Boundaries for step-parents

All Woman

STEP-PARENTING involves assuming responsibility for a child that is not biologically yours, but whom you are expected to love and nurture as if they were your own. But sometimes step-parents get their roles mixed up, which often results in conflict and tension with the biological parent because they completely ignore natural boundaries.

Just in case you aren't clear on what qualifies as crossing the boundary, Clinical Psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell has shared a few examples:

Never try to take the place of your partner's ex

You may now be your partner's wife/husband and you may even have children of your own now, and while you are expected to give motherly/fatherly love, it does not mean that you get to take the place of their mother or father. Therefore do not demand that they call you mom or dad, and while the child is expected to respect you, do not expect that the child will love you more than they love their mom or dad because they spend more time with you now. Always respect the close relationship that the child has with their parents; it will in no way affect the healthy, close relationship that you should also aim to have with them.

Never talk negatively about your partner's ex

When people move on, it is natural that there will be tension, but it is never okay to speak ill about the parent to the children. This can be particularly difficult if the children are being misled by the other parent. Allow your partner to address this matter — you don't want the child believing that you are jealous and trying to paint their parent in a bad light or even worse, end up resenting you especially if you fail to use tact when expressing yourself. Instead, listen, be empathetic and supportive, but never bad-mouth the other parent.

Refrain from getting involved in parenting discussions between your partner and their ex

Unless you are invited by both parties to add your opinion in a discussion, never get involved. It is natural to be tempted to weigh in especially when the child spends most of their time with you, but resist the temptation. This is only likely to result in hostility and the other parent may only put up a greater defence because they feel that they are being ganged up on.

Never feel threatened by a partner's efforts to spend time with their child

A divorce often hurts the children more than it does parents and this means that much has to be done to ensure that the child does not feel neglected. This is especially important, since children sometimes interpret their parents' decision to move on with someone else as their loving this person more. You therefore do not want to steal your spouse away, especially when they are bonding with their child, or lash out in the presence of the child that you feel starved for attention. This can cause resentment and conflict in your relationship.

Don't ignore existing rules and guidelines agreed on by your spouse and their ex

Whether it is the way that the child wears their hair, a decision not to pierce the child's ears, or a decision on the time at which a child is allowed to date, you should NEVER feel that you have the right to simply change this; it is just not your place. Even if the child is living with you it is important to respect the wishes of their biological parent.

Never hit your stepchild

Even if this is something that you do with your own child as a way of disciplining them, you do not get to do this because you are a step-parent and especially not because they live with you. A step-parent should be respected by the child in the same way that a child should be respected by the step-parent. Even if tempers flare and the step-parent feels that the child was out of line, discipline should be left to a stern talk until further punishment is discussed with the other parent/parents. Dishing out physical consequences to a step-child can cause plenty of conflicts.

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