Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Parental Boundaries

I joined a group a few months ago on FB, dedicated to being a stepmom. For the most part, I love the group. As a seasoned SM, I feel I can contribute a lot to the newer SMs on the page. But there are a few things that have come up that irritate me, some of which are just plain wrong (and some of the ladies give BAD advice).
1. SM posted about taking kids to the doctor... made a funny observation that she takes both BKs and SKs to the doctor, and when asked if she was the mom (last doc appt, she took her own bio daughter), she had to think about which kid she had with her, and got a funny look from the nurse. Some of the comments advised her to just say yes; "they're all our kids, no matter who gave birth to them". While that is, on an emotional level, true, it is *not* true on a legal and biological level... and can get you into trouble with the judge. Case in point -- Princess was with MG & Wildebeest for MG's weekend parenting time. She had a rash, or a cough, or something (this was like 12 or 13 years ago, I think... so I don't remember exactly what was wrong with her), so Wildebeest took her to their local branch of the clinic system we were part of at the time. She "swears" she told them she was SM and "they must have mistakenly put 'mom' in the paperwork" (which, like so much of what's come out of her mouth over the years, turned out to be a lie). Long story short - I had to pay my attorney to send the doc's office proof that *I* was Princess' mother so that they would forward those records to her regular doctor.
2. Woman posted about an email she got from her ex's new wife, stating that the wife will now be doing "all communication with you, so you don't take advantage of him, and if you don't like it, we'll just take it to court and make it legal so you have no choice." Um, first of all, apparently BD has had nothing to do with DD for over three years; their last court appearance (which is what facilitated the nastygram from the new SM) was only redoing the child support. BM barely has contact with BD as it is; wtf is up with SM's attitude? And, second, in most circumstances, that wouldn't fly. SMs will only rarely be granted legal input into the child's life, the circumstances would have to be dire, and the process that would lead to that would be long, tedious, and very expensive (and involve attorneys, judges, and the overrun court system), not to mention that unless BM is proven unfit, SM will never win that one. However, that said, my advice to her was this - "You have two choices: ignore her & ONLY communicate with your ex, in writing & keep it business-like in tone (*you* can actually make this legal, if you want to push it... I did), or let her, but remember that *he* is legally responsible for everything she says/does." Starting with a nastygram from Wildebeest fairly early in their (now-failed) relationship, I got a multitude of emails, and a few texts and even letters, claiming that they were meant to be, that I was a horrible mother & wife, that she'll always be a better wife & mother than I was/am, that he only married me because he was settling, that I *tricked* him into getting pregnant, that she was in charge and everything that was communicated to me went through her, & so much more/worse. This, as you can imagine, only caused more problems... MG's refusal to tell her to back off, allowing her to continue her manipulation of situations & him, himself, are what led to MG losing all parenting time and eventually signing off on Princess' adoption by Ace.
3. This claim - "I love them like my own." or "I love them the same." No, you don't. You love them "as if they were..." your own, and you "love them equally". Don't let semantics fool you; these are different things. If you are completely honest with yourself and others, you would admit that it is impossible to love your step kids the same as you do your own, and none of your children (step, bio, adopted, whatever) are the same, so you cannot love them the same. And, maybe (speaking as the BM here for a minute), if you approached your new role and the BM of your SKs this way, instead of with anger, resentment, and the "I'm better than you" attitude, you and BM would get along much better. As a SM, I did everything I could to establish a good working relationship with my SKs' BM. I even tried to make it clear, in writing, that it was not my intention to replace her; only to assist Ace in raising them in our home (not my fault she's most likely bipolar and has behavioral disorder, among other things; she found a way to spin just about everything I said... which is why I stopped communicating with her at all; not my job/role). Step parents have to remember that, although they may not *like* the bio parents, or how they are raising their kids, those *ARE* their kids, not yours. Your role should only be one of support, secondary to the bios' roles.
4. SMs' general insistance that parenting time refers to "OUR" time with the child... Um, no. It's called "Parenting Time" for a reason; it's TIME for the bio-PARENT to spend with their child. Many statements like "Our parenting time order states..." or "Our custody arrangement is..." have come up. But, no... it is your HUSBAND'S parenting time order, your HUSBAND'S custody arrangement, etc. Again, we know you love your SKs as if they were your own, but they are not, and very little will change that. I am not stating that you can't do things as a family, but LEGALLY, it is not your time or time for your other kids; it is specifically worded that way in court orders on purpose.
5. The question of how old your SKs are and what they call you has come up a few times... some SMs even ask if it's okay that their SKs call them "mom/mommy". My response is always that it depends on your role, if BM is involved at all, and how old the kid is. When your house is not the primary one, the child(ren) has a BM that is involved, and the child(ren) is not of an age where they can understand certain things, no. This is completely unacceptable. It is (again) your role to SUPPORT, not TAKE OVER, the bio parents' position. Be the adult, and tell the child no. Gently correct... every time. In my case, when my SKs slipped & called me "Mama", I'd simply smile, say my name, & let them finish their thought. Wildebeest, on the other hand, not only did NOT correct Princess, but she insisted (forced) Princess call her "Mommy" and me "Mommy D***" while she was in their care. Allowing your young & impressionable SKs to call you and their BM both "mommy" is confusing and inappropriate. One side note to keep in mind, as well, is the "what if?" part... Second marriages have an even higher rate of divorce than do first marriages. If your first one didn't work out, what makes you think your second one is going to? Ours is 14+ years old, and we still acknowledge the possibility (although slim) that we could end up divorced. I know a lot of SMs (and SFs for that matter) truly believe that the second marriage is "the one". And, truly, it might be (my own stepmom and my dad have been happily married for 34 years!). But, as in MG & the Wildebeest's marriage, they sometimes don't work out, and you need to think about the children if & when that happens. Allowing a small child to call you "mom/mommy" when you aren't sets them up for potential emotional problems if/when you & their bio parent split up. Princess stopped most contact with MG when she was 8 years old, so that wasn't an issue for her... but can you imagine what she'd be going through if she was at all attached to Wildebeest "like a mom"?!?!

I guess the general advice here would be -- your stepchildren are not your children. I know you love them, but you CAN NOT legally (in most circumstances) make any decisions for them. I know some of you don't like it, but the BIO mom and BIO dad *must* be able to communicate without you in the middle. If they can't, hire a professional mediator. Most states have laws in place for free mediation for domestic issues. In my personal circumstances, I think life would have been a whole lot different had MG told Wildebeest to just back off, and done all the co-parenting with me.

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