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Frustrated stepmom with boundaries question

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Dear friends,

Would love your thoughts and/or experiences on this question:

I'm two years into being a stepmom of a seven year-old girl. My husband's divorce three years ago was a hostile one. My stepdaugher's mom insisted in their divorce mediation that I be banned for five years from any school-related events (including those not on school premises or during school hours). My husband relented on that item in order to get the big one: joint custody. But now we have to live with the consequences.

I have had absolutely no communication with my husband's ex-wife, but she doesn't want to have to see me in person. My stepdaugher (her daughter) isn't aware of this prohibition and she's been confused at times about why I can't come to school plays, etc. Her mother did once say to her that she "didn't like me" and that's why she didn't want me at the same events. Needless to say, I think it's my stepdaughter who is most affected by this stuff.

My question is: I feel like it's my husband's responsibility (not mine) to communicate clearly with his daughter about WHY I can't come to these events and to let her know that it's not because I don't want to be there for her. I'm happy to say something to her too (without making it a big issue, since I don't want her to feel bad for me because of her mom and dad's decisions). My husband isn't saying it's NOT his responsibility to clarify this for his daugher, but he's not doing it. I feel like the ambiguity is leaving her more confused than she needs to be.

They just went off to a holiday parade in which her class is participating. She was in a horrible mood going out the door and seemed confused when I suggested to them they might stop on the way to get some lunch (meaning I wouldn't be there). My husband said he would tell her in the car on the way there. I feel like that's pretty late in the game and raising an emotionally-loaded thing when she's getting ready to perform in the parade. I feel frustrated to be so affected by something (her moods and confusion) but to have so little control over how that gets addressed (when and whether my husband fills her in on what's going on).

Anyway, I've had a lot of questions in the course of being a stepmom about where my responsibilities start and end, and this is one of them. Should I play a more active role in communicating with my stepdaughter about agreements between her mom and dad or am I right to say it's his job to deal with? How much information do you think a seven year-old benefits from hearing about this aspect of her parents' divorce agreement? Up to this point we've essentially lied to her, saying I couldn't be there because I had work to do or friends to see, but I think that sends her the message that she's not important to me...and I don't like lying to her.

A similar boundary issue comes up for me around food. My husband lets his daughter eat all kinds of crappy snack food when she hasn't had any lunch. She'll say she's "not hungry" for healthy food and then five minutes later will ask for potato chips. This stuff makes me crazy, but I also feel stuck because she's not my daughter and I don't make the rules about what and how she eats. I also know that making a control issue out of food isn't healthy for kids. But there's got to be a way to set healthy limits or guidelines around food and then let them make choices in there. But I'm also not clear how involved to get on this issue. I find that if I don't get involved that I emotionally withdraw from both of them ("if he wants to let his daugher eat that garbage, then I can't care as much about her health and well-being").

My guess is that parents of their own biological (or adopted) children have plenty of disagreements about these kinds of parenting questions. In the stepparenting context, I get confused about how much to engage with stuff I disagree about. Though of course I am concerned because all these issues are going to come up when we have a child of our own ("you can let your daughter eat that crap, but MINE won't").

I'd be most grateful for any wisdom you might have to offer!
post #2 of 5
I think that you should have a talk with your stepdaughter and tell her honestly why you can't make it to her school events. It is not your fault that you can't be there, yet you take the blame by saying you have other engagements. I think this will be very beneficial to your relationship with her because she will know that you truely would like to go to these events but you can't.

How often does she stay with you and her father?

I think that you might want to have a conversation with her about the food issue also. Tell her it is important to eat healthy foods to nourish her body. Then if she is still hungry, she can have potato chips.
The way I deal with the issue in our house is I don't even by the junk. I find it much easier to say "we don't have any cookies, etc..." then "No, you can't have any....."

As a stepmother, you do have a right to speak your mind and help raise this child how you see fit. My husband is a stepfather to my son (who is 6) and he treats him just the same as our daughter (his child). He loves him but he also steps in and helps me discipline him when needed.
My situation is a little different then yours however, because my son lives with us full-time.

Good luck!!
post #3 of 5
I think it is very important for you and dh to be one. This means with all issues. Now, of course, this won't be the case always, but it is very important to strive for this.

I think you and dh need to have a very open discussion about dd. Talk about the communication which is not happening, food issues and the other hard issues that always come up with children. As you said, it is not dd fault, and she deserves the best. It is not her fault that her parents are no longer together, that you are not allowed to attend her important events, and that she is confussed. Your dh needs to know how you feel and what you see happening (from my experience, dh doesn't even see it the way I do so he is always suprised), hopefully he will be greatful. It would be great if you both could come up with a plan together that works best for all of you but especially for dd.

Now, having said that, if he doesn't do what you two have planned, or he refuses to talk with her, I think you should do so. Just because he won't (for whatever reason) doesn't mean she doesn't deserve to know. She is much older now and able to understand the basic issue. As she gets older you can both make it more clear for her.

I was going to offer suggestions on what to say, but then thought about it and don't want to say the wrong thing. Just know that I think it is important to express your hearts desire is to be there with her becuase you love her and you are so very proud. She will understand as best as she can.

You are in a hard place and I am sad your dh isn't making it easier for you. Good luck and let us know the progress.
post #4 of 5
T.,

If you do tell your step daughter the truth, cushion it by saying that although her mommy doesn't want you there, you understand how angry her mommy was when she made that decsion, and although you don't agree with it, you understand where it came from. Then you can offer to do something specail together like take a class, go shopping, etc. I wouldn't villify your step daughter's mom in any way. It will only make you look bad in the long run.

By being the better person in years to come she will trust you more.

Karen
post #5 of 5
I agree that you should go on and tell her that you can't come because it would make her mom feel uncomfortable but not bad talk her mom. I also think that taking her out for special time for the two of you is a great idea.
On the food, I think you have every right to decide how she eats in your home. I don't know how your husband feels about you being more of a "mom" to dd, but I would definately tell him how it causes you to care less when you aren't able to have a voice in how she is raised. You two should decide on the "house rules" together apart from dd so you have a united front in front of her.
That is what my dh and I do with my son (his stepson). We have different ideas on how to parent but we work out together as a couple because we are a family. I want dh to see ds as a real son and vice versa. (Ds's bio dad is a nimwit.)
I hope this helps. Sometimes just venting helps.
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