The boundary issue- Set reasonable boundaries with Birth Mom

There are so many articles about stepmoms crossing boundaries from a birth mother’s perspective. I have yet to see many from the other side. Well, here is my own Broadway’s Wicked-style version. I am obviously coming from a stepmother point of view. I do not know what it feels like to the be the ex-wife or to have kids who have stepparents.  What I do know is that from a stepmother perspective, some birth mothers cross some dang boundaries!  First, I will list out some boundaries that birth moms cross, and then I am going to share with you some ways you can set boundaries with your stepkids’ birth mom.

Crossed Boundaries: No Crossing Zone, “You Shall Not Pass!”

I have not experienced all of these, thank goodness!  However, if it wasn’t something I experienced, it was something many close stepmom friends of mine have.

  • Entering yours and your husband’s house without permission.  
  • Coming into yours and your husband’s house when the both of you are not home without permission.
  • Talking negatively about you and your husband in front of the kids. This can be in the form of taking passive-aggressive digs at you while in front of the kids, a full-out assault in front of them on your character, or the more sinister form of critical comments behind your back that the kids bring home after seeing their mom.
  • Attacking yours and your spouse’s choices and lifestyle within your own home, and worse, complaining about it to the children.
  • Negative gossip to friends and family about you and your spouse.
  • Trying to call, text, or speak in person with husband about personal problems that do not have to do with the children. Unless you and your husband have set the standard for this culture and agree with it, this is not something that should occur.  Your spouse and his ex are no longer married for a reason.  When they signed those divorce papers that meant that your husband is no longer her husband nor required to be her friend or confidant.  I think this can get blurry for some birth mothers who were used to having that person around in a marriage, and it is hard for them to change patterns.
  • Dropping your stepchildren off with you and your husband in the middle of a date or when it is the ex-wife’s parenting time without yours and your spouse’s knowledge or permission.

Any of these sound familiar?  You are not alone.

How to set healthy boundaries with birth mother

Know and Define what your boundaries are. Why do you feel this is an important boundary to set?  Take a moment to reflect and understand your feelings. It helps you to pick your battles carefully.  If the issue is something you can see yourself living with, you may not want to start a war over it.  If it is something after careful reflection you see as important enough that it needs to be addressed and nipped in the bud, then trust yourself.

Discuss with your spouse about how you are feeling and come up with a plan for addressing the issue.  Usually, the best conclusion is for your spouse to relay a boundary-setting message to his ex-wife.  

However, sometimes it may be beneficial for you to communicate directly.  The times it is sometimes best to communicate directly with his ex-wife after speaking with your spouse is when it directly affects you, or when it is something you need to address right away.  

Example: Stepdaughter was allowed by her mom to walk to your house after school without notifying you or your spouse. Your husband wasn’t home and you just happened to stop by your house to pick something up when you noticed she was there. You are upset because what if something were to happen to your stepdaughter and you had not come home at all? And, what if this were to happen again while, say, you and your husband were getting it on in the living room? (TMI? Absolutely.  A very real scenario? Most horrifically).  In this instance, I would send a polite, but frank message to your stepchild’s birth mother asking that in the future you would appreciate it if you or your spouse were notified of someone coming over.  The response you get may vary, but what you have done is set an expectation baseline that you can refer back to if the action were ever to happen again.

Assume the best intentions by birth mom, but who cares if they’re not.  No matter what birth mom’s intentions are, it should not concern you.  You cannot control or fully know what someone is thinking or why they do what they do.  Your only concern is for you and your spouse to relay and set boundaries for yourselves, your life, your house, and your family.  The only thing you need to worry about is that you are reasonable, calm, and assertive. Leave your emotions and surmises about birth mom’s supposed eeevil plans out of it! It will only eat you up and cloud your judgment, even if it may or may not be true.

Don’t expect your boundaries to be accepted with open arms.  The important thing is that you firmly set yours and your spouse’s expectations for co-parenting interactions and accepted behaviors with your spouse’s ex. If they do not respect your boundaries after the first time, then you have a baseline to fall back on and to remind them again about your boundaries.  

Setting and communicating boundaries should really be enough and most birth mothers will respect them, even if begrudgingly.  However, if the behavior does not change, then you may have to resort to more assertive actions. You may need to utilize a co-parenting software/app for all communications, such as 2houses, and assign a drop-off spot to drop off and pick up the children.  Some people may even have to resort to court action and restraining orders if there is a very serious problem.

Does your husband’s ex cross boundaries? Do you have any that aren’t on my list? How did you handle it? Share your story in comments!

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