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Boundaries part two

March 12, 2013

A stepfamily differs from the nuclear family in many ways. One difference is that the children are raised in two households, and therefor there needs to be some level of interaction between these two. Many stepfamilies struggle with how this cooperation needs to be handled.

As a stepmom I have been very surprised about all the challenges regarding this cooperation. Sometimes it seems like a constant battle. Often I stop and think: “But don`t we all want what`s best for the children? Why are we then not a team?”. However, I think this is too naive. Off course parents want what`s best for their children, but that is not all they want. They want what`s best for themselves as well. This can interfere with the original good intentions. To be able to distinguish your own needs from what your child needs also requires a certain level of maturity. Then we also have the fact that the divorce happened from a reason: two people were not able to live together, but now they are suppose to be able to cooperate about the most important thing in their lives. I have learned that boundaries between households are absolutely essential:

The child may have two homes, but the parents do not. Therefor they need to treat each others homes as a place they are not entitled to. With people who are not your family you knock on the door and wait until being welcomed in, and if not welcomed you do not enter. You do this if you are a normal, polite person anyway. If the other parent is not able respect this, even more clear boundaries need to be set. An aggressive person, a person who invades, might need to be told that they can not enter the home. A woman who has divorced her violent husband, should not need to have him come into her home every time he picks up his kid. A husband who has been a victim of verbal abuse, and a manipulative spouse, should not have to have that person in it`s home. There are several ways to arrange visitations without crossing each others boundaries.

Property needs to be treated as property usually does: If your child`s friend bring something to your house and forgets it, you make an effort to bring it back. This should apply for children growing up in two homes. What is essential is that the child has what he/she needs at all times in both homes. If someones has made an effort to buy a new pair of pants, it needs to be treated with respect when brought to the other house. It also needs to be brought back to where it belongs. Why is this so difficult for parents to understand? I must say as a stepmom, this is one of my biggest frustrations. I really feel that lack of these kinds of boundaries are lack of respect.

Agreements need to be kept. If you have said you will pick up your child at five, you do pick up the child at five, and put rush hour and things you need to do into your planning. If you say you will return your child on a certain day, that is the day you do return your child. If you want flexibility, you can not demand it, but politely ask for the agreement to be rescheduled.

Even if you provide for the same child, you do not have the right to control each others economy. If you receive child support, you need to be honest about increase in income that might lead to the right for less child support. If you sign your child up for an activity and you plan for the other parent to support it financially, you have to ask in advance. It seems to me like some people think they are entitled to the other person`s bank account because they have a child together. In my country being the person with main custody (meaning the child`s address is at your house, not necessarily meaning you have the child more than the other parent), you do receive several benefits: child support, governmental child support, reduced tax among other things. This gives a financial responsibility the other person does not have. Child support is suppose to cover essential needs and not fancy vacations or expencive clothes. Give what you are obliged to give, demand what you have the right to demand, but anything else is voluntarily.

It is good for children to have the same set of rules in both households, but it is not absolutely necessary. Children grow up learning there are different rules, and a certain flexibility to this is an important skill. There are certain rules at home, certain rules at the grandparents, certain rules at school, and certain rules at the sports team. One person can not control bedtime, meals, homework etc in the other household. As long as it is not neglect or abuse, it is out of your control. However, you can decide the rules in your own home. Have you ever said “Well, then that is okay at your moms but not here”? I have.

I am sure I could say more about this subject. I would love to hear from others out there what kind of boundaries you have between the two households. And if the boundaries are met with respect. My boundaries are not.


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