How to deal with an overstepping ex or stepparent

If I had a dollar for every time I heard about someone overstepping in a step-family dynamic, I would be a very rich woman. It is right up there with some of the most common complaints in a step-family.

So what exactly is overstepping? Who decides?

In simple terms, it’s when one person intrudes on the space/boundary/home etc of another.

For some mamas, it means whenever a stepmum performs a mothering task without the consent of the mother.

For some stepmums, it means whenever a mum tries to insert her opinions/demands into the home of the stepmum.

Gosh – does anyone else see what I see?

When we try and control what happens in the other home, it can often feel like overstepping.

Women tend to feel like their counterpart is overstepping more than males, in my experience. I think this is in part due to the expectations placed on women to parent and run households. We are socialised to see women as nurturers and caregivers and many parents tend to expect their female partners to step straight into a mothering role. This can feel incredibly offensive to a mother who is used to be the sole female role model and carer in her children’s lives. It can be difficult for a mum to step back and allow another women to ‘mother’ her children.

In a healthy dynamic, where step/parents are solid and secure in their roles, they can have conversations about co-parenting and make joint decisions about parenting. If you have an over stepper, then it’s almost impossible to have those conversations and co-parent.

Here are some golden rules to help with overstepping

1) Parents do not have to parent with their ex’s new partner.

Not going to lie, this one was a hard one for me to grasp first off. I expected a seat at the parenting table. My hunny demanded a seat at the parenting table for me. Unsurprisingly, his ex was not on board with that. It caused a huge amount of conflict. Now my feeling is…

I’m very glad to step back and allow my partner and his ex to parent together outside our home. In our home, my partner and I parent together.

Anita Inglis

2) Stepparents do not have to parent with their partner’s ex.

I saw a post recently accusing an ex and stepparent of parental alienation because the stepmum wasn’t getting permission from the mother before parenting in her home. People, that is not parental alienation, that is boundaries. If you are demanding people comply with your values and opinions in their home, you are the over stepper.

3) You can only make the rules for your home

In the ideal world, children would have the same expectations and similar experiences in each home. If people had the same values and expectations, they probably wouldn’t have gone their separate ways in the first place.

People separate/divorce usually because they don’t agree on some fundamental issues. Expecting those differences to magically disappear when it comes to parenting in different houses, especially with new partners, seems naïve at best.

4) Conflict between homes creates loyalty binds for children

There is a huge difference between conflict and disagreement and pathogenic parenting/parental alienation. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what PAS is and people will accuse people setting boundaries and reacting to their overstepping of engaging in parental alienation.

Look at what messages you are sending your children. Are you making it uncomfortable for them to be around you because of your attitudes to the family in the other house? Are you complaining about your ex or their partner overstepping? Are you demanding your ‘rights’ at the expense of both sides of the child’s family being able to participate or be involved?

If you are, then you are the one creating the loyalty binds. In situation like this, children may reject you or choose the other house over you. Your attitude and the drama and discomfort it creates may mean the child seeks to limit time with you, so as not to be exposed to your upset and unkind words about people they love.

5) Children don’t reject emotionally healthy parents who don’t abuse them without some form of coercion from an outside source.

This is one of the foundational tenets of whether a child rejecting a parent is because of pathogenic parenting/alienation.

  • Emotionally healthy parents don’t attempt to control what happens in the other home.
  • Emotionally healthy parents don’t attempt to restrict the involvement their ex or their ex’s new partner in the children’s lives, unless there is abuse. Not doing what you want them to do is not abuse.
  • Emotionally healthy parents don’t make their children feel they have to choose who is going to be at an event to support them.

If you feel like your ex or their partner is overstepping, take a moment to check your expectations.

Am I trying to control what is happening in their home?

Am I trying to control what role the new partner is playing in my children’s lives?

Am I trying to control or do I believe I have the right to dictate/control?

If the answer to any of these or similar questions is yes – you might the be one overstepping.

If the answer is no, and you are dealing with a high conflict ex, check out this article for some ideas of how to manage that relationship more calmly

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