My stepson moved from Conway, AR to Austin, TX this past week. After graduating from college, he opted to explore the big-city scene of Austin as a single person. He spent a few days at our house during the transition.
The weeks prior to the move, we were in contact with him almost daily regarding details like renting a U-haul, finding the best apartment, budgeting his finances for the move, etc. A dilemma surfaced regarding how to pull a trailer when his Jeep didn’t have a trailer hitch. Since I drive a car with a trailer hitch, my husband suggested we let him borrow my car and pull the trailer behind it.
I bristled at the suggestion. My stepson has totalled one vehicle and allowed a friend to drive his next vehicle, which the friend totalled. Knowing my stepson has little experience in pulling a trailer made me even more uncomfortable. I pleaded my case for another option and thankfully, my husband agreed.
During the short period my stepson stayed at our house, he asked if I would help with his laundry. It was a small favor I knew would help without a huge sacrifice on my part. Our kids are taught to do their own laundry as teenagers, but saying yes to laundry that day was okay with me.
Boundary setting requires wisdom and sensitivity on our part as stepparents. The boundaries you set in your home will look different than what I set in my home. And boundaries change as our children mature.
Saying no to driving my car was a boundary I felt strongly about it. But doing my stepson’s laundry to help with his move was a gesture of love for me. If we can say yes we need to say yes – that’s part of building a loving relationship with our stepchildren. But when we need to say no, say no.
Our actions or inactions in setting boundaries teach others how to treat us. We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Team up with your spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed–even when you’re angry), and follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.
I like the way veteran stepmom Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom, “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”
As stepparents, we make endless sacrifices for our stepchildren with few rewards, especially in the beginning. It’s our responsibility to determine what boundaries we need to put in place to foster thriving relationships. When we allow disrespect, or behavior that goes against what we can tolerate, we invite resentment into our heart and home.
If you’re struggling with boundaries, I recommend reading Boundaries, When to Say Yes and When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Healthy boundaries impact all areas of our life and enable us to recognize our limits and seek balance as stepparents.
Are you successful in setting boundaries with your stepchildren? I would love to hear your thoughts.