The following is a guest post written by Mary T. Kelly, M.A from www.realstepfamilies.com.
“I have no say in my own home.”
“I feel powerless when it comes to what his kids do.”
“I don’t agree with my partner’s parenting and he won’t listen to me.”
If you’re like the thousands of women I’ve worked with who are dating, living with or partnered to one with children, you’re probably resonating with at least one of those statements.
You may have thought when you first joined a ready-made family that, especially with the title, “Stepmom”, your opinion about parenting and how your partner’s kids should be raised would not only be heard but actually listened to.
You may have found out the hard way that the kids didn’t view you as any kind of parent and really, why would they? You aren’t their mother.
You wake up one day and realize that resentment has seeped in because feeling like you have no voice is a terrible way live, especially in your own home!
So let me make this clear: You have the right to have a voice in your own home.
The most effective way to have a voice in your home is to be a team with your partner and, this is key, differentiate between House Rules and Parenting.
The truth is most kids don’t see you as a mother, bonus mother or any type of mother. They have a mother thank you very much. In the rare case their mother is deceased, there’s likely to be an even stronger loyalty bind. Additionally, research shows that 80% of young adult stepkids don’t feel close to their stepmothers. This is not to say that they don’t like them. It just means they aren’t their go-to people.
You and your partner are the adult authority in the home. You must be a Team when it comes to negotiating with one another what the house rules are. House rules include chores, consequences, expectations of behavior in the home and ways of interacting with one another (it’s never ok for them to ignore you or not acknowledge you when you greet them) and expectations of basic common courtesy.
The important part of setting rules with the kids is to also negotiate with your partner what the consequences are if they break the rules. This is critical as I find many couples agree on rules but never come up with conseaquences or the consequences aren’t consistent which then weakens the motivation to adhere to rules. Make sure the rules ad consequences are realistic and age appropriate. Stepmoms tend to be stricter than their partners and compromise and flexibility is critical.
For many divorced couples, they are able to continue to co-parent post-divorce. Parenting decisions involve education, when kids start to date and drive, religious upbringing, diet, screen use (although this last one should always be open to conversation) and others.
You may be judgmental of your partner’s parenting decisions, whether they come from a place of co-parenting with his ex or how they want to parent themselves. Although research shows that the majority of fathers post-divorce tend to parent more permissively, it’s every parent’s right to parent as they see fit. There isn’t a perfect parent on the planet and parenting books change their advice every 5-10 years. In other words, parenting is not a perfect science.
Talk with your partner about the difference between Household Rules and Parenting and negotiate with one another. Admittedly, it’s sometimes a gray line between the two and like anything else in partnership, communication and negotiation are essential.
From where I’m coming from, I want to encourage you to let go of your opinions about your partner’s parenting. Their kids and how they turn out are not going to be a reflection on you. You’re off the hook!
One stepmom in my monthly support group was married to a man who had almost polar opposite views on parenting. She spent years in a tug-of-war with him and finally let go of her end of the rope.
Her liberating mantra became: Not my monkey, not my circus.
Her letting go of how he was parenting his kids was liberating and more importantly, created more space for them to enjoy one another and appreciate the things they had in common.
You do have a voice. You aren’t powerless. You and your partner have created a new family, albeit a lumpy one! Focus on the things, like Household Rules, you can agree on together and leave the rest behind.
Mary T. Kelly, M.A. is a marriage and family psychotherapist and writer who has been specializing in working with women who are dating, partnered with or married to men with children, step-couples and stepfamilies for over 15 years. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colorado and also works with clients through Skype or FaceTime domestically and internationally. Additionally, Mary runs support groups, both face-to-face in Boulder and online. She is a contributing writer for Huffington Post and Stepmom Magazine.
For more about Mary or to learn about her services click here.