I was raised in a conservative Christian home that didn’t teach the importance of boundaries; thus the concept was hard for me to grasp. Taught to always look out for the best interests of others, I rarely considered my own needs.
When I entered my first marriage with someone who chose to go down the road of alcoholism, I naturally continued my pattern of taking care of his needs first with no regard for my own. Desperately trying to cope in that marriage, I finally learned to set boundaries that allowed me to take care of myself and my children, regardless of the choices my husband made.
Boundaries define who we are and where our property as a person begins and ends. A great resource, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to take Control of your Life, states that a boundary, “shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.”
So, how do we apply boundaries as a stepparent? Here are a few examples from my own life:
1) I do not take ownership of the choices my 20-year-old stepson makes. My responsibility is to continue to guide and nurture him the best way possible as his stepmother.
2) When my stepchildren’s mother was still alive, I chose to stay out of their relationship with her. I was affected by the loyalty conflict the relationship caused them, but I couldn’t change that. My part was to offer unconditional love and acceptance as often as I could.
3) During a hurtful period of adolescence with my stepson when angry words and bitter outbursts were constantly directed at me, I purposefully chose to divert my attention to my biological children, protecting my heart while dealing with my pain and resentment. When the difficult period passed and our relationship began to heal, I allowed my boundary to open up again, embracing a healthy relationship that can exist today because I gave myself the freedom to take care of my needs.
Boundary setting is not black and while, but requires wisdom and discernment on our part. There are many good books on boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, as the one mentioned above. Some of their other books include Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, and Boundaries with Teens.
I believe boundary setting is critical to healthy relationships. If you’re looking for help understanding boundaries and how to integrate them in your stepfamily relationships, I encourage you pick up one of the books mentioned. It will make a positive difference in your relationships.