Boundaries in Blended Families

Boundaries in Blended Families

Consistent rules within families and during transitions sets a precedence of what is normal, and expected.  This is considering all parties (parents, children, spouses, and step-families) will aid in the rulemaking to set clear boundaries. We will look at 4 areas of consideration when setting boundaries in blended families:

  • Considering the children throughout the process and post-divorce
  • Unfinished business
  • Setting boundaries before re-marrying
  • Remarriage and step-children  

Considering the children throughout the process and post-divorce

Rules should be set, and put in place long before the divorcee remarries. Normalizing children’s lives throughout the divorce, and post-divorce will aid in reduced stress. Pre-remarriage, the child’s thoughts, feelings, and needs must be considered and discussed. Divorce may create anxiety for children as they wonder what changes will occur in their lives.  

Children may question:  

  • Where will I live?
  • Where will I go to school?
  • How will my time be split between parents?
  • Will we struggle financially?
  • What will be the new rules in my custodial home?
  • What will I have to give up?  
  • Is my parent going to date or marry into a family I don’t like, or that mistreats me?

Children may think the divorce is their fault.  There may be feelings of shame and guilt (I should have, I wish I did, if only I was).  These distorted thoughts can play out with negative actions.  There may be embarrassment that they are now part of an awful thing that took place between their parents, within their home.  Parents can make the transition between marriage and divorce easier (not seamless) by considering the children’s thoughts, feelings, and by having open empathetic conversations. Parents can have the conversation with their children in a calm tone, in a warm and safe environment.  Setting clear concise rules, and boundaries for the family will aid in the children’s adjustment process.  

Bare in mind that children are resilient. Divorced parents are their new reality.  It is important that parents express to their children that they are not divorcing them. They will always be the child of their parent. The more parents normalize, “The new normal”, the sooner the new normal will become a reality for the children.

Unfinished business

An understanding of boundaries should be practiced before parents consider remarrying.  Emotional ties should be broken before beginning a relationship with a new partner.  Divorcees may no longer attend all events, may have altered relationships with in-laws, or friends, and must live individually.  You will know when you have thought things through, and discussed roles and rules with your ex. You will not be consumed with your feelings for your ex, or longing for what was in your marriage. There will always be fond memories, and moments you shared.  However, it is no longer about your exes’ feelings.  

Unfinished business

A dual point of view “Setting boundaries before re-marrying”

Divorcees must define co-parenting well before. They need to base their decisions keeping in mind the child’s needs, while also considering the child’s wants. As you work to co-parent, always remember it is for the child.  

You may question:

  • Am I doing this for my child’s healthy growth?
  • Am I making this decision to honor consistency?
  • Am I inserting my own individualized wants and needs in the process?
  • Am I giving up and letting my ex make all of the decisions?

You may be divorced, however, taking two viewpoints and marrying them is essential to set boundaries, schedule parenting time, children’s drop-offs and pick-ups, making decisions on when exes are welcome (birthdays, holidays), and feelings about the children’s where about, surroundings, friends, medical, and school decisions. Actions must be in the best interest of the children. All these things need to be discussed between you and your ex; prior to beginning a new relationship. Your newly wedded partner will come in the relationship with a clear understanding of boundaries that are practiced.

Remarriage and step-children

Your spouse, children, and stepchildren should be your priority.  

Are you saying things like:

  • I don’t want to make my ex upset
  • I don’t want to hurt their feelings
  • We’ve always done things this way
  • He/or she is still my family
  • I want to make things easier on him/or her
  • I am afraid to say anything to my ex.  

If so, you are considering your ex and neglecting your spouse.  It is important to respect your ex, of course, but your new partner may not understand where they fit in. Or, if they are prioritized.  No boundaries, or the lack of it, may create confusion for the stepchildren too. This makes it confusing for children to know what is practiced between parents, and step-parents.  Without boundaries, there is a message that anything goes. So, as yourself:

  • What are the family rules you share with your new wife?
  • What rules need to be negotiated?
  • How will you address your step-children?  
  • What needs do your step-children have?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What is your spouse afraid of?
  • Is your new spouse shut out?
  • Are you keeping secrets from your spouse?
  • Is your spouse confused about parenting time?
  • Is your spouse confused about their role in the family as step-parent, and wife?
  • Are the boundaries solid between exes, and step-parents?
  • How often is the line crossed?
  • Do you remember you are re-married and there must be order in your home?

Parents and step-parents must consider the children and stepchildren by being consistent, checking in with the children daily on how they are thinking and feeling, discussing expectations, and rules. Exes must keep in contact for the sake of their children’s needs.  Current spouses must make joint decisions in their home with their new blended family.  Empathy, listening for understanding, adjusting, and negotiations are critical in marrying belief systems into families to set and practice clear boundaries.

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Janelle Johnson
Counselor, MA, LPC
Janelle is an experienced psychotherapist, she established Life Balance Counseling private practice in Aurora, Colorado August 2011. She works with a vast population. She specializes in anxiety, grief, loss, ADHD, and relationship conflict. She guides clients so they may achieve balance in their lives by accessing resources, fostering healthy relationships, managing stress, using healthy coping skills, sustaining self-worth, and value. She completed her master’s degree in Counseling from Regis University. She is a member of the American Counseling Association, Rho Upsilon Chi- Chi Sigma Iota, and the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce.

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