Setting Boundaries with a Co-Parent and Step-Mom

Co-Parenting 101

Setting Boundaries with a Co-Parent and Step-Mom

Setting Personal Boundaries


Before you can begin setting boundaries with others, you first need to know your personal boundaries.  Healthy relationships are built on strong personal boundaries. Whether it’s friends, coworkers, significant others, kids or family – boundaries that define the relationship need to be set and enforced so that you and others will understand your limits.

When you enter into relationships with weak or no boundaries, you risk being misunderstood. Resentment and anger may set in because others have no clue about what you will or won’t tolerate and take advantage of you at every turn. Your self-esteem will suffer and you face a danger of becoming a doormat to others.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are imaginary lines that we put in place to protect our minds, emotions, and bodies. They keep us from being manipulated or controlled by others and to enjoy our lives more.

Personal boundaries enable us to take control of our own lives and build healthy relationships with others.

In co-parenting boundaries are the expectations we have of what we feel is acceptable behavior with regard to the other parent and step-parent in raising our children.  

Tips for Setting Personal Boundaries

Here are some tips for setting good and stable personal boundaries:

  • Know your own limits. When you know exactly what you can tolerate and what makes you uncomfortable, you can better communicate them to others. Knowing your boundaries will help others maintain a good relationship with you.
  • Be direct in communicating. Beating around the bush so as not to hurt feelings can give people mixed signals about your boundaries. It’s best to be polite, but firm, so they’ll know exactly where you stand.
  • Use your “gut” instinct. Sometimes, you may not know exactly why you feel uncomfortable with a certain person or situation. Tune in to your feelings and get to the bottom of why you’re feeling uncomfortable and then communicate that feeling to the other person.
  • Make yourself a priority. When you make yourself the main priority in your life, you’ll have the peace of mind and energy level to take care of others. Those in your sphere will appreciate the self-confidence and optimism you bring to the relationship.
  • Be more aware of your true feelings. Self-awareness can provide an insight that should help enormously in setting healthy boundaries and establishing healthy relationships with those in your life. When you know exactly what and how something is bothering you, you can more easily communicate it to others.

It’s also important that you understand and respect the personal boundaries set by others so you don’t overstep and make them feel uncomfortable. 

After the boundaries are in place, you may find it necessary to update them once in a while. As you grow in your self-esteem by setting boundaries, you’ll begin to feel more assured that you can challenge someone’s behavior if a behavior makes you uncomfortable.

Importance of Setting Boundaries with a Co-Parent/Step-Mom


When I got divorced 10 plus years ago my ex was already in another relationship.  At the time when we were creating our parenting plan, it never occurred to me to include a set of boundaries for the soon to be step-mom. 

I just thought it was common sense that there were lines that a step-parent shouldn’t cross. I didn’t know anyone else in a situation like mine so I didn’t have anyone to get advice from.  

After a few months of us following our parenting plan, it became clear the boundary lines weren’t as common sense as I thought and I should have spelled things out from the get-go.

Wifey (step-mom) didn’t work so she kept the girls during the day. Financially that’s what made the most sense.  For many this would probably be a great help. For us – it gave her too much control.

She signed up for field trips at school before I even got the permission slip.

She kept the girls school work and art projects – even stuff made specifically for me.  She said it was for their hope chest.

They were continually asking to switch weekends, but when I needed to switch, “that just won’t work – we already have plans”.

I could go on all day with this stuff, most of which sounds petty – and it is.

My feelings were not taken into consideration – ever, and that’s where the problems lied. Had they just discussed things with me first I would have been more than willing to share.

I worked full time so I couldn’t go on all the field trips. 

I don’t have room for all their art projects, but I felt I deserved first dibs.

My ex and his new wife didn’t respect me, my beliefs, time or personal boundaries.  They took advantage of me because boundaries hadn’t been clearly set and stated.


How to Set Boundaries to Build a Healthy Relationship with a Co-Parent and Step-Mom


Here are some things you need to know about setting boundaries which will demand respect and help to build a healthy relationship with a co-parent and step-mom:

  • Put it down on paper. Everything you’ve recently felt about not being respected by others should be carefully thought out. Words that have been said or situations you’ve been bulldozed into and that are unacceptable to you should be analyzed.  You should know exactly how you feel about the lack of respect by redefining your values. Values and belief systems change as we go through life and you may need to re-evaluate them periodically in your life.
  • Communicate your boundaries with others. This is the tricky part. You don’t want to seem unfeeling and come across as mean or angry. But, you do want to be kind and explain how you’ve come to the conclusions about how you want and expect to be treated.
  • Expect difficulties when you first communicate your boundaries. While some people will be openly pleased that you’re taking a stand to protect yourself, others may balk at your newfound boldness. You may feel uncomfortable with your efforts at first, but they will get used to the new boundaries – and so will you.
  • Be flexible and understanding of your boundaries. Healthy boundaries don’t necessarily mean rigid boundaries. Healthy boundaries are based on a sense of mutual respect and the goal of a healthy boundary is that you gain more respect from others and have more self-respect for yourself.

Examples of Boundaries to Set


Following are a list of boundaries you may not initially think about, but maybe things you want to discuss with your ex before the need arises.

I’ve also put together a workbook to help you formulate a plan/record of what is expected of everyone. Sign up below to download.

 There are no right or wrong answers to setting boundaries – no two families are alike. Your list may look different than mine, but this will hopefully at least help open the lines of communication and get you started. 

  • What should the kids call the new stepmom/dad?      

Are you comfortable with the kids calling the new stepparent mom or dad or would you prefer they call them by their first name?

  • Discipline

Who will handle disciplining the kids and to what degree?

  • Doctors’ Appointments

Who will be allowed to take the kids? 

If you are working and the kids just need a quick strep test or a flu shot, are you ok with the stepmom taking them.

Do you want to be present for all appointments regardless of whose parenting time it is, or does it depend on what the appointment is for?

  • Child Care

During the day when you are at work where will the kids be if they are not in school? If the stepmom stays home are you ok with her keeping them or should they go to daycare?

While financially the stepparent keeping them makes more sense, it also gives them a lot of control which may bite you down the road.

If dad needs to be out of town for a few days during his time, will the kids stay with you or still stay at dad’s with the stepmom to not break the routine?

  • School

Conferences – who will be allowed to attend and will you each have your own or joint conference?

Field trips – is it ok for the stepmom to attend?

Sick days – Who will take off when the kids are sick; you, dad, or will they stay with the stepmom?

  • Appearance 

Haircuts/Coloring hair – this is one that actually is in our standard parenting plan and it surprised me that it was.  I didn’t really think it was a big deal on who took them for a haircut until wifey cut my girls bangs – that was a sore spot for me for about 10 years.

Ear/body piercing

Clothing – Will the kids have clothes at both houses or will they back a bag to the other? Will there be restrictions on what they can and can’t wear?

Some boundaries that should NOT be broken include:

  1. Speaking negatively about the other parent.
  2. Trying to replace the other parent.
  3. Getting in the middle of disputes not involving you.

There may be items on this list that you’re wondering why I even included. You may be thinking, as I did in the beginning, that of course, she can’t take them to the doctor they aren’t her kids. But like I mentioned before if the kids just need a simple strep test or flu shot and wifey is home all day do you really need to take the day off for that?

Just like the saying, ‘no two snowflakes are alike’, neither are any two families.  What works for your family may not work or others.  

We all have our own opinions and ways of doing things and when someone new enters into the picture and tries to change that, tensions flare and feelings get hurt.

Communicating your expectations from the get-go with your ex is the best way to help reduce the tension and ensure everyone is on the same page.

So long as the boundaries are made clear from the get-go, everyone will feel as though their voice was heard. Therefore, you all will be able to work together as a team to create a positive and loving environment for yourselves and the children.

Setting boundaries will definitely demand respect for your feelings and values if you know how to enforce them. It does no good to write down what your boundaries are and how strongly you feel about them if you don’t follow through.

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