Co-parenting Guide: Planning and Setting Boundaries
June 1, 2019
Setting boundaries between stepparents and coparents is vital in any blended family dynamic. We have formulated a guide to help you through this process. (2 min 48 sec read)

Lori Denman-Underhill

Often times in a split family dynamic, there are various roles that contribute to conflict when addressing the different parenting techniques. This is compounded when there are one or even two additional “parenting” figures that interact with the children on a regular basis.

Take co-parents and stepparents for example. From the perspective of the stepparent, it can be confusing what their role is supposed to be. Some stepparents take on all aspects of the primary parent role from driving the children to their school and extracurricular activates to discipline. This is often with the consent of their spouse. However, this tends to cause resentment and conflict with the other co-parent who is not their spouse.

I was involved in the litigation of a family court case where the stepmother insisted on the child calling her “Mom.” This stepmom took it a step further and insisted that the child also call his own biological mother by her first name or when telling others who his mother was, to reference her as “his biological mom.”  This, of course, is an extreme violation by a stepparent. The most challenging part about being a stepparent is not crossing the imaginary “boundary line” that so many parents and stepparents disagree on.

So where is the boundary line?

Well, this is a great discussion area for the child’s parents to exercise co-parenting and not leave it to a judge to make the decision. Using good co-parenting tools will allow the parents to set up boundaries and ideally have the stepparent be able to communicate with both co-parents.

A candid discussion regarding the “boundary lines” prevents the stepparent from intentionally or unintentionally crossing the lines. I represented a child in a child custody case where the stepmother attended a parent-teacher conference. The stepmother was very involved in the child’s classroom as a room parent and felt it was important that she attend the parent-teacher conferences as well. Of course, the mother of the child was infuriated when she showed up at the parent-teacher conference and her ex-husband was there with his wife. The mother later contacted the father to talk about the situation and reiterated that just because the stepmom volunteered in the classroom did not give her a parental right to attend parent-teacher conferences. Ultimately the father agreed and they began to come to terms with how involved the stepmother should be without encroaching on the parental rights of the biological mother.

Boundaries are important for stepmothers, stepfathers, and co-parents.

Although these examples are about stepmothers, I have often seen stepfathers who would like for their stepson plays the sport they played while growing up. It’s great that a stepfather wants to get involved, but just as with the examples above, that stepfather should address it first with the child’s father.

Communication is integral to making sure that every one that is a parental figure in a child’s life is on the same page on all issues. Blended families can be a gift to a child and it often opens the child up to other cultures as well as other points of view. Everyone should keep focused on what is best for the child and always placing the child’s needs at the center of any topic.

Need help with communication?

Download the coParenter App today and talk to one of our coParenting Professionals through our on-demand Mediation feature.

Written by Lori Denman-Underhill

Lori Denman-Underhill uses the power of the press to raise awareness about endless causes. She is the Content Director for the company, coParenter. Mothering is Lori’s top priority. She understands the importance of raising a healthy and happy child. She appreciates the opportunity to offer helpful advice to coParents as a mother and also as a preschool teacher of many years. As a professional journalist, Lori’s work graces the pages of 20 publications, in print and online. She also attains a BA in Journalism and Sociology from the University of New Mexico and is certified in Childcare Education. For the past eight years, Lori has cared for and worked with young children. She hopes to share her endless amount of childcare knowledge with coParenter readers.

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