Wednesday, February 5, 2014

crossing the (boundary) line

Becoming a stepmom is inherently full of challenges. As if it isn't hard enough to deal with the fact that you've magically inherited the responsibilities of being a parent (while enjoying the rights of only a babysitter), you're also soon required to learn a new language.

Stepmom Speak.

From child support to parenting plans to holiday schedule, you will find yourself using words and phrases that you never would have before becoming a step parent. And then there's the big one. The mother of Stepmom Speak words that will follow you from now until the end of your days.  The "B" word.

(No, not that one)
(Well, okay, maybe that one, too.)


Before I became a stepmom, the only time I used this word was in middle school when we learned about how states were divided - and even then I wasn't listening. I very rarely came across this word in any real-life situation.. And now it shows up more than herpes at a whore convention.

This is, by far, one of Mama Ex's very favorite words to use (along with the other "b" word too, don't kid yourself). I hear it about everything.

Ruby let the girls watch a movie I don't approve of. That is clearly outside her boundaries.

Ruby told the girls they might have to get braces someday. This conversation is not within her boundaries.

I just saw your email that Ruby is picking the kids up for parenting time tonight? She's stepping outside her boundaries.

On occasion, the term  has been used so often that I've been tempted to approach Mama Ex and quote Mandy Patinkin's famous line from "The Princess Bride." 

"Why do you keep using that word? I do not think it means what you think it means."

To Mama Ex, "exceeding boundaries" is a catch-phrase that essentially means, "I'm not a fan of something Ruby is doing and I don't know how to articulate that."

But by definition, boundary simply means this: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

Obviously, there's no way to draw that line into what I can and cannot do as the girls' stepmother. There'd have to be some sort of legal document or printed stack of papers that both parents would have access to that would establish what's appropriate for a stepmom to do.....

Oh wait. There is. It's called a Custody Decree. 

Hubs and I just spent a huge wad of money to draft the longest, most unnecessary document in the history of mankind that literally spells out the boundaries between parental parties. They're even easy-to-read sentences like "both parties will respect the others opinions and rules within their own separate houses."  Or, "only a biological parent shall sign legal documents related to the health and well being of the children." Or even, "if a parent is unable to pick up their child for visitation, a responsible adult maybe be sent in their place provided the other parent is notified."

So...does me picking up the kids from school qualify as a boundary violation?


Does me taking my eldest stepdaughter for a haircut equal a boundary violation?


Does me signing a paper that says the girls can have a boob job at 13 qualify as a boundary violation?

Why yes, yes it does.

The problem I'm actually facing is simply this. There are very few legal boundaries established when it comes to step parents. And it drives Mama Ex bonkers. There is no law that says I can't take my stepchild to a horror flick. There is no law against me giving my stepkids a virtual gluten explosion of spaghetti and hot dogs for dinner.

But guess what, Mama Ex? That drives-you-bonkers door swings both ways, and it isn't doing me any favors, either.

I can't prevent Mama Ex from telling her daughter that skipping breakfast and lunch is a great way to lose 10 pounds fast. There is no law preventing Mama Ex from telling her children that college is a waste of money and a manager at McDonald's makes "really decent money." Mama Ex is not violating boundaries by doing any of these things.

Hello, Bonkers? I'd like to join your club.

At the end of the day, both Mama Ex and myself must realize that we have different ways of raising the children. What would be super great and boundary-riffic is if the three of us (Mama Ex, Hubs and myself) could all sit down together like the 33-year-old adults we are, and have an open discussion about issues we might have with one another. But that would require a very important word. 


I'm pretty sure that one is out of bounds.


  1. Ruby - wow. This sounds familiar! Click here to read the posts from my blog that sound so familiar to your Mama Ex and write me for the password at

    I experience exactly the same thing as you in regards to my youngest bonus daughter's mom wanting to make sure I have very little to do with anything more than what a babysitter or nanny would do for her. She has no problem delegating transportation duties to me if she "assigns" them to me, but she does not like it when I (or anyone else) act of our own thinking on behalf of her daughter. She has sent scathing emails to my husband about me allowing my bonus daughter to use my prescription toothpaste (which was the same kind, different flavor) instead of refilling the prescription toothpaste my bonus daughter ran out of, allowing her to drink "cow" milk vs. "soy" milk, wearing too bright of colored nail polish, using the internet unmonitored, watching TV/Movies, my taking her to school and picking her up, my taking her to get haircuts, my doing her hair and makeup for dance recitals, etc. What is interesting is that some of the emails and accusations have been for things he has been the one who has done and I have just been present at the time as well. My husband is the primary parent. I do not have biological children and I defer to his expertise and consider him to be more of an expert in parenting and more nurturing than me. Therefore, the fact she is obsessed with me taking her place is laughable. My husband is the primary parent in this house and our kids know it. Now, we make most major household decisions together. However, the kids know that most other decisions have to be made between him and their other mothers. So, there isn't too much of an issue there. These things are generally clear and we don't have a lot of problems.

    1. Yes, it can get ridiculous the things she wants to project on you. It's her insecurity though, and she can say all she wants, but at the end of the day, you're doing nothing wrong!

  2. Exactly! And neither are you, Ruby. Your bonus kids are benefiting from your love and involvement. If you treated them with awkwardness out of fear of the repercussions from Mama Ex, they would think there was something wrong with them that was causing you to be standoffish. It is a very challenging and delicate role to be a step mom and all of our experiences, while they have some similarities, are exactly the same. I had to learn along the way that it was okay to make mistakes and learn from them instead of beating myself up for them. Fortunately, I had the support of my oldest's biological mom through the beginning stages and she really served as a guide. She and her husband "coached" me on things and helped me get to a place where I gave myself permission take care of me before anything else and to assert my needs. It was so basic, yet so difficult at first. And…it really has made all the difference. My husband was supportive of this all along and he was not the road block for me…it was me and my own doubts and fears. I am so lucky I have at least one biological mom to lean on in a positive way!