Types of Overstepping
Talking Negatively About You
Talking badly about the other parent is common in divorce. It’s hurtful to the children, but it’s common. It’s just as bad if the stepmother talks negatively about us in front of our children, or worse, talks badly about us to the children directly. We shouldn’t put her down either as much as we may want to.
When children hear their stepmother badmouth us, it feels traitorous not to defend us. The children may feel hesitant to stand up for us because they are trying to keep the peace in an awkward, confusing position. Our children are given one more difficult situation to navigate.
By the way, the children’s father should be the one to nip the stepmother’s badmouthing in the bud!
Badmouthing Choices or Traditions
Another kind of badmouthing that is confusing to our children is when the stepmother criticizes our traditions or other sensitive choices like religion. Often, as mothers, we are trying to maintain spiritual and holiday traditions in the midst of this mess, while the stepmother sometimes demeans, makes fun of, or discounts those traditions.
Again, the children’s father should not allow the stepmother to undermine what you are trying to instill as the children’s mother.
Breaking Parenting Rules
Most states mandate co-parenting classes for divorcing parents. One of the most difficult areas of co-parenting (including stepparents) is maintaining parenting rules. The primary parents should be the rule-setters for the children. The stepmother (or stepfather) should back up the rules set by the primary parents.
Trouble often shows up when the stepmother has her own children and has different ideas about parenting. There should be serious conversations about “house” rules that are applied equally to all children in the blended family.
Pre-teens and teens are, by design, usually pushing the boundaries. Even without divorce and stepmothers involved, there are challenges when children this age are becoming more independent and more outspoken about family rules and discipline.
Setting strong, reasonable boundaries is important during divorce and especially when stepparents are involved. Normal kids complain about rules, stepmothers or not, and that’s okay. But they desperately need the security of definite, clear boundaries for behavior when so much of their lives is swirling around, out of their control.
Giving children of all ages secure boundaries that are discussed and consistently enforced, makes them feel more secure and more loved. When we become so busy and overwhelmed about our own lives, sometimes we think we are making it easier for children when we ignore the rules. We are not. We are making life more difficult.
Keep in mind, though, that we all need to be reasonably flexible. Be sensitive to kids’ needs and allow for some common sense give and take.
Trying to Replace You
Let me be clear. Our children’s stepmother will never replace us! We are our children’s biological mother. That will never change. It is wrong for a stepmother to in any way try to replace us in our children’s lives. She is there to support their dad and be available for our children within the boundaries of that new role.
Sometimes she is also mothering her own children who may now be in the family, and that compounds the possibility of favoritism or caring for some children differently than others. It’s definitely a fine line to walk for everyone concerned.
What To Do About It
The best thing we can do for our children after divorce and especially when a stepmother comes into the picture, is to get better ourselves.
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Our kids need to be able to go to the other parent’s house, and know that we are going to be okay and not a crying mess. We need to be getting stronger physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and in every way we can. We need to make our children’s time with us “normal” and the best it can possibly be. We cannot control anything that goes on at our ex-husband’s house, unless, of course, you fear for your children’s safety.
- Don’t ask questions about the stepmom or your ex.
- Don’t press your children to talk about their time away, but let them know you’re available if they want to talk.
- Don’t get enraged or sad when your children talk about things that happened at their dad’s house with the stepmom. Ask instead, “How did that make you feel?” Then talk about that.
- Maintain your own boundaries and rules when the children are at your house.
- Focus on teaching them the powerful lessons of resilience during this challenging time.
- Let them know that you are okay…that they don’t have to protect you or be your support system.
- Be confident, joyful and excited about life. That will rub off on your children.
- Let them know you are all in this together and you will get through this.
Remember, co-parenting with your ex-husband and the stepmother is not a competition. It is a team effort with the goal of providing the most secure, stable, functional environment for your children possible.
Talk To Her
Sometimes, it is helpful to have a one-to-one conversation with the stepmom, as difficult as that might be, especially if she is the “other woman” who had a part in destroying your family. Maybe writing a letter could be helpful.
Don’t immediately think of her as an adversary. She may have children of her own, and she may be doing the best she can in a very complicated situation, just like you are. And, who knows, you may actually become a stepmother yourself at some point.
Make clear your desire to work together for the best for the kids. Discuss any areas of conflict calmly and reasonably.
Talk To Your Ex-Husband
Having a frank conversation with your ex-husband about the welfare of your children is something that should happen early on. Be clear about your expectations, and listen to what he is concerned about. Remember – your top priority is what is best for your children.
Make sure that when your children are at your house, they feel safe, secure, loved and happy. You can’t control what happens at your ex’s house, or what your children’s stepmother is doing, but you can control what happens at your house. Make it good! And fun!
Our MasterPlan program includes the six-part “Parenting Through Divorce” program, developed by an older child of divorce. Grady, our youngest son interviewed several of his 30-something friends about what they were thinking and needing during their own parents’ divorce. The program gives insights straight from the kids.
Remember: Stepmothers aren’t usually “the enemy.” We have to focus on providing the best environment possible for our children when they are with us. No one can destroy our biological bond with them. The best thing we can do is make their time with us good and fun and nurturing in every way we can. To make that happen, we have to get better ourselves after our divorce. We can help. You can get started today with the free Crash Course.