Being a stepparent comes with certain rules and boundaries that might not feel natural to some people. You are not their parent and you are not their peer.
Can you run errands for them?
Clean their rooms? Help them study?
Talk with them about friendship problems?
The answer to these all most likely is “Yes.” But can you discipline them? Can you take their side against your spouse’s ex? Most likely, “no” is the answer to these types of situations.
The issue basically comes down to one thing, the level of control one should be taking and the difficulty of knowing exactly where that boundary lies, which is different in every family. Most stepparents might go over the line unintentionally. Many biological parents might become a bit more sensitive than is necessary and many step parents might be a bit less sensitive than is necessary.
Below I offer 8 boundaries that step parents should not cross.
Again, as I said earlier, each family is different so use this list as a guide but not as a strict “rule book”.
1. Talking negatively about your spouse’s ex.
It is always important to remember that the other parent is still the parent who, hopefully, has the child’s best interests at heart. No matter how much you disagree with the other parent, or how angry he/she gets you, it is important to never bad mouth him/her to the children.
This might be difficult, especially if the children are complaining about something mom did. It is better to listen with an open and empathetic ear and be a source of support for the child who is going through something difficult with the other parent. The issue will resolve itself but the child might still remember the negative things you said about his mom and then resent you for it.
2. Disciplining your stepchildren.
This is that line not to cross that just might not seem fair. It might be easy to get caught up in the anger and intensity of an argument, but it is better to keep your cool, walk away and wait to speak to your spouse about what happened. He/She should be the one to impose the punishment that occurs based on his and his ex’s family values of discipline. This does not mean you should let your step children abuse you and take advantage. Instead, it is important to remember your role is different than if would be with your own children.
3. Trying to take the place of your spouse’s ex.
Depending on the circumstances, the other parent might not be in the child’s life (death, significant mental illness, etc). This does not give you permission to then slip into the role of “Mom.” The child has a mom and it is not you. The child has the right to love their mom while still having a close relationship with you as a step parent.
4. Putting yourself in the middle between you spouse and his/her children.
While it might be tempting to try to get on the kids’ good side by disagreeing with your spouse, this is not a good idea and will backfire at some point. It is still important to put on a uniformed front with your spouse. The child might resent you for butting into her business so it is best for your spouse and the children to work out the issues on their own. If you are asked for help, that is a different story, however, it is still important to remember not to go overboard and take over.
5. Putting yourself in the middle between your spouse’s ex and his/her children.
Remember, you are not the parent. It is not your place to try to over-ride the other parent’s decisions regarding the children.
6. Ignoring the wishes of your spouse’s ex (in relation to the children.)
As an example, if your spouse’s ex does not want the kids to eat past 8 pm, it is not wise to break that rule. The kids need to see you respect their other parent and that you are a good role model for them.
7. Engaging in a parenting discussion with your spouse and his/her ex.
This is also a sticky situation. While it is important for your marriage to be a source of support your spouse , particularly when it comes to his/her relationship with his/her ex, it is better to be done privately. It is also important to remember that when it comes to their children it needs to be their decisions on what to do. If you voice your opinion against the ex, she/he might become resentful and make things more difficult for you and your spouse. It is best if you can attempt to have a good relationship with your spouse’s ex if possible.
8. Feeling jealous when your spouse and his/her children want some one-on-one time.
It is important for your spouse and the kids to know they can still have “alone” time without you and that you are okay with that. Many children whose parents are in new relationships feel insecure and might think their parent loves their new spouse more than they love them. It is important for the kids to have a close bond with both parents and it could become a significant family problem if you as the stepparent have a problem because of that.