Creating boundaries are important for self-care…indeed, often times, our survival. Figuring out what we can control and what we can’t, and then basing our decisions and actions on that is a critical component of creating boundaries. Let’s be honest, we’d like to be able to control a lot more of the stuff that happens and the people in our stepfamily home!!
And, here’s a tip for creating boundaries: to not take it personally.
It is a healthy way to protect ourselves from a lot of situations we may find ourselves in as a step parent. It also helps us figure out where and how we want to expend your energy, as well as preserving our dignity and our hearts. It means understanding what issues are ours to take on and deal with but more importantly, allowing our spouses space and having faith in him to deal with his issues.
We as women tend to take a lot of stuff on. Especially the stuff we believe is our job. But we also feel we have value and importance when we are taking care of our man. We are nurturers by nature and a lot of us are pleasers by nature, too. We want our spouses to be happy. We take the team approach in marriage and, we protect our spouses too, just like they protect us. Not taking it personally can be hard to do. He hurts, we hurt and we want to fix it!
Daddy Guilt is common after a divorce where children are involved. These guilt trips can be particularly irksome when we believe our man is being manipulated and treated poorly by his own kids. Sometimes you feel that behind the scenes, the ex is the puppet master in this grande scheme of emotional blackmail. And, it appears that it is the insecurities, jealousy, and agenda of the birth mom who is transplanting doubt in the minds of the children.
The threats, the manipulative words and the accusations – especially if you have your own children together: “you love them more than you love me” or “if you REALLY love me you will do/ buy…” really twist the heart.
Several women shared that they had plans to take the children from their current marriage on a trip. When the older children from the first marriage found out that they weren’t coming then the first class trip to Guiltville was booked. Another father was disparaged until he caved in and paid for expensive, yet optional dance recitals and trips to international competitions.
The nasty insults and insinuations cut them to the core – they already doubted themselves and whether they were being fair to everyone. That fear of not being fair is typical for the middle man because they often feel like they can’t win. It can be extremely painful for our men. It runs on the Parental Alienation Syndrome continuum. All a dad wants is for his kids to be happy, for them to know he’s there for them, that he loves them and that he has their back. Sometimes, they panic when the right button has been left exposed and then pushed, and they do a 180-degree turn on how they said they would handle a situation – to what it actually turns out to be.
How do we deal with this when we see our man disrespected and dragged along Guilt Trip Road?
First of all, we CAN NOT take it personally because we want to jump in to protect them. Because of the guilt, they want to please and pacify. They go to great lengths not to hurt their kids because they are in overcompensation mode. They think that the divorce was painful enough and maybe they can ‘fix this’ by not hurting them anymore.
Sidestep it, take a time out, walk away, and get some fresh air and a different perspective. This lesson is not yours. What we believe is an issue that he needs to deal with, may not be a real problem for him at all.
If it is, then be supportive, but let him be in the driver’s seat. Let him come to you to share his frustration and hurts, but don’t try to fix this because you can’t and shouldn’t! By trying to fix it for him, you undermine your faith in him that he can do this and you disempower him. If he is struggling then let him know he can ask you for help. You can, of course, tell him how this makes you feel and how it impacts you, but be careful.
Perhaps the deepest part of the angst is best shared with friends and other stepmom sisters. It’s his journey with his kids. And if you push too far it might backfire. He may not want or need your advocacy. Again, don’t take it personally if he does not want your help.
Find out if he has other supports outside of you that he can talk to about this. Then, encourage him to reach out to them. It may be so frustrating for you that you can’t hear about it, so encourage him to talk to someone else who can give him another perspective.
If your spouse is open to suggestions from you, then you could highlight the potential long-term effects of Daddy Guilt. If he doesn’t set limitations for his children, then he’s not doing them any favours in the grown-up world. He has to teach them integrity, honesty, and accountability, not about how to have a hissy fit to get their way. The two-year-old temper tantrums have to end.
Also, rules, limitations, and consequences for choices and actions are part of the development of healthy self-discipline and self-regulation. Limitations and consequences teach children that they are safe, loved and respected. That teaches them responsibility and gives them self-esteem and confidence to handle disappointments. And those are the things they need for successful adulating.
Ali Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach and the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.