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It is not uncommon for stepmothers to feel exhausted and depleted.  It is not uncommon for stepmothers to feel misunderstood, used, taken for granted, and the scapegoat when things don't go well in the stepfamily system.  It is not uncommon for stepmothers to feel more like posers and actresses than actual human beings.  

And all this adds up to exacting a price that no stepmother should or needs to pay.  

Because the role of "stepmother" is so vague and ambiguous for most, many stepmothers try to overcompensate, fix other their spouses or even ex-spouses messes, and negate their own needs in the process.  But there is a solution and it comes in the form of two simple words:

"Boundaries connect".  

Yes, boundaries connect.  I learned this 2-word mantra many years ago in a training program and I've used it ever since, for my clients and myself.

It's important to have boundaries in our lives, especially when one is a stepmother.  But this is tricky business, given the stepmother is the one with the invisible target on her chest that screams, "Blame me for everything!"

Stepmothers need to know when it's okay to put up the bright red stop.  They need to know when they've done enough conceding, enough "gutting" their way through their weeks and days.  They need to recognize the warning their bodies give them when it feels like someone is stepping on their chest and it feels hard to breathe.

You know that feeling...that feeling you get when you agree to something that you really don't want to agree to. That moment when you say "yes", and it's as if you can feel all your essence, all that is you, slip down and go down the nearest sewer drain.

That feeling when you walk away and you want to kick yourself.  That moment when you've said, "yes" when you meant "no' and you blame the other person for "taking advantage of you".

And for what?  Why do we do this?

To keep the peace?
To avoid the conflict?
To make life less messy?
To get the ex-wife to like you?
To save time?
To look like the good guy?
To make sure the stepkids love you?
To be a saint?
To be the perfect stepmother?
To be the perfect wife?
To make life easier?
To ensure the smooth yet illusive "blended family"?

Uh huh, I thought so.

And you know how that feeling just sits in your psyche and you feel anything from slow burning resentment to out and out rage?

Usually when we get to this point, we also tend to get into a bit of a victim mode.  We are being taken advantage of, we aren't being appreciated, we aren't being valued, we aren't being seen.

I finally learned the invaluable lesson of "Boundaries Connect" when one of my daughters was 15 years old.  We were on the way to get her driver's permit.  Now, this daughter had been testy and feisty and difficult to get along with (Duh, 15).  

I asked the unforgivable question, "So, how was your day?"  'WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SO NOSEY MOM?  WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO ASK ME THESE STUPID QUESTIONS???!!!"

Quick background.  I was recently divorced from her father and full of divorce guilt and how my divorce was going to screw up my children for life, and how I was accepting perpetual rude behavior from this one in particular because I had put her through this divorce and would be forever more making up for it for all eternity.

Well, I had just learned about the power of the mantra "BOUNDARIES CONNECT" and the two words came screaming at me.  I had had enough and I made an illegal U-turn in the road and headed the car back towards home.


Me, in extremely calm mother voice, "You are not getting one more thing from me from this point on until you learn to speak to me with respect in a civil and polite tone.  I will never apologize to you again about the divorce.  It happened.  It's done."

The screaming and ranting continued with the expected, "HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME?  I NEED MY DRIVER'S PERMIT AND I NEED IT NOW, BLAH BLAH BLAH."
No no.  Wasn't going to do it.  Wasn't going to turn around.  The verbal barrage continued.  We got home and she ran into her room slamming the door, threatening to run away, go to her fathers', call Social Services.


I handed her the phone.

From that point on, our relationship changed drastically.  It moved into a relationship of love—my daughter stopped her ranting, her demands.  And if she slipped, I'd look at her and say, "You're not getting one thing from me until you speak to me in a way that is respectful."

It didn't take long.

Stepmothers recoil when I tell them this boundary connects concept.  It elicits fear.  "What if I give a boundary and I get rejected?"  "What if my husband pushes back?"  "What if my stepchildren hate me for sure?"

I try to reassure.  I can't tell you the times that the "Boundaries Connect" in action gives people more love, more respect.  It's not about being stubborn or rigid.  It's about being true to yourself and holding fast to the anchor of your being.

Ultimately, it's better to disappoint another to be true to yourself.  And it's like that airline analogy.  You know the need to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others.  

We can't model self-love to our children, our stepchildren, our spouses, or our friends if we aren't self-loving.

So experiment today.  Pick one small thing you're tempted to relinquish.  See what happens...take a chance.  

The only thing you have to lose is yourself.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote May 4, 2010
    • Lol!
      I am a step mother and my girls also have a step mother. I was fortunate in the fact I became a step when the kids were young. So blending was a little easier. I made my stand early on.... in my house you follow my rules.
      We parented we did not entertain.....big difference. However I also included my step in all activities, purchases, events, holidays, etc.

      My girls on the other hand did not have a great relationship with their step until they both were over 18.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Angelcart wrote May 4, 2010
    • Step mom here.  I can so relate to what you said.  When I married my sd was 14.  I wanted to “please” her so I did find myself overcompensating.  Well, when I got tired of her being ungrateful I stopped taking her shopping, daily runs to starbucks, etc.   She then went to her dad for everything and to this day still does.  Kids..........

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      AnneMarie Kimberling wrote May 8, 2010
    • I’m a new stepmom...  except my stepchildren are 19 and 21...  The 19-year old lives with us - is a college student (for now).  This has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life...  and at this very moment, my marriage is in danger because of my stepdaughter...  She has been babied her whole life and never held accountable for ANYTHING!  Everyone just makes excuses for her.  She expects  me to wait on her hand and foot, which I refuse to do.  My husband and I set boundaries, and then when she decides to break them (which is most of the time) my husbands backs down and makes more excuses for her.  I end up looking like the bad person...  So...  Thank you so much for writing this, and for reinforcing how important boundaries are...  I have realized I have to guard my heart and myself... and if that means failure in the marriage I waited my whole life for, then so be it...

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mztracy wrote May 8, 2010
    • Being the step-child at the age of 14 and having a step-mom very quickly after my parents ‘heated’ divorce, I have a few opinions on this.

      As parents going through a divorce, try and I mean try and not do the parent bashing against the other. Do not use the kids, no matter the age, as bargaining chips.  

      I see many step-parents blaming the kids, step-kids for problems in the marriage. Maybe try and seeing it from the child’s perspective and what the divorce has done to them. And most times it is due to the parent of the kid not wanting to back up the step-mom/dad. So that is the problem, not the kid.

      I love my step-mom as she let me feel the pain, she let me vent, she let me be angry at my mom, and my dad. She helped me through a lot of the issues I blamed myself for. Many kids blame themselves for the divorce, no matter the age.

      When parents break up, it is as hard if not harder on the kids as they are the ones torn between parents.  

      If you are step-parent due to being the other woman or other man, be prepared for anger from the child. Sorry, but that kind of behavior is bad character on the cheating people.

      So really, before you blame the kids, look at where they came from, how the divorce was handled, and if your new partner really wants to be where he/she is...

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote May 8, 2010
    • Right on Tracy!  

      I truely hate how the kids get caught in the middle when the “adults” can’t seem to hold it together. I also have told my daughters that if I found out they disrespected their step mother they would have to deal with me!MIm their parent not their friend  (same to my stepson) so I never worried about discilpine/consequences.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote May 10, 2010
    • Elizabeth.... I hear ya!

      My parents divorced when I was 12 and my mom never said a bad word against my father.
      My dad on the other hand fell victim to middle aged men newly single and involved with a shark woman.... he wanted to make her happy I suppose so the rest of us were left on the sidelines.

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