How to set boundaries and define parental roles
Divorce and breakups can be devastating when there are children involved. Taking on the role of Solo Mom can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. And the politics of coparenting, especially when there are bad feelings from the breakup, can seem damn near impossible. So what happens when you remarry? Or he remarries? The addition of a helping hand can seem like a godsend—until you begin dealing with the new and more complicated dynamics of your coparenting relationships. Suddenly there’s a new person (or people) in the parenting mix, and cooperation takes on a whole new meaning. You might encounter issues (I did), such as divided loyalties, confusion about who’s in charge, and challenged authority.
To keep your focus, follow this golden rule: in every decision, conflict, confusion, or emotion, always ask yourself, Is this about me or about my kids?
Setting boundaries and rules after remarriage is like doing surgery. It’s a delicate and brutal process. It takes a steady hand, a cool head, and sometimes a little bit of muscle. But most of all, it takes a whole lot of understanding about the situation, and that comes from open communication and mutual respect. In an ideal situation, all the adults, parents, and partners would work together to create a supportive environment for their kids, ensuring that the roles of the biological parents are respected while easing the new stepparents into their coparenting roles.
Here are a few things to think about when it comes to creating roles and boundaries after remarriage:
- The parents. As the parents of your children, what do you and your ex need? Agree to respect each other, and make sure that each parent is getting ample quality time with the kids.
- The stepparents. What are the stepparents willing and able to do when coparenting? Are there particular activities they enjoy doing with the kids? Bonding is so important for stepparents, but it must always maintain the proper respect for the parents. The stepparent is not a replacement parent. He or she is another person to love and support the kids.
- The kids. Adjusting to new parents can be really difficult for kids. It causes confusion about what roles each parent now plays. It stokes fears of abandonment and tests the child’s loyalty, even when the parents try to avoid these feelings. Children experience big, raw emotions when it comes to familial stress, so the best thing to do is to approach your kids’ feelings openly and honestly.
But what happens when you and your ex are barely on speaking terms (or maybe not speaking at all)? Unfortunately, that is probably the case a lot of the time. After all, we broke up with our exes because we weren’t getting along, right?
Communicating with your ex about your kids can be like wandering a minefield. But whenever you feel the stress rising and you feel like running away, it’s important to think about whether your actions and reactions are about your kids or your own feelings. We carry so much baggage from our previous relationships and, as Solo Moms, we’ve learned to do things a certain way to make it work. Working cooperatively with your ex and integrating a new parenting voice into the mix can be daunting, so it’s important to evaluate whether what you’re thinking, feeling, doing, or saying is really about the best interests of your kids or if that baggage may be creeping in.
I’ve employed the golden rule in my relationship with my ex and with my new partner in life. My kids live with me and their new stepfather, but they see their dad on the weekends. It wouldn’t be a normal day in the neighborhood if I wasn’t biting my tongue over something my ex has said, but at the end of the day, I have to let that go, strip it all down, and just focus on what’s best for my kids. Luckily I have a wonderful and supportive partner who respects the role that my children’s father needs to play in their lives.
Of course, no little piece of paradise comes free of challenges. As a Solo Mom, I had a routine. I had everything worked out; I had my own way of handling things. When I began dating and then decided to remarry, I had to think about how this new person fit into the little world I’d created. It hasn’t always been easy. First, I had to really understand what role my fiancé wanted to play in my kids’ lives. Then I had to think about what I needed from him. At first, my son, who remembers when his daddy was still living with us, was very resistant to having a new authority figure. Then, once he got used to my fiancé, he freaked out about how my remarrying would change his relationship with his father. It took a while to make him understand that his daddy would always be his daddy.
Recently, as we’ve all worked together to make things run smoothly, I’ve noticed the unique dynamics that have emerged in our family. My daughter is particularly close to her stepdad. My son is a little more guarded. They both love spending time with their dad, but they’re more dependent on me for support. What I’ve come to understand about defining the roles and boundaries in our complex family is that sometimes you have to let go of your expectations and work with what makes everyone happy. You can’t force the roles, but you can help create boundaries that strengthen your family bonds and respect every person in the group.
Sister Chat is a great place to ask other Solo Moms about dating, remarriage, and becoming a stepparent. Go ahead! It’s confidential!
Amy Rivers is a writer and mother of two. She has a master’s degree with concentrations in psychology and political science, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces about women and women’s issues. Her debut novel, Wallflower Blooming, was released in August 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @WritingRivers and learn more about her work at her website, www.amyrivers.com.
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