One of the most annoying things about being a stepmother is that it brings hard subjects up. Often the thing that we don’t want to do, comes up in stepparenting. You know what I mean. Issues like: Drawing the line on issues like self respect, your role in the family and in life, how you want to live and how much you want to compromise in life and whether or not you’re a good person. What makes matters worse is that these issues are just thrown in our face, almost daily. You can’t get away from them, so putting your head in the sand really isn’t an issue. I just hate that. It feels as if we have to constantly be thinking and analyzing, right? On one level, it all comes down to setting boundaries. Where do I start and the family begins? Where do I start and my relationship begins?
There is an art and a science to setting boundaries. Think about a physical fence. A fence can be a symbol of protection, fear, solitary existence or even beauty. A fence between homes or countries can bring freedom. It can keep your beloved dog from getting lost. Beautiful, tall trees can act as a fence and bring nature into your backyard. It is all how you look at it.
I think the word, ‘no’ has the same connotations as the fence around our homes or even separating our countries. I have the gut feeling that many feel that the ‘no’ fence means complete isolation. Putting up this fence equates to being unloved, unliked and being unpopular. Did we learn that somewhere? Is it a tribal response learned when we roamed the plains…you know…it’s safer to be in the tribe than trying to survive alone. Or, do we just feel as if saying ‘no’ is impolite? Did anyone learn that one? You probably learned that from someone who was miserable because they spent their lives agreeing with everyone. BY THE WAY, setting boundaries does not necessarily mean that you have to say ‘no’. In fact, if you follow some of these tips, you may not have to say it. Life will be smooth. So, let’s set some boundaries in our lives so that we can feel safer.
Step #1: Get On Your Own Page
What do you want and what do you not want? This is the hardest part of all. List them all down. Make categories. How do you want to be treated? The truth. The House..how do you want it treated. List them in 2 categories: Your partner and your kids.
Step #2: What are you Deal Killers?
None of us get everything we want. If you make a laundry list of demands, you will get nothing in return. People can’t handle a long list. I would start with one or two things. That’s it…at the beginning. Now, what are your deal killers. For me, it’s respect. I will be treated with respect period. The second thing that I picked were the dishes. That’s it. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to start demanding these things with words. No. Silence is much more effective.
Step #3: Get on the Same Page
Get on the same page with your partner. Discuss these things up front. If it’s too late for that, have a meeting and make sure that you are both on the same page. Define specifically what respect is to you. (Is it no cursing? Do what I say? Think about it.) Define who will set the rules down. Define the punishments. Up front. If you can get consistent with Mom, that would be ideal. Now, you have every answer you need, “Sorry. Dad and Mom said you can’t. or Dad and Mom said you have to clean your room. I’m executing, not setting the policy.” Answer still ‘no’? “Hey, wait for your Mom and Dad to deal with it.”
Step #4: Respect Yourself and You’ll Get it Back in Return
If you act like an idiot, how can you expect anyone else to respect you? If you curse, how can you ask your kids to use polite language? Stand straight. Walk tall. Look at your own life and get it right. Be truthful, not perfect. Share your life with the kids and your partner. No gossiping. No talking about anyone’s parents. Smile. Don’t sign up for things you don’t want to do. It’s okay. You are teaching by doing. Work and play hard. Have friends and treasure them. Forget about all the stuff that’s going on around you. Easier said than done, right. Now, if you are that stepparent who is full time. You need to take a hard look and decide if you really want to be full time, etc. Next, if you do, you guys have to lay the law down. You can’t be the kind of stepmom the rest of us may be. You need to establish the rules, with your husband and you have to execute consistently
Step #5: Take 24 Hours
When asked to do something or respond to a difficult question, always take the time to think. If you can get 24 hours, that would be great. Our desire to be liked will sometimes push an answer out of our mouths, only to realize later that we don’t want to do it. Take time to think and call people back, including our partners. We’re hedging our bet against resentment.
Step #6: The Power of Why
Here’s some science for you. Did you know that people have certain triggers that make them compliant? Here’s one of them from the book, The Power of Influece by Dr. Robert Cataldini. Dr. Cataldini is quoting from Dr. Ellen Langer of Harvard: When you ask a human being to do something, they will react more favorably if you tell them why. People like to have reasons:
Eg #1: Can I get in front to make copies? I am in a rush. 94%
Eg. #2: Can I get in front to make copies? 60%
Here’s where it gets interesting. If you use the word, because, it also triggers similar compliance.
Eg. #3: I have 5 copies. Can I use the machine because I have to make copies? 93%
The word, “because” is a trigger feature.
It is the same when you say ‘no’ to someone. Listen to some of these:
“No, you cannot treat me that way. No, I can’t attend. No, that language is not okay with me.” We can build our own fences and make them quite beautiful.
Follow your ‘no’ with a ‘why’. Your family members will be more apt to understand and accept your boundaries when you explain your reasoning. In fact, most people completely understand.
“Please do not speak to me in that way. When I was growing up, my mother always told me that if you allow people to talk to you with disrespect, you would start to disrespect yourself. I can’t let that happen. I won’t disrespect you, either. Thank you for understanding.”
Only when we show self-respect and self-care, can we expect others to do the same.