes and When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Healthy boundaries impact all areas of our life and enable us to recognize our limits and seek balance as stepparents.

Are you successful in setting boundaries with your stepchildren? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent – Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent – Part Two

Creating Healthy Boundaries with your Ex-Spouse

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection as a Stepparent

Tears began falling down my cheeks the moment the realtor left our house. I wasn’t prepared for her insensitive comments about the home our family had enjoyed for eleven years. “It won’t sell with wallpaper on the walls. I prefer only neutral colors in all rooms. Your family pictures must come down. The price will be discounted since the master bedroom is upstairs. The light fixtures are dated and must be changed out. You should consider moving your furniture around in some of these rooms.”

Geeeez. I knew our home wasn’t perfect but we shared a lot of love and laughter there, making it a special place for our family. Life with a bunch of kids didn’t allow for the time, energy, and money necessary to keep a home perfectly updated. But we were happy in our family-oriented, slightly-dated home.

So why was my spirit deflated? Rejection. The feeling was all too familiar. I had felt it many times as a stepparent. And now I was feeling it from a realtor. All she could see were the negative aspects that would keep our home from selling. She didn’t consider the sprawling front porch, the well-established neigborhood with beautiful trees, or the central location to anywhere in town. She rejected any notion of positive features of our home.

Have you felt that before as a stepparent? Your stepchildren don’t recognize the meals you cook for them every night, the laundry that gets washed every week, or the endless carpool trips to school, ballgames, and friend’s houses.

Instead they focus on the evening you lost your temper after a long day at work, the extra kids that came when you married their dad, or the uncomforable feeling that’s created when they begin to care about you like they do their biological parent. It’s easier to reject you than deal with the inner turmoil of accepting you into their life.

So, how do we deal with rejection as a stepparent? How do I come to terms with the rejection I felt from the realtor? Here are a few things I’ve done to help me cope:

1. Focus on what I can change, and let go of everything else. I can’t change the fact that our master bedroom is upstairs, but I can hire someone to strip the wallpaper and put on a fresh coat of paint. As a stepparent, you can’t change the circumstances if you brought children of your own into your marriage. But you can work hard to love your stepchildren with Christ’s love and accept them for who they are.

2. Realize that Christ loves me every day, regardless of whether my stepchildren accept me or whether the realtor approves of my house. Affirm my positive qualities in the midst of criticism. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18).

3. Unite with my spouse to overcome feelings of rejection from my stepchildren or hurtful comments sent my way. Find solace in a loving, comforting relationship that can only be shared with a mate.

Other ideas? How do you cope with rejection?

Can you look past the pain of rejection and see the beautiful person God created in you? How do you cope with rejection as a stepparent? I would love to hear your comments.

Related Posts:

Marriage is Not Always Blissful, Especially in Blended Families

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

Grasping the Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent

As I was listening to my friend complain about the disrespectful behavior from her stepson, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you established some boundaries that would allow you to take care of yourself instead of putting up with his self-centered behavior?

We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you’re angry), and then follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

It isn’t our role as stepparents to be walked on, taken advantage of, or neglected. We have needs and wants also, and it’s okay to express our needs and learn how to take care of ourselves.

For example, I learned many years ago that I don’t deal well with chaos. It makes me nervous to spend a lot of time in an environment that is loud or uncontrolled. Since my husband and I have five children, I can’t completely avoid those situations.

However, I’ve learned that if I take a time-out for myself when we have large groups of kids at the house and let my husband be in charge for awhile, I can regroup and come back to the interaction refreshed. I want our kids to be comfortable having their friends over, so I’ve learned how to cope with my limitations.

I’ve also learned that I have less patience with my stepson and his ideas of post-college life than I do my stepdaughter’s quest for mature decision-making about her future. I’ve learned that my husband can guide my stepson better without the judgment and lack of understanding I experience. It’s more natural for me to spend my emotional energy influencing my stepdaughter regarding her long-term relationship or my biological girls with their current struggles.

As stepparents, we make constant sacrifices for our stepchildren and may see few rewards, particularly in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It’s our responsibility as stepparents to determine what we must do to take care of ourselves adequately.

I like the way Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom:. “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

Do you need to practice saying “no” this week?

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two

Make Your Remarriage Work: Separate Marriage and Parenting Issues

“I refuse to get on that bandwagon and stay consumed with my stepson’s problems. It’s a tough situation but I don’t want it to ruin every aspect of our lives.”

I recently spoke with a new stepmom who is dealing with some tough issues with her 16-year-old stepson. She recognizes the critical place her stepson is in but refuses to allow the strain of his problems to interfere with her marriage to his dad. I told her I was proud to see her separate the difficult parenting issue from the new marriage she and her new husband are building. It’s not an easy thing to do.

When we’re raising children in a blended family, we often get consumed with the negative issues surrounding the kids and allow it to interfere with our remarriage. It’s crucial for us to be aware of how an unfavorable stepchild situation can bleed over into resentment toward our spouse. If we see that happening, we need to make a conscious choice to separate the parenting issue from our marriage, and talk with our spouse about our feelings.

When I blamed my husband for difficulties with his children in the early years of our remarriage, he would say, “I’m your friend in this marriage, not your enemy. We can work this out together. But we have to be on the same side and I don’t sense you’re on my side.”

He was right. I was allowing my stepparenting struggles to interfere with my feelings toward him and create a strain in our relationship. I’m thankful he didn’t allow me to stay stuck in those feelings.

There will naturally be some overlap between our stepparenting role and our remarriage. But when we let negative feelings toward our stepchildren interefere with our feelings toward our spouse, we need to evaluate the situation and separate the stepparenting struggle from the marriage relationship.

Do you have difficulty separating marital and parenting issues? Does it affect your marriage relationship?

Related posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two

Nurture Your Marriage

Creating Healthy Boundaries with your Ex-Spouse

In my post last week on boundaries, I said I would post about creating healthy boundaries with your ex-spouse. So I’m re-posting from a previous blog post that gives some examples of what healthy boundaries look like. These boundaries may not be applicable for you if the relationship with your ex is amicable. But for those dealing with a difficult ex-spouse, I hope these are helpful. Many of them apply to my own personal situation. (I’m using “he” for simplicity in each example).

1. Discuss only issues relating to the children with your ex-spouse. If he diverts the conversation to past events or other personal matters, steer it back toward matters of the children.

2. Use e-mail and texting if face to face discussions or personal phone calls are confrontational. Do not argue in front of the children.

3. Keep your meeting places public when possible. If you’re swapping children from your home and expect conflict, don’t allow your ex-spouse to come into your home.

4. Make sure your ex-spouse is clear on your expectations. Put it in writing and provide support for what you’re asking, if needed. For example, when my stepson was younger, he suffered terribly with allergies. I took him for allergy testing and it was determined he was allergic to cigarette smoke but we knew my husband’s ex-wife and her husband smoked around him constantly. We provided a prescription note from the doctor that requested there be no smoking around my stepson.

5. Don’t allow verbal abuse of any kind – toward you or the children. If the conversation gets emotionally charged, tell your ex-spouse you will hang up unless the matter can be discussed calmly.

6. Separate issues of child support and visitation. If your ex-spouse is late or delinquent on child support, don’t deny visitation. However, follow through with the court process regarding current payments.

7. Learn to recognize manipulative behavior and don’t allow it to influence your relationship with your ex.

Boundaries can be set and then adjusted, as necessary, in your relationship  They give you the freedom to allow healthy interaction without fear of being taken advantange of or manipulated. But it is our responsibility to set boundaries that work for us without alienating our ex spouse in the process.

What boundaries do you set with your ex-spouse? Leave a comment if you’re willing to share your success with others.

Related posts:

Setting Boundaries with an Ex-Spouse

Your Ex Spouse and Boundaries: Part Two

How to Co-Parent Successfully with your Ex 

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

When I married my husband, Randy, I told him my ex-husband would not be a problem because he would eventually drop out of our lives. He had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and although he was a medical doctor, he was a most unstable person.

However, I was wrong.

Sixteen years later, Randy and I converse regularly about how to cope with the tension my ex-husband creates. His interaction with my daughters frequently results in confusion and anger for the girls. 
 I have spent hours on the phone with my ex-husband, trying to explain how his behavior alienates his children from him, creating a wall of divide that will probably never come down. 
Despite every effort to have a healthy relationship with him, I have concluded that we simply cannot maintain a mature, thriving relationship. And in order to protect myself from an emotional entanglement, it’s necessary to  set appropriate boundaries regularly. 
Now I’m not suggesting this is the case with every ex-spouse. I know many divorced parents who maintain an amicable relationship and successfully co-parent their children together. I strongly encourage healthy interaction with your ex-spouse. But I know from experience, that isn’t always possible.
So, how do you create healthy boundaries with a difficult ex-spouse? I’ll tackle that in my next post but first, I want to explain what boundaries look like.
In their book, Boundaries (which I highly recommend), Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, define a boundary as, “a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsbile. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are  not.” 
Here are some examples from the book:
“Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.”
Boundaries give us the freedom to create and maintain healthy relationships with others without losing ourselves in the process.
Christians are especially vulnerable to living without appropriate boundaries as we seek to demonstrate unselfish, unconditional love toward others. But Christ doesn’t ask us to become doormats or spineless creatures in the process.
We are created to be in constant fellowship with Him, and that cannot occur if we’re wallowing in self-pity or exploding in anger because of our lack of boundaries with those around us.
Does that make sense? Can you recognize the need for boundaries if you’re dealing with a difficult ex-spouse?
Related Posts:

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