3 Essential Stepparent Boundaries in New Relationships

A new relationship is exhilarating, but special care applies when kids are involved. Follow these stepparent boundaries for a happy family.
By:
Diana Spasic
September 20, 2021
S

tarting a new relationship after divorce can feel like stepping into a new world of fresh opportunities. But starting fresh doesn’t always come naturally to children, who are creatures of routine and habit. Kids are often confused about how to adapt to new adults taking prominent places in their homes and lives. But with patience and time, your new family dynamic will fall into an upbeat rhythm.

It’s normal for children to feel confused about their parent’s new partner and their role in the family. Unfortunately, adults are often equally clueless.

Stepping into a new domestic routine often gets trickier when your new spouse has their own children and you’re trying to start a blended family. Over time, your new family will start to feel like a well-balanced, cheerful home. But there may be bumps along the way. Setting stepparent boundaries and having realistic expectations from the start will give adults and kids alike you a perfect starting point for staying in step as a family going forward.

In this article, we will go through:

1. Creating House Rules and Boundaries

Step parent boundaries: family moving into a new house

When both spouses are in their first marriages, families find it easy to establish a set of house rules and understand that the rules apply to all family members. However, when merging families, setting house rules takes more work. The two families attempting to blend together may have different standards for children’s behavior and different approaches to enforcing those standards. Newly blended families need to negotiate between two sets of house rules and, possibly, two different family dynamics. You and your new partner may have contrasting philosophies regarding parenting and family life in general. And the differences might only become clear when you try to cohabitate.

For example, if you both have toddlers, one parent might enforce strict rules about running in the house or playing ball inside. Meanwhile, the partner may think it’s fine for kids to blow off steam indoors.

However you bridge those divides, the rules have to be equal for all children. If some rules apply to some children only , the arrangement may pit the children against each other. That would be a grave mistake, as maintaining harmony is essential in a delicate new family balance.

How to Handle This

You’ll get the best results if all the children in your house are subject to the same set of standard rules and you make it clear that all the rules apply to all the children at all times. Either all children get to play ball indoors or none of them do. No exceptions.

But keep in mind that blended families are usually composed of kids of different ages. They’ll have different needs and expectations. If you have a preschooler and your partner has a teenager, you obviously can’t apply 100% of the rules to both of them.

Balance and respect are vital for a cohesive blended family, and the older the children are, the more important it is to include them in creating the house rules. It will show you respect them, and help them feel like their voice is heard and their needs are being met in your new family setup. They’ll feel invested instead of imposed on. That investment makes them more likely to welcome rather than resent their new stepparent and stepsiblings.

If your parenting styles differ, you may have some bumps along the way. The key is to communicate openly and always be your partner’s support system. Try to avoid criticizing their parenting philosophies. Take a softer approach instead. If something doesn’t work for you, speak up in a non-critical manner and talk about compromising and making things work for everyone.

You may not find it easy to agree on everything right from the start, but that’s OK. Every healthy relationship takes work. Try to compromise on parenting styles that work for everyone, and strive to settle in the middle as you learn about the differences.

2. Setting Disciplinary Boundaries

Many families set a stepparent boundary where the stepparent avoids disciplining altogether. The biological parent sets the rules and makes sure their children follow them, at least at the beginning. Your stepchildren probably won’t see you as an authority figure until you establish a trusting relationship with them.

Every parenting style is different and unique to your kids. But trying to discipline your stepchildren might not be the best way to lay trust as a foundation for the relationship you want with them. They need to see you as a positive person in their lives, as someone who uplifts them and has their back. Don’t feel bad or weak-hearted for leaving the heavy lifting to the biological parent. Disciplining their children is their job, just like disciplining your child is yours.

Stepchildren May Sometimes Test Stepparent Boundaries

Step parent boundaries: baby sitter drawing with a little girl

Whether it’s your children or your stepchildren, be prepared for some stepparent boundary testing. Not all children will do this, but it’s a good thing to be aware of when starting a new family. From time to time, you or your partner may feel a child is trying to push your buttons. While it’s completely annoying, it’s also completely normal. You might even snap from time to time and need to apologize to your stepkids for losing your patience (again, normal — it happens to all of us).

Try not to take any boundary testing from your stepchildren personally. You may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For kids undergoing a dramatic transition, a stepparent may simply be the most convenient person for them to splash with anger. They may still miss their former family union and feel confused or scared about the new family you’re trying to build. A significant change in routine can be challenging for children of any age, and being in a blended family takes time to get used to and accept as a new reality.

How to Handle This

Don’t engage with the boundary testing. Whether it’s your children or theirs, you and your partner have to agree not to respond. Make a pact to leave the room and remove yourself from the situation whenever either of you feels you may lose your temper with your stepkids.

It’s OK for a new stepparent to be firm about house rules, but it’s up to the biological parent to make sure their children are respecting those rules. Reminding your stepchildren about specific boundaries is acceptable (and probably necessary), but acting like an authority figure in delicate situations may not be the best choice.

Instead of going with a strict or defensive approach, it’s far better to focus on the positive. Don’t be the stepmom or stepdad that disciplines the children for bad behavior. Be one that sees what they do right and rewards them or compliments them. Praise them for being innovative and creative with their ideas, listening to directions the first time, or doing a great job cleaning their room.

It feels much more pleasant for them, and they will start associating you with positive feelings. You can slowly become closer, and they’ll see you as someone who’s on their team.

3. Establishing Financial Boundaries

Middle-aged woman talking to a couple

Money management between ex-spouses is usually a challenge, and additional complications may arise when you remarry and start a stepfamily. In addition to co-parenting with your former partner, you now have stepparenting and various financial decisions to make with your new family.

There will be child support, alimony, and shared expenses with your ex-spouse, but you will also need to revise the financial situation between you two. Budgeting may seem like one of the biggest challenges in a second marriage or a new relationship, but with intelligent financial planning, things can work out in everyone’s favor.

For starters, you already know what the mistakes were in your previous marriage, so you can do your best to avoid repeating them this time around.

According to experts, marriages can benefit from shared resources: “[I]t’s usually easier when all expenses flow into and out of a single pot of money than when you’re constantly negotiating who should pay for what.”

It’s crucial to be open with your new partner about money and align your financial goals and vision from day one. Talk about your spending habits and be honest about your financial issues.

One of the common mistakes couples make in a new marriage is not talking about finances. But it’s an easy trap to fall into, because people believe they’ve found happiness at last, and they’re optimistic things will work out on their own.

How to Handle This

A prenuptial agreement is a great starting point when you’re looking to merge two families. It’s a legal contract that clarifies which debts and assets will be combined and which will remain separate. This may include anything from real estate, retirement funds, shared accounts, and credit cards to your policies for health care and life insurance.

Prenups can instill discomfort. When proposing one, frame it in a positive light. Instead of seeing the prenup as an agreement on what will happen if your marriage ends, see it as a way of taking care of each other during your union. If you love each other, you wouldn’t want either one of you to feel mistreated.

Keeping Your New Family Finances Private

Ex-spouses will always have a say in their child’s life, but they don’t need to have a say in your new marriage. Setting boundaries with them is essential, especially in the financial department. In most cases, the only thing your co-parent needs to discuss are shared expenses for your kids. The same goes for your new partner’s ex-spouse. While it’s beneficial for everyone to nurture positive relationships with the exes, your new blended family’s finances are best kept private for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind.

An excellent way to maintain firm boundaries while managing support payments is to use helpful technology. Onward was created to help co-parents juggle all the challenges of sharing expenses while starting a new family or relationship.

You no longer need to talk to your former partner whenever a new payment for your child pops up or when you need to settle a future expense and decide who pays for what. By using the app, you can both create proposals that the other person can accept or decline.

You’ll have all past expenses to review so you’re always on top of things with your co-parent. All your ex-partner needs to know and discuss will be right there, so you can easily keep your new family finances out of their sight.

Give New Stepparent Boundaries Time

Being a stepmom or stepdad is very rewarding once your stepkids trust you, care for you, and cherish your time together as a family. Similarly, there will be no better feeling than seeing your children adore their new stepparent and treat them with respect.

Although you can expect some challenges along the way, stay positive and always be open to communication with your stepchildren and your new partner. Healthy stepparent boundaries will help you get through challenging days and situations. If you maintain your sense of humor and look at all the positive things this new relationship brings, everything will fall into place.

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Diana Spasic

Diana is a writer who specializes in blogging. She's on a mission to inform and uplift people in complex and confusing life situations she's been through herself. When not working, you'll find her at the seaside or in the mountains.