Boundaries 101: Lessons for Stepmothers by Mary Kelly-Williams

This makes it look so simple

This makes it look so simple

Today I’m running a special guest post by Mary Kelly-Williams, MA, a therapist and stepmother in Boulder, CO about boundaries. You need them if you’re a woman with stepkids, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to maintain them, how to assert them, for fear of being disliked or perceived as wicked. Here’s Mary on how and why it’s important to have your boundaries in the stepfamily, and protect them. Otherwise, you’ll likely find yourself exhausted, depleted, and resentful. Have a read…and leave a comment!

It is not uncommon for stepmothers to feel exhausted and depleted. It is not uncommon for stepmothers to feel misunderstood, used, taken for granted, and the scapegoat when things don’t go well in the stepfamily system. It is not uncommon for stepmothers to feel more like posers and actresses than actual human beings.

And all this exacts a price that no stepmother should or needs to pay.

Because the role of “stepmother” is so vague and ambiguous for most, and because our need for love and approval runs so deep, many stepmothers try to overcompensate, fix their spouse’s or even ex-spouse’s messes, be perfect and loving every second, take on the role of family and marriage counselor, and negate their own needs in the process. But there is a solution and it comes in the form of two simple words:

“Boundaries connect”.

Yes, boundaries connect. I learned this 2-word mantra many years ago in a training program and I’ve used it ever since, for my clients and myself.

It’s important to have boundaries in our lives, especially when one is a stepmother. But this is tricky business, given the stepmother is the one with the invisible target on her chest that screams, “Blame me for everything!”

Stepmothers need to know when it’s okay to put up the bright red stop. They need to know when they’ve done enough conceding, enough “gutting” their way through their weeks and days. They need to recognize the warning their bodies give them when it feels like someone is stepping on their chest and it’s hard to breathe.

You know that feeling…that feeling you get when you agree to something that you really don’t want to agree to? That moment when you say “Yes”, and it’s as if you can feel all your essence, all that is you, slip down and go down the nearest sewer drain.

That feeling when you walk away and you want to kick yourself. That moment when you’ve said, “Yes” when you meant “No” and you blame the other person for “taking advantage of you.”

Why do we do this?

To keep the peace?
To avoid the conflict?
To get the ex-wife to like you?
To look like the good guy?
To make sure the stepkids love you?
To be a saint?
To be the perfect stepmother and wife?
To make life easier?
To ensure the smooth yet elusive “blended family”?

I thought so.

And you know how that feeling just sits in your psyche and you feel anything from slow burning resentment to out and out rage?

Usually when we get to this point, we also tend to get into a bit of a victim mode. We are being taken advantage of, we aren’t being appreciated, we aren’t being valued, we aren’t being seen.

Some of the most valuable lessons about how to maintain healthy boundaries in our stepfamily situations may come from other areas of our lives where we feel more self-confident. I finally learned the invaluable lesson of “Boundaries Connect” when one of my daughters was 15 years old. We were on the way to get her driver’s permit. Now, this daughter had been testy and feisty and difficult to get along with (Duh, 15).

I asked the unforgivable question, “So, how was your day?” ‘WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SO NOSEY MOM? WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO ASK ME THESE STUPID QUESTIONS???!!!”

Quick background. I was recently divorced from her father and full of divorce guilt and how my divorce was going to screw up my children for life, and how I was accepting perpetual rude behavior from this one in particular because I had put her through this divorce and would be forever more making up for it for all eternity.

Well, I had just learned about the power of the mantra “BOUNDARIES CONNECT” and the two words came screaming at me. I had had enough and I made an illegal U-turn in the road and headed the car back towards home.


Me, in extremely calm mother voice: “You are not getting one more thing from me from this point on until you learn to speak to me with respect in a civil and polite tone. I will never apologize to you again about the divorce. It happened. It’s done.”

The screaming and ranting continued with the expected, “HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME? I NEED MY DRIVER’S PERMIT AND I NEED IT NOW, BLAH BLAH BLAH.” No no. Wasn’t going to do it. Wasn’t going to turn around. The verbal barrage continued. We got home and she ran into her room slamming the door, threatening to run away, go to her fathers’, call Social Services.

I handed her the phone.

From that point on, our relationship changed drastically. It moved into a relationship of love—my daughter stopped her ranting, her demands. And if she slipped, I’d look at her and say, “You’re not getting one thing from me until you speak to me in a way that is respectful.”

It didn’t take long.

Stepmothers recoil when I tell them this boundary connects concept. It elicits fear. “What if I give a boundary and I get rejected?” “What if my husband pushes back?” “What if my stepchildren hate me for sure?”

I try to reassure. I can’t tell you the times that the “Boundaries Connect” in action gives people more love, more respect. It’s not about being stubborn or rigid. It’s about being true to yourself and holding fast to the anchor of your being.

Ultimately, it’s better to disappoint another to be true to yourself. And it’s like that airline analogy. You know the one…you need to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others.

We can’t model self-love to our children, our stepchildren, our spouses, or our friends if we aren’t self-loving.

So experiment today. Pick one small thing you’re tempted to relinquish. And don’t. See what happens…take a chance.

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56 Responses to “Boundaries 101: Lessons for Stepmothers by Mary Kelly-Williams”

  1. Talia Says:

    Another great post! Here is my question. My sk’s don’t smart back to me, they ignore me! Completely! They say good morning in the a.m. and good night in the p.m. and nothing (this is not an exaggeration) in between. I feel like I live with strangers and truth be told, I talk to strangers more than my stepchildren. Any/all suggestions are welcome.

  2. Glad Says:

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today.

    My step kids are still distant and cool to me – even after 7 years. I don’t have any behavior problems or disrespect, but I don’t have any attempts at real relationships either.

    I don’t know if they accept me, secretly hate me, loathe my existance. I just can’t read them. And it hurts.

    I don’t expect them to treat me like their mother, but I’d like a little more interaction than they give a door knob. Actually, a door knob gets more notice!!!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. admin Says:

    Glad and Talia,

    Ignoring your stepmom, treating her like a piece of furniture, is rude and hostile, just as rude and hostile as more overt, outright rudeness and hostility, and it sounds like you are both healthy enough to find it unacceptable.

    Here’s one idea: tell your husband in your best sweet, calm, stepford voice (don’t be emotional; be calm and reasonable and do not betray one bit of anger or he will dismiss you or shut down and retreat if he’s like many men) that it’s not sitting well with you to be ignored and treated like a piece of furniture in your own home, and that because you really hope to be able to have a relationship with his kids down the line, you are going to take some steps to make it more likely that that can happen. Say it as nicely as you can in the soft-hard-soft communication formula I discuss in Stepmonster, so your husband will feel that you understand HIS dilemma as well as hoping he will help you with the dilemma you face as a couple–the ignoring. If he’s unwilling to broach the topic with his kids of any age–unwilling/unable to simply say, “You don’t have to love or even like Glad/Talia, but you may not treat her like a piece of furniture and ignore her, that’s not okay and you are to be civil and polite otherwise you can’t come here anymore [older kids]/will have to stay in your room [young kids] until you can be polite and kind with her like she is with you”–don’t freak out. It’s now simply up to YOU to take steps to decrease your resentment.

    And to be a big girl rather than a stepmartyr and decrease your resentment, I suggest you no longer do anything–cooking, cleaning, helping with any task such as homework, driving, shopping for clothes, shopping for food, anything at all–to people who do not treat you with basic courtesy. One-sided relationships are not healthy for anyone, and it is your duty, when you find yourself in one, to address the issue. Otherwise you are simply teaching these kids entitlement, and asking to have high blood pressure from feeling unappreciated and taken advantage of.

    So deliver on your end of the bargain. No cooking, cleaning, chauffering, sewing, doing laundry, you name it. No visits from adult stepchildren who can’t be civil and reciprocal. That’s it. All the while modeling kindness and civility to them, while protecting your boundaries and your integrity as a person.

    Another tactic some might recommend is a talk with your stepchild, who is likely in a loyalty bind AND being supported by a father who is requiring nothing of them in terms of them being civil toward you. But based on my experience and the research I’ve read, as well as what experts have told me, I don’t necessarily see talking to a younger kid in a loyalty bind working, to tell you the truth–I suspect it just might shore up their feeling, one no doubt encouraged by their mother, that you are awful.

    On the other hand disengaging will protect YOU, whether your stepkids are in a terribly loyalty bind, or just being obnoxious teens like Mary’s kids in the article. Either way, you and they win.
    Good luck. And of course I welcome ideas from others! xx wednesday

  4. Jayne Says:

    Well, I guess you read my mind. I just came here because I had such a terrible experience with my husband’s kids being with us over the weekend. Today I’m trying to decompress and not feel too angry and resentful. And when I think about it, my problem is exactly what Mary Williams is describing here–I feel unappreciated and thought there was nothing I could do about it. I, too, have stepkids who are teens and who sulk and ignore me all while acting like daddy is the best thing since texting! This IS between me and my husband and I’m going to try a nice civilized chat where I pose things as questions as Wednesday suggests in her book. “I think the kids are old enough to say good morning and good night to me, what do you think?” Also this IS between me and his kids, and mostly between me and MYSELF: I wouldn’t care so much about the silent treatment if I weren’t knocking myself out baking their favorite things for dessert, making their beds and everything short of darning their stinky socks. They didn’t ask me to, their mom tells them I’m a monster, and then I slave away for no thanks and resent….THEM? It makes no sense. I’m going to get some boundaries going on, that’s for sure. I feel more positive already. Thank you very much.

  5. Marti Says:

    I also have the problem as the other replies. But My skids dont give me a hello or even a good bye. This has been going on for so long about 5 years that I cannot bring myself to speak to them first. I have told my husband that he needs to tell them to tell me hello and good bye. But nothing has changed. Is this to far gone?

  6. bella Says:

    Marti, try what Wednesday recommends above in her response to Glad and Talia. It seems like a good thing to try.

    I want to ask, what do I do when my husband doesn’t support me disengaging which I think is what Wednesday and Mary are suggesting? Do I just do it anyway and let him pick up the pieces? Or let his kids pick up the pieces? They are old enough to know to be polite but I recently turned around while driving the 13 year old to baseball practice just as Mary describes! I said I can’t drive you if you refuse to talk to me. It worked, he’s being more polite but my husband is angry. Thoughts? Bella

  7. ella Says:

    For the first 4-5 years I had a pretty decent relationship with my SD. I came in when she was 5. I made the error of coming in in full Mom/Wife mode. I did everything even the communication with the ex. I then had my own kids. i went through some personal stuff with job loss and ppd and I recently have hit my wall. My SD started using me as an excuse for everything about 2 years ago and I’ve tried to so much to gain her trust/love. Then one day my SD put his foot down, SD disobeyed and in my ‘mom’ role I did what a Mom does. I punished her for lying (she said DH didn’t tell her which DH said he did so well I believed him) and she mouthed off and was nasty to me. It’s been downhill since then. She’s gotten more angry with me and has started writing a journal noting everything I do. I’ve gotten quite uncomfortable in my home. After about 4 months of this being called a handful of names etc I finally had enough and said no more. I’m not a door mat and told DH that I would not be doing some of the ‘extras’. That SD who is 12 could start making her own breakfast and lunches. He wanted to deal with SD on this so I let him. She has since gotten worse and DH is not supportive and is in defense mode. My house is total misery and I don’t even want to be here anymore. I just don’t know what to do because for my family i did this wrong I guess but I am not sure how to handle now. Thoguhts?

  8. Nelly Says:

    Oh my, more great comments to a great post. I too have the great permafrost to
    deal with, yes for five years, where the bare minumum happens and little attempt
    at a relationship. I can feel myself getting angry when my stepchildren are
    around now, and they are around all the time, as their mother is dead and there
    is no other household to go to. I get completely overwhelmed by guilt at my
    hostility, especially as everyone feels sorry for them. So do I, from time to
    time, but I know that I am blamed for everything and that when I complain about
    their lukewarmness to their father, they just accuse me of the same thing and
    say that I don’t like them. which is true- it’s very hard to like people who
    can barely conceal their antipathy and have no care or interest in me. I know
    that I need to stop trying to be the mom and detach, (thank you Wednesday) but I
    think they will throw that back at me as well. I know that I should
    concentrate on my (happy) marriage and my own two
    sons. It just gets very difficult when you’re sharing your house with
    You know what is really weird? They are often at their most friendly and engaged
    when family are around- especially their grandparents, when they can appear to
    be quite affectionate. Any explanations?

  9. Da Wiznitch Says:

    Mary Kelly described perfectly what it feels like to say yes when you mean no. It’s an almost physical feeling of weakness and horror, and selfhood going down the drain. But, it’s ok to change your mind, when you feel that feeling! A few times I said yes under pressure to do something I knew would result in me being abused again; so I retracted the offer and said, “No, I can’t do that. I’m not comfortable with it.” That’s all you really need to say.

    The anger that comes when you say yes and mean no is a result of what Harriet Lerner calls too much de-selfing: when you sell yourself out and betray yourself to please other people. Women are socialized to do this. Lerner’s book, The Dance of Anger, helped me stop doing it so much. Note to Wednesday: I’m not implying that the Stepford voice isn’t helpful sometimes! Maybe I need to practise it more, or get me one of those robots to play “me” while I work in my darkroom or go to my farm.)

    I think most people don’t know about boundaries. I never heard the term applied to human relationships until maybe five years ago. It’s a very useful concept. What we say in the country is, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

    I like the idea that boundaries connect; too often, people are unwilling to set personal boundaries because they are afraid of driving people they love away. But if you can’t set boundaries without losing a friend, maybe that relationship is not reciprocal and healthy; maybe it’s based on one person’s narcissism and the other person enabling that narcissism. Setting boundaries with a budding narcissist gives them the opportunity to temper their narcissism and connect with you authentically.

    One of my stepdaughters once insisted, in a very loud voice, that relationships shouldn’t have rules. (I had just set some boundaries with her.) I thought this was an amazing statement on her part. Of course relationships have rules. It’s just that usually we don’t have to talk about them, because people who have good manners know what the rules are and observe them without having to be told. People with bad manners need to be reminded of the rules.

  10. Da Wiznitch Says:

    Ella: maybe it’s because she’s 12.

    The next few years might be pretty hard because teenage girls are often hell on wheels. Maybe you can find some other moms that have teenage girls and share war stories. It’s probably not anything you did.

    One good book on this stage is Get out of my Life! by anthony wolf. It tells you how to set limits and not be too worried if they don’t work perfectly. Rules “reel them in a little, ” even if they are not perfectly obeyed.

  11. Talia Says:

    Da Wiznich,

    I agree 100% with what you stated in the last paragraph! People with goodm anners don’t have to discuss the rules because we already know and observe them! This is perfect. I live with two stepchildren who haven’t been taught good manners (see my first comment on how they ignore me). I guess all I want is for my husband to tell them, stop treating her so poorly or get out. Truth is, they are miserable when they spend time with us and much prefer their Mother’s house. Of course, she let’s them run wild with no rules/regulations. What teenager doesn’t think that is nirvana?

    Ugh, I am so frustrated! I long for them to stay with their Mother and not return. Our lives are so good when they aren’t around. If my husband was honest with himself, he would say the same.

  12. admin Says:

    First off, many women do experience a shift in steprelations and in their marital happiness at around the five-year marker. I hope this might be the case for you.

    Hmmm, I believe I may in fact have an explanation as to why his kids are more friendly when other family is around. Stepfamilies do very poorly in “nuclear family mode” and with “all together now time” when it’s kids, dad, and stepmom. Such groupings bring out everyone’s anxiety about being an outsider and frequently elicit really awful behavior from stepkids of any age. In contrast, when you add more people (and ideally, some from YOUR family as well, or friends who make you feel supported and understood), the kids feel safer and loosened from their (fantasized) obligation to their dead mother to hate you. So I would keep adding lots of people to the mix. I’d also advise one-on-one time with you and your stepkids (as hard as that might be to imagine enjoying–try to shoulder to shoulder versus eye-to-eye activities with them–there’s a list in my book), and for your husband and his kids. That way they’ll find you a lot less threatening. Research shows that stepfamilies bond best dyadically, one-on-one, whereas first families bond as a group. And yet having a big EXTENDED group also takes the pressure off. So those are two options.

    I don’t know if your stepchildren are old enough for you to get it right out there and tell them directly that in fact you don’t like them when they are unkind and rude to you and when they treat you like a piece of furniture, and that you hope for better in the future. But such a conversation would likely not go far without your husband’s support. He’s your true problem here, if I’m understanding your situation correctly. I hope you might be able to get him to see the value in counseling. It won’t do for one person in a partnership to simply dismiss the concerns of another. That’s not a partnership. Good luck. xx wednesday

  13. Karen Says:

    Setting boundaries, I believe, is especially difficult if you are a smom with no bio children. I married into 3 teenagers and tried to make their lives better. Only the youngest visited bmom on a regular basis. Well, after nearly 4 years of getting walked over, being overwhelmed with guilt and not understanding how they could not want a relationship with me- I am setting boundaries. It starts today with my teenage daughter. (Yes, I claim them as mine- all of the time. I choose to love them. But I certainly don’t like what they do all of the time.) The good Lord has placed me here in this family. I need to step up to the plate and be the parent- not the door mat. :)

  14. admin Says:

    Couldn’t agree more and my frequent mantra to stepmothers is, “Don’t be a mother because it will likely backfire in your face, but NEVER be a doormat in your own home!” Happy to hear you are finding the balance that works for you. Keep us posted!
    Hopefully your husband will get smart and accept that it’s just as well to NOT live with obnoxious teenagers who are in a loyalty bind to boot. If they want to live with their mother and visit you only infrequently, the best course of action may in fact be to LET THEM. Many couples have described actually thriving during the kids’ teens years when the kids stayed away. And then, years later, these couples become the “good object” for the kids. So there is hope. Right now your husband probably feels too conflicted to accept it, but he may get there as their behavior gets worse. I concur with DW’s book recommendations for your husband. If he wants his kids to be around while they mistreat you, he owes you the favor of learning to deal with them more effectively if he wants you to stay in the marriage.
    Da Wiznitch,
    Always happy to hear from you. I also really like Harriet Lerner’s work. It pays to be strategic with men and to be aware that they have a much more somatic, visceral response to stressful situations than women do (their cortisol levels and blood pressure shoot up astonishingly high in a interpersonal confrontation) when we’re dealing with stephell situations. On the other hand, too much sugar and swallowing of anger gets us right where Lerner and Mary Kelly-Williams describe, and it’s not a good place to be.
    Hang in there are stick to your guns. Calmly, calmly, calmly. Just calmly repeat over and over to your husband, when he brings it up and is unsupportive, “I’m doing less so I won’t be resentful. I’d really like to have a relationship with your kids down the line, and this is one of the best ways for me to make that possible. I appreciate you’d like things to be different, and I love you, but let’s try this so that I can be here for everyone.” Blah blah blah. It pays to be strategic and men hear you much better when you are calm and reasoned and reasonable.

    Good luck and keep the great comments coming. Mary Kelly-Williams has really hit a nerve here!
    xx wednesday

  15. Karen Says:

    Okay- it just happened! She came home from school and after not talking with me the past two days (texting is not talking) she was nice! And fun- and wanted to share some pictures with me. But then she wanted what she wanted and I told her no. (We had a deal that I would do something for her if she followed some steps. She did not complete the task.) Well, she said her dad could do it for her. He has said he would back me up on this- which is huge! When she started getting rude (blaming everything from the phone company to “you didn’t tell me”) and getting loud I told her that attitude would get her nothing. That was the attitude I was trying to curb! She didn’t curse (out loud) but did walk away. Whew- now if I could do this without shaking I would feel so much more effective!

  16. Mary Kelly-Williams Says:

    I’m happy to see that the article was helpful and the wonderful sense of community displayed here, heaped with great advice by Wednesday about how to talk to one’s spouse. The TONE is so important as she said with her natural good humor. The funny thing is that when I use this tone with my husband, for me, it feels so fakey and obviously contrived, but it works every time! And it doesn’t hurt for me to practice speaking in a gentle tone. There is strength in softness. My clinical experience shows me that most men in divorce are super hypersensitive and one must walk carefully when speaking to their spouse about their children.

    I think a basic rule of thumb to follow that the husbands may find a little more palatable is to describe these boundaries in terms of Basic Etiquette 101. You wouldn’t allow a stranger to spend the day in your home without any kind of acknowledgement, you certainly shouldn’t allow it from your husband’s children. And, he should not allow it either. It is a decay to the marital relationship if stepmothers feel trapped in their own homes!

    The other key is to not care about what your stepchildren think about you when you are setting these boundaries. Several of the commenters described doing a lot of things for their stepchildren who are not even acknowledging their presence! This is complete madness to allow behavior like this, and I do agree with Wednesday that it is important that the husband play the “bad cop” in these situations. The stepmother already has an automatic target sign on her chest, and even attempting to talk to the kids herself is a set-up for further blame, as Wednesday points out. If the husband is not willing, then there are going to be marital problems and most men can be persuaded to listen and support, rather than go into marital counseling or through another difficult divorce.

    I do think that we have to remember that we are the adults and take the higher road to make some semblance of small talk with disinterested stepchildren. But to any stepchild who is being disrespectful, not one finger should be lifted by stepmom to help that child. If we don’t set these boundaries, we might as well be telling these children that it is perfectly acceptable to treat someone like a piece of dirt and they will continue to give and give with no consequence.

    And don’t be afraid of the disarray it may cause your family when you start to set these boundaries in place. People may rebel at first, but most kids know in their hearts that it’s not OK to treat people like this, and they will be secretly relieved that their poor behavior is not being ignored.

    And if the boundaries don’t connect you to your stepchildren, they will connect you to yourself and that is the more important goal.

    When one begins to place the appropriate boundaries in place, the joy and liberation one feels is so liberating, so freeing, that we will wonder what took us so long to make them.

  17. admin Says:

    Love the real time update. See, that wasn’t so bad, and it wasn’t so hard. Keep practicing and soon having boundaries and protecting them will feel very natural. As Mary Kelly-Williams says, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. Keep us posted!
    xx wednesday

  18. da wiznitch Says:

    I think I’ve been pretty naive about men most of my life. Like Mary, I feel fakey and contrived and out of character if I ever use the Stepford voice. Maybe I could use a sort of wiznitchy stepford voice, if such a thing is not an oxymoron. I guess I think that my partner will immediately spot this voice as fake and manipulative.

    One alternative that feels more real to me is the Nonviolent Communication method, which itself has a certain fakiness to it, but nevertheless it seems to work. You say what happened, and state your feelings, and you say what needs are causing these feelings, and then you make a very concrete request. You don’t diagnose the other person’s character or anything like that. You just say, “When C talks to me like that in public, and you just sit there saying nothing, I feel really dissed, because I need some respect. Next time she starts talking like that, would you be willing to just say, ‘C, stop it’?”

    Of course, a man can say sure, he’s willing, and then not do it; or he might say, “No, I won’t do that.” In the latter case, at least you have your answer, and you can go from there. If he repeatedly refuses to do what he said he would, then that’s also an answer of a sort.

    One thing that helped me in talking to my partner was actually printing out the list of feelings and needs from the NVC website. Then I could rattle off all these bad feelings, and he could see that needs for respect and validation and belonging are universal, legitimate human needs. Also he could use the feelings list to name his own feelings, because he only has two words for feelings usually: good and bad.

    Anyway NVC is not a panacea, but it’s a tool that is worth trying before resorting to expensive counseling or lawyers.

  19. da wiznitch Says:

    Here’s a link to the Nonviolent communication site:

    I don’t agree with everything the NVC folks say–for example, that angry, judgmental speech is “violent”–but I do agree that it often doesn’t work in the way you want it to, which seems to be connected with what Mary and Wednesday say above about men getting stressed about women’s anger. They just freak out about it. It’s weird because supposedly they make good soldiers and can handle awful movies about war and violence. But in truth, they are wusses.

    Let’s face it: we’re the strong ones in tense situations, and we’re the ones that make families and communities work. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

  20. Mary Kelly-Williams Says:

    da wiznitch: Thanks for bring up the Non-Violent Communication method developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Here’s their link:

    Rosenberg’s book, “Non-Violent Communication: A Language for Life” is practical and you will have plenty of opportunities to practice, especially in stepfamily life!

  21. Nelly Says:

    I like Mary’s additional point about the need to make some kind of contact, even if it feels a bit superficial, because we’re the adult. I certainly need that kind of reminder, but I do have to force myself.
    Wednesday, thank you for your insightful comments. I think my husband feels even more sorry for his children than the divorced father might- and so is very reluctant to discipline. Their mother was ill for some time, so I also think that they kind of tip -toe around “Mother”, always having to be good and not able to be naughty, like normal kids. I have spent some one on one time with them, the prom dress buying episode was a classic. I had an ever growing silence to deal with, culminating in a completely silent lunch- not one word, after having spent time, effort and money. I felt too sorry about not being the right person to do what I should have done (and had that horrible sense of falling into a pit that da wiznich describes) and spoken myself about the discomfort for both of us. I have not spent any one on one time with my stepson in five years. I will try this.
    What really concerns me is that we have very few real friends. I have become very isolated by having to pretend that everything is fine, I think you are right, Wednesday, about the relief from the pressure in an extended group, but I find I have very few that I can call on. Big groups are better for us, especially when the kids (all teenagers) have friends over too. They don’t do it much, they say that we are unwelcoming.
    My husband does see my point of view,but I think he’s afraid that it will make things worse if he confronts his kids, and its gone on for so long, too. He often msses the subtle ignoring and lack of acknowledgement when they do it, but never if anger just doesn’t allow me to smile sweetly.
    Great advice and loved what you’ve all had to say.

  22. Da Wiznitch Says:

    Nelly: wow. I thought I was the only one who had to endure the silent meals, etc. I remember once I had to sit with two of the adult manchildren at a table apart from their father while he conducted some private business in a restaurant at another table. I tried to make small talk with them, and they absolutely refused to speak to me at all. At the time they were both in their early twenties. Eventually I gave up and walked away. They laughed.

    I was so hurt and angry about this that I confronted them about it later that evening, in their father’s presence. I said that if they were not going to be even minimally polite to me–which meant speaking civilly to me when in my presence–that I didn’t want to be around them. The oldest–a veteran of the Iraq war– gave me a long, hard, intimidating stare. I didn’t blink.

    Then he began insulting me, telling me how much he hated me, “more than anybody in the world.” This awful diatribe ended in a death threat that upended my entire life. I have not really been the same since.

    I left the city for a while to feel safe for a week or so and to think about what had happened. Then I sent that young man an email in which I set a harder boundary: I said that if he ever came to our house again, I would file for a restraining order against him. This is what I was advised to do, by the people at the domestic violence center. I told him, however, that if he apologized and sought counseling, I might reconsider this boundary.

    However, it took him almost a year to write me a tepid apology. He never really admitted he had done anything wrong. He still hasn’t, to me. He has not sought counseling. So the harder boundary–a wall, really– is still in place.

    So, I tried to set a boundary, a reasonable one, most people would think. The result was I thought I was going to die, right then and there. IT took me two years to recover from the trauma of that terror. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I think I am over it now, but I will never be the person I was before that happened.

    So caveat emptor: setting boundaries with violent people–or people willing to threaten physical violence–can be dangerous to your mental and physical health. I had no way of knowing this would happen; it just did.

    I don’t know what this means about boundaries.

  23. admin Says:

    Nelly and Da Wiznitch,
    Isolation is a stepmother’s worst enemy. Well, one of them. Often, the isolation begins WITHIN the step”family” system, where she is an outsider until/unless her husband/partner invites her to the inside. If this doesn’t happen, she often feels defeated and out of sorts, and fearful that her friends won’t understand (unfortunately otherwise supportive friends can be very ignorant and judgmental when it comes to stepmothering issues)–this leads her to become socially isolated as well. As social isolation increases the incidence of depression, as well as stress on a marriage/partnership.

    And so you must seek out support and peers who understand. Maybe it sounds silly, but DO try to find a support group. DO try to figure out if anyone at work, or a friend of a friend, has stepchildren and might understand. DO find a therapist who can help you find a support group of form one of your own. DO form a bookgroup if that would help. Do go on internet boards, but use them to try to make actual in-person contact as well as to vent and seek solutions and comfort on-line (we know from research that there is no substitute for the give and take and back and forth of actual friendship in real life, in person).

    What DW has experienced would have been inducement enough for many of us to simply walk. Your husband is lucky you stuck around. As to your stepson, he is clearly very aware of the fact that these relationships are about power imbalances, and he is, or was, in a literal life and death power struggle with you. I don’t think you had any choice but to draw the line you did with him, and you certainly had no way of knowing that he would react in the unhinged and mentally ill way that he did. Interesting and informative that he felt he could get away with it. This seems to be an extreme example of what happens when a father/partner does not support his wife/partner as an equal in the partnership and household! I’m glad you are feeling and presumably actually are safer at this point in your life. Thanks, as ever, for being here and for commenting.
    xx wednesday

  24. Da Wiznitch Says:

    Yes, it was mentally ill. A couple of guess as to why we didn’t know he was mentally ill: we didn’t really understand PTSD in vets at the time (although since then I have learned a lot about it); second, we found out later he was seriously hung over that day. He had been trying to intimidate me for years, but in a much more covert way, and we thought that he had grown up some during his years in the army. Apparently not.

    Moral: don’t try to set boundaries with potentially violent people who have been drinking. (I think I read this later in a book.) It doesn’t work with those kinds of people. With violent people, you just have to avoid them and rely on the cops to keep them away.

    As to why my partner has been so unsupportive, there are also two factors. One is, I think, the fact that he was a victim of physical abuse himself as a child by a domineering father, who was his only parent. He was trained from an early age not to fight back against bullies. His way of getting along is appeasement.

    Also, he is handicapped. He had polio as a baby (his mother died of it) and he is just physically smaller and weaker than his sons. They know this, and sadly, they take advantage of it. I think he was well aware of the futility of fighting bigger, stronger people if it came to that, something I had not thought of. He is not accustomed, as I am, to using his voice and moral authority to inspire fear and awe. (This is something small female teachers learn early on, or perish in the attempt.) I am trying to encourage him to use his authority as the father in the family more, but he doesn’t seem to want to.

    And, like almost all divorced fathers, particularly ones who have been targets of parental alienation, he was terrified of talking back to his children or asserting his authority in any way, for fear of losing their affection. Again, they know this and take advantage of it. That had been the case for a long time before the deaf fret, as I sometimes call it.

    As to why I haven’t left him: I almost have several times. But he’s basically a good person and I keep thinking that if I just keep the mean people away, we could have a pretty good life. These events, though, have strained our relationship to the breaking point several times.

    So, I guess the lesson here is: pick your battles. Assess your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Practice non-violence, but realistically. Use the law when you have to.

  25. Joy Says:

    Wow having heard about stepkids who get violent from some of Wednesday’s other posts I am saddened to read a real story about it here and impressed at what women can overcome. I think women with stepkids have strengths no one can even imagine.

  26. Talia Says:

    Wow! What a story! I am so impressed that you established a boundary with your stepchildren and stuck with it. I can’t begin to tell you how many meals, car rides, etc that have been silent. Completely silent. It is as if the moment I appear everyone becomes mute. While I am saddened that others experience this, it does give me some level of comfort.

    I wish I could rid myself of the “you are a bad, evil person” thoughts, but I must admit I struggle with them. I have a loving family and more friends than I can count, but that my skids don’t care for me, makes me feel like it is me. (although my support system assures me it is them)

  27. Da Wiznitch Says:

    In retrospect I sort of wished I had just been silent too. It would have been better than the scary situation that followed the confrontation/assertiveness/boundary-setting.

    I read some stuff about assertiveness last night on an assertiveness training course site. It said that people are usually either aggressive, or passive, that is dominant or submissive, and that very few people know how to steer a middle ground: being assertive without aggressing on the rights of other people. So, that’s what we’re trying to do here I think: be assertive about defending ourselves without being aggressive or abusive. It ain’t easy.

    But this site also said that while most “civilized” people will react positively to your assertiveness, some “dominant,” violent people will continue to try to dominate you until you’re dead! Ok, point taken. But how do you know which ones those are?

    It also compared civilized assertiveness to the actions of Gandhi and King, which is flattering and encouraging. Maybe stepmothers worldwide will someday share a Nobel Peace Prize, like Al Gore and the climate scientists. But I’m not holding my breath.

  28. admin Says:

    A belated reply to you–sorry, things get buried sometimes in the comments section! No, I do NOT think asking that your stepchildren say “hello” and “goodbye” is asking too much. In fact, I find that a perfectly reasonable, minimal expectation. Presumably you need to ask your husband to set them straight about it again. Ignoring you is just not okay.Of course asking for this in a specific way will help you here. Be mindful of not putting your husband on the defensive. And husband’s hear it more easily when they see we are sad or hurt rather than aggrieved or angry; that’s just a fact. If you ask him in a reasonable way, mindful of his own dilemma, he is unlikely to ignore such a reasonable, minimal request. “I know it’s hard for you that things are perfect between me and your kids. I’d like it to get better. It makes me feel upset and ignored when they don’t acknowledge me by saying hello and goodbye even. Then it’s hard for me to feel welcoming toward them. Could you please ask them to say hello and goodbye. That’s all I’ll need, I think, to get into a better frame of mind and feeling more positive. I appreciate you feel between a rock and a hard place sometimes when it comes to me and your kids. I’d love your help. What do you think?”
    This framing of your request can make all the difference, take it from me, a hothead of many years! Good luck.

    Da Wiznitch, I’m not holding my breath, either. But as usual you have made me think, and made me laugh as well. Thanks for being here and commenting.
    xx wednesday

  29. Nelly Says:

    Talia and Da wiznitch – isn’t it incredible that silence seems to be the most common form of antipathy that we all experience? And how much it conceals? And how hard it can be to establish boundaries around it? I guess it’s because it’s about a lack, so there’s nothing to be told off about, rather than the kind of “acting out” you read about in those “how to” books. So easy for Daddy to ignore! DW- as a refugee from an abusive first marriage, I can really relate to your fear around your stepson. What does your man say about all this?
    Wednesday, thanks again for wise advice. I am really thinking about what you’ve said. It rings so true. Deep down, I know that I am not supported as well as I might be. I need to be more active in seeking and asking, maybe also offering support.

  30. Sarah Says:

    I tried that with my SD. We had peace. The she went to college and is now getting married. She told my husband that she always despised and did not want me at her wedding. What to do now, either way I lose.

  31. Sarah Says:

    Con,t sorry new to posting. She told my husband that I chose the relationship, and it was clearly not the unconditional love of a parent and she doesnt want me there.

  32. Da Wiznitch Says:

    I don’t go to their weddings. There’s no way that would work out well. I can understand your feeling hurt by being disinvited, but if I were you, I would think of something really fun to do that day with other people, and avoid the wedding at all costs.

    People get really crazy at weddings anyway: there’s a lot of drinking, and the bride is stressed out, and she wants it to be perfect, and it never is. She will probably blame that on you if you’re there. In any event, there’s bound to be trouble. So stay away.

  33. Sarah Says:

    DW, thank you for your reply. I am concerned. My husband will be retiring soon, SD has already says she wants to start a family soon and has told her dad I am noto welcome at her house. I see husband spending time with grandchildren and my being persona non grata there. I dont know what to do, This kid was a brat as a teen. Trouble constantly. But now –

  34. admin Says:

    It’s really not only the wedding invitation that’s the issue of course, but what it stands for–a pattern of both excluding you and of attempting to split you and your husband as a couple that I am guessing is a pattern of long standing with your husband’s daughter.

    Yes, staying away from the wedding is one approach as DW suggests, and a pragmatic one, but it doesn’t resolve your larger and underlying issue: that you feel and are excluded and your husband is complicit in your exclusion. I think your sense that this pattern will only endure and even worsen if you and your husband don’t do something about it is correct.

    My advice is that when you married your husband you took on something of a package deal. And that from here on in, if your husband’s daughter wants to see her father, she understands and accepts that HE is now something of a package deal. Sure, he will continue have some one-on-one time with her, but that’s not what weddings are for. He has a wife and all that entails, just as his daughter has a partner and all that entails. She’s old enough to not only understand but to respect that. And she would only benefit from his modeling for her how people in a true partnership actually act.
    Good luck,

  35. Sarah Says:

    Before the daughter went to college, I insisted on being treated with respect. I told my husband, our house, our rules. He backed me up on that. But now, we are at a phase in everyone’s lives when as an adult she can make her own choices and she has made it clear that I am not wanted. If I tell my husband not to go to weddind without me, I am not certain she will back down, and if she doesnt I dont know what would happen. What if husband doesnt go to wedding, and resents it? I dont think at this point she cares that much about splitting up my husband and me. I dont know if she regards this as payback now that she has more power. I suspect that when and if grandchildren come he will want to visit a lot.

  36. Ian Sesma Says:

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  37. Peggy Says:

    Just have to say Mary has hit the bullseye yet again. I also had to apply the Boundary’s Connect – and while I had no idea I was actually do it, It Worked. And continued to work, because I also had a teenager daughter just like Mary’s.

    And the day I had had enough was the beginning of what is now a super awesome relationship with my 22 year old daughter.

    And yes – I’ve applied the same strategy with Junior, my stepson. I don’t fear his rejection. I don’t care if he likes me or not. Learning how to set boundaries with my own daughter really helped me do the same with Junior.

    Boundaries Connect works…Listen to Mary!

  38. Stop Saying YES When You Really Mean NO | The Stepmom's Tool Box Says:

    [...] I’m a big fan of Mary Kelly-Williams (and can’t wait to  have her back on my radio show) and she has a fabulous, phenomenal, MUST READ guest post on Wednesday Martin’s blog, “Boundaries 101: Lessons for Stepmothers“. [...]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

  39. Da Wiznitch Says:

    Sarah: I agree with Wednesday that this is probably a strategy to divide you and your husband as a couple: inviting him but not you. I know how you feel, not wanting to ask him not to go, but feeling betrayed if he does go. It’s a bad dilemma. Besides you just deciding not to go and have a good (ok, a truly great) time doing something else, the other alternative, I guess, is for your husband to tell her that she has to invite both of you. But then, you’re afraid that she’ll say, “Ok, Daddy, then I don’t want you either.” And then your husband will feel very hurt and excluded, and you’ll feel guilty for pushing the situation to this stand-off. You might always feel guilty about him missing his daughter’s wedding.

    Maybe this time let it slide and let your husband go to the wedding, and save the showdown for a less high-stakes situation, like some other less important party. After the wedding, your husband could say to his daughter, “I don’t like it that you didn’t invite Sarah. From now on, I’m only coming if we’re both invited.” Somehow I doubt that she would respond by NEVER inviting either one of you! I guess it could happen, but it seems unlikely. This is kind of a game of chicken, and I think you could call her bluff: but after the wedding.

  40. A.J. Says:

    Boundaries have saved me so far in my role as stepmom and as wife.

    I recently set a very strong boundary with my husband that I would no longer be the back-up caretaker for the children when he travels on business. It was a difficult boundary for me to set, because I was fearful that my husband would think I didn’t like the kids or that I was being unhelpful and not a team player. However, I deeply resented it every time I was left alone with the kids. Their mom lives 15 minutes away – there is no reason I should have to automatically be on call. They have a mom. When they are at our house, the time is meant to be spent with dad – not stepmom.

    I feel good about that boundary and the many others I have set. It is about respecting yourself. When you start to respect yourself, others will follow suit.

  41. Kela Says:

    Excellent post, Mary-Kelly! Boy did my life and family get better when I began to put up that bright red stop sign. Stepmothers need to realize that they have more power than they think they do. Don’t victimize yourself by saying yes and then blaming the other person for taking advantage of you; or by acting like the new girl in school who just wants to be part of the “mean girl clique”. It’s okay if the ex-wife doesn’t like you and/or if they stepkids don’t approve of EVERYTHING you do. Set healthy boundaries, put up that bright red stop sign, learn to say NO and be okay with it afterward.


  42. Susan Wisdom Says:

    Been sitting here reading Mary Kelly’s excellent article on boundaries – a HUGE subject in stepfamilies… and in life! And then I read the responses. You certainly pushed an emotional button, MK! I have many reactions myself.
    Two thoughts I have are:
    First: these are some sad, complicated and serious situations here. Of course, there are no easy answers. It’s not about simple behavioral problems that can be corrected by simple behavioral changes. I suspect these stories evolve from family of origin issues (babbage) passed down from who knows how far back. Those problems get exacerbated by stresses of divorce, remarriage, stepfamilies…and what have you. Symptoms show up in depression, anger, anxiety, PTSD, alcohol/drug use….you name it. It’s distressing and one of the reasons for the high divorce rate in remarried families.

    Second thought: I think men and women are very different in their concerns and reactions in family matters. One typical example –Sometimes, I’d feel strongly about something that bothered me in our stepfamily… and my husband often could care less! I’d tell him, “Talk to your son (or daughter), tell them they can’t talk to me like that….Husband would comply, but not as I would have wanted him to. I wanted him to ground the kid for LIFE – make him suffer. The point is we women are sensitive and reactive in these matters. We pay attention to relationships… especially with our spouses and our children/stepchildren. It’s WHO WE ARE! It’s NOT WHO THEY ARE. That’s not to say men are off the hook for taking responsibility!!! They are NOT … It’s complicated, isn’t it?

    Wednesday and Mary Kelly:
    What you do by writing and providing a forum for stepmothers to tell their stories and get feedback is wonderful!!!!!

    Susan Wisdom

  43. Da Wiznitch Says:

    Getting back to the issue of being excluded, like from weddings and such, and how to set boundaries in these situations: I have recently realized that my partner accuses me of wanting to “separate him from his children” whenever I try to set a boundary about respect or my own dignity. When I say, “You need to speak to your son about the way he talks to me,” he thinks, “She doesn’t want me to have a close relationship with my son, and she wants to pry me away from him and have me all to herself.” He begins casting me as a villain, just as his children and their mother do!

    This is very disheartening, when even our partners/husbands see us as the bad guy! I have always encouraged my partner to spend MORE time with his children, something he often resisted, and now I’m “trying to separate him from his children” and making him “choose” to be loyal to either the kids or me. This is so wrong it’s almost laughable, and it’s very unfair.

    How to set boundaries around this? Today I wrote him a long email and said, in as non-accusatory a way as I could, that this kind of talk made me feel so bad that I just wanted to run away from the whole tribe, because it seemed as if they all felt that I was very evil and selfish! I reminded him of how often I’d urged him to spend time with his kids. I reminded him of all the recent times we’ve spend with the ones we do get along with, and the gifts I’ve given them in time and stuff. Then I simply asked him to stop saying that I was asking him to choose between them and me.

    I don’t know if he will stop saying that. I don’t know why he does it. Maybe he himself really wants to avoid them, and he feels guilty about that, so he projects that onto me. But I’m not Dr Freud.

  44. Talia Says:

    AJ — I have the exact same situation! When husband travels for work, I now insist he send the kids back to BM. She lives 15 minutes away and have told my husband the same — they are here to spend time with YOU. If you aren’t here, there is no reason on earth they should be here. Heck, they don’t want me around when he is here – what would they do without him here. NO WAY! they must go to BM.

  45. Melissa Says:

    I think this was written especially for me (and posted on my birthday no less)!!

    More than anything we need to learn boundaries. Since my husband’s ex wife recognizes no boundaries, my husband has to work twice as hard to help the kids learn the importance of boundaries. He isn’t really strong when it comes to these things because he is paralyzed more by the wrath of the ex than guilt although guilt does figure in I am certain.

    For example, I had to prompt him recently when his daughter talked back to him about turning down her music (we could hear it all the way at the other end of the house and the rule is that if we can hear it standing outside her door, its too loud). I think he was going to just let it go. The hardest thing for me to do is keep my mouth shut when they back talk him or are rude and disrespectful to him! They are rarely disrespectful to me, although I am not sure why so that is not an issue. The kids are much more likely just to go to him AFTER they have asked me for something because they think/know he will let them do or have whatever it is. This makes me nuts because I wasn’t raised that way. I must learn a boundary myself… and that is to keep my job description handy (in my head) whenever I am tempted to say or do something about things that don’t concern me such as his oldest daughter spending the night with her boyfriend regularly even though she is still in highschool. Not my problem if she gets pregnant or whatever happens. It will be her parents problem, not mine.

    Tough but I MUST do it to save my sanity. Sometimes it feels like I am cutting off my feelings for these kids when I do that “not my kid, not my problem” mantra. Does that ever go away?

  46. Goddess Says:

    Dear All,

    This is a slippery slope. If we want the kids to be ‘civil’ to us, it stands to reason we must be ‘civil’ to them. I don’t think I can do that with my oldest sd.

    It is very difficult for me to be around my 23 yo sd. After getting kicked out of the house 2 1/2 years ago (she didn’t get kicked out for the meth; she didn’t get kicked out for her open hostility to me; she didn’t get kicked out for her compulsive lying; she didn’t get kicked out for letting known criminals into the house while we were away…she finally got kicked out when, drug-crazed, she threatened to become violent with her sister’s boyfriend), she is now (after many, many stops elsewhere) living with her boyfriend’s family (she met her boyfriend last August). Upon meeting, both of them decided that it would be a great idea to start a family. Even though neither one of them has a job. So now, she is 7 months pregnant. The boyfriend’s parents are pretty amazing, I must say. And tolerant. She has been smoking marijuana and cigarettes throughout her pregnancy. Additionally, she continues to stir up drama and conflict – even though she lives 85 miles away – with my husband and her sister. Obviously, I don’t answer her calls or texts – EVER.

    My husband and his youngest daughter are always badmouthing the other daughter (or venting to me about her, and what she is doing to them that is hurtful) and then they expect me to be civil to her. Every time they say something negative about her, it reinforces my negative feelings toward her. I feel as though I am at war, trying to defend my family as they are thwarting me at every turn. It’s pretty hard to be civil to someone you actively dislike – and with good reason.

    They never stand up to her and expect me to never stand up to her either. They are terrified of losing her ‘love’.

    My husband called me yesterday and said that she was coming out to visit her sister. I asked if she, her boyfriend, and his best friend (who goes everywhere with them) would be spending the night. He said no. I don’t know if he was in denial or if it was an out and out lie, but I knew they would be spending the night.

    She knows she cannot smoke in my house. So, she and her sister went out to the van they drove to our house in to smoke.

    I hid in my bedroom for the rest of the night, squashing down my anger and rage. On my way to work this morning, I cried my eyes out, completely frustrated that I have no voice in my own home.

    I decided then that I am going to have a meeting with my husband and his youngest daughter. I am going to tell them that they may NEVER say anything negative to me about the older daughter again. Furthermore, if I say something negative about her, they are not to agree with me, they are to say something positive about her to counteract it.

    Maybe if someone can point out any inkling of a redeeming quality in my evil SD, I can let go of the rage I have that will eventually give me cancer if I continue to hold on to it.

    Thanks for listening. Any advice? Please help.

  47. admin Says:

    Your husband’s daughter is a trainwreck, and the goal here is for her to not coming chugging through your home and your marriage.

    To get there, your husband needs to have better boundaries, and deal with his guilt and passivity. And you two need to be in a partnership of equals.

    I think you need counseling, individually and as a couple, stat. You need to work on your relationship with your husband, your feeling that you have no voice in your home, and strategies for dealing with his daughter. Once you two are working with someone qualified and experienced in the dynamics of remarriage with children, and issues of addiction and enabling, I think that will go a long way toward your feeing less rageful. Good luck, and keep us posted.
    xx wednesday

  48. Goddess Says:

    Thank you for the advice, and taking the time to respond. I will see if there is some kind of counseling nearby that I can afford. The situation continues to get worse, so it is obvious I do not have the answers. A professional will most assuredly have a clearer perspective about what I can do to at least be able to tolerate this seemingly untenable situation.

  49. Kim Says:

    I am sitting crying. Not out of sorrow but relief. I can’t even express how grateful I am for finding this site. I’ve been at the end of my rope for a good 4 weeks now…crying and wanting out of this mess when no one is around and bending over backwards and desperately trying to keep everyone happy when they are here. I knew I couldn’t keep it up and now so very grateful to learn that I’m not alone and I don’t have to. Thank you xo

  50. Rebecca Says:

    I’m 14 years in, and the last stepteen is hopefully moving out this month. My marriage is fragile, my happiness is too. I’ve way over-functioned for far too long, and apparently my husband has been all too happy with me doing the heavy lifting all these years.

    I’m taking a sober and serious look at my boundaries, deciding where I need to draw firm lines, which need to be more permeable, and how to honor my own self first. My husband has finally agreed to marriage counseling, so I am hopeful that we can rebuild our friendship… though I find these days that I mostly prefer to be alone.

  51. Dani Says:

    This website was introduced to me from a friend (I am so thankful) Boundaries Connect is what I needed to read. I have been feeling extremely exhausted lately. My husband has 2 daughters. One lives with us and the other lives with the biological mother. I struggle with knowing when to say something and when to leave it between my husband and his daughter. As of the past week (she is 14 yrs old) she told both of us (in an email) that she will not do anything around the house unless it is Monday and Thursday (those are her days to do her chores) this started cause she was asked on Wednesday to empty the dishwasher, which she refused to do. The drama that has followed because of it is off the charts. She has a mother that now is accusing him of pushing her out, that is why he asked her to empty the dishwasher. If you do ask her do anything around the house example…taking the recycles out, collect the trash, clean her mess up, the attitude starts. She then wont speak to anyone.

    Is this something I should stay out? My husbands way of dealing with it is ignoring it or yelling at her. We haven’t see her since Friday morning, she spent the weekend with her mom.

    Looks like I need to buy the book :-)

  52. admin Says:

    Hi Dani,
    Your issues do sound exhausting and difficult. And I hope it might make you feel better to hear that they are also typical of teen step/kids, especially those with moms who don’t support dad and stepmom.

    Teen stepchildren frequently change residency, whether we like it or not, this is just a demographic fact. It’s usually a question of them exerting their autonomy and their parents and stepparents getting worn down and fed up.

    That said, consistency is key for everyone’s happiness and mental health in this equation and in your household.

    I suggest that in this matter you and your husband need to solidify your bond and your sense that you are a team tackling an issue together. Perhaps a family therapist can help you, in just a visit or two, come up with a clear, written plan for your mutual expectations of his daughter when she is in your home. There need to be clear rules, consequences that are enforced, AND an understanding that teenagers are different from kids and a certain amount of acting out is to be expected.

    My general advice is to never be a doormat in your own home. Work with your husband to come up with a clear plan, clear consequences, and then he needs to enforce them in a loving and consistent way. If his daughter doesn’t like that and stays away for a while, there might be worse things for your marriage! Again please consider some work with a therapist who knows stepfamily dynamics. It could turn things around very quickly! good luck,

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  54. Rosemary Says:

    Hi everyone.

    This is another great post, and also great discussion in the comments. I find myself agreeing with what many have said. My boyfriend has three kids and the youngest girl, who is 18, refuses to make eye contact with me if he is around, even when answering a question I asked. It’s infuriating. We just recently started seeing a therapist that specializes in stepfamilies, and she told him that he needs to address the eye contact specifically. In the past, he’s told her she needs to be respectful of me and she says, “Oh yeah, dad, of course,” but still avoids eye contact. She knows exactly what she’s doing. No one doubts that, but he hasn’t mentioned the eye contact issue specifically, so she’s gone on doing it. It took a long time for him to agree to even talk to her about this issue, so strong is the divorce guilt (even though his EX is the one who cheated and was a destructive alcoholic). I’m so glad to have this resource. This post is really helpful.

    Also wanted to invite anyone on this board to join a Facebook group, just for stepmoms called Building Better Stepmoms (see link above or search it on Facebook). It’s a private group and you have to request membership, so none of your posts will be seen by your friends. We are a great group of women who help each other and bounce ideas off each other. We welcome new members!

  55. Andy samerson Says:

    it’s a good article, do u know you can make also online money?

  56. Terri D Says:

    After three years of trying to be perfect Mom to an otherwise “motherless” SD now 14, I have finally realized my limits. My SD is mostly not rude or disrespectful (yet) but is just the opposite – uses passive aggressive behavior to feign interest in me and to play into my previous desire to fill some shoes that were left empty. In doing so, I would react in exactly the way she wished which in turn strangely enough only irritated her more. At the end of the last school year I threw my hands up and said I was done. She spent all summer with her BM (who is now back in the picture), and her paternal grandparents. Since returning home she has tried desperately to bait me back in to the old habits. I have not given in, kept my boundaries and made them clear with her. It’s not currently a very happy place when the two of us are in the same room but I feel at peace with myself for being authentic to my own needs. I’m not really concerned about being thought of as the “wicked stepmother” (Cinderella was just a spoiled bratty teen) any longer. It does make a big difference when you make that boundaries connect decision. The calm, forthright tone really throws them off, I kinda get a giggle out of it.

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