Creating Healthy Boundaries in Stepfamilies
By Sally Sacks
To have a healthy and happy stepfamily you must know the importance of boundaries. Stepfamilies are difficult and many fail, often because the children don’t get along at all. The children may not like a stepparent, or the parents own individual ability to deal with these problems is impaired, one sided or simply exhausted. All of these factors contribute to the toppling over of the stepfamily.
Here are some examples of how to ease this situation before it gets out of control. Remember that in stepfamilies the kids become siblings, not friends. Siblings want time away from their siblings and don’t want to include them in everything. This is healthy for kids to have their own friends, interests and boundaries. In stepfamilies, kids may be forced together, because they are in the same proximity each week. One parent may feel that their child, the one visiting, should be included in all activities, and the child living in the house all week, may not want that because they are trying to maintain their boundaries and space. Sometimes there is a younger child of one parent, and the other children are older. They might be forced to play with a 5 year old, when they are 12, or be forced to engage in family activities they may not like. This resentment and unhappiness cause the stepfamilies real problems.
Sometimes parents may not see right away how the lack of healthy boundaries affects their children. Here is how to set reasonable and effective boundaries.
1. Make sure if a child is visiting a home where children live all week that the visiting child has plans of fun things to do. Don’t rely on children to take care of children. They will become resentful.
2. If children want to play together, just like siblings, that’s fine, but allow time for them to be apart. Some children really have many different interests and need that space. If for example, one child who lives in the home has a plan, let her do that plan alone unless she requests to bring the sibling. Otherwise give her space, unless it is a family time. Set family time.
3. If one child is busy, don’t leave the other child alone. Make a plan for them. They are coming to see their parent, and would probably love to do something one on one. You can share a book, bowling, a trip to the movies, mall, show, etc… The ideas are limitless.
4. Arrange engagements for all kids with their own individual friends. If it means traveling a distance, travel the distance to set up a sleep over or date. Have one child that is visiting on the weekend invite their friend over, or pick their friend up and go to a movie.
5. Don’t assume because kids are the same age that they constantly want to share clothes, things and be together. Siblings don’t want to do this typically. They are territorial and need their space.
6. Get help to deal with childrens’ emotions around the changes in their lives and routines.
7. If children are having problems traveling between two houses, or changing routines remember that there are many counselors trained to deal with these problems. Children love to have an objective person to talk to.
Having a stepfamily and bonus children can be a wonderful thing. Parents need to work on their own communication and openness with each other, so that they are on the same page. Parents also need to be aware of the individual needs of the children, and be assertive in expressing their own needs to the children and each other. If you can do the work, it can be well worth the price.
About the Author:
Sally Sacks, M.Ed is a licensed psychotherapist, with 20 years of experience, counseling individuals, children, families and couples. Sally is the author of How to Raise the Next President, a groundbreaking parents' guide to teaching and instilling in their kids the qualities they'll need to be happy, successful and productive, no matter which path they choose in life. Sally offers personal and group coaching and can be reached through her website at www.sallysacks.com.