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Respect My Authority!

How stepmoms can set boundaries with their stepchildren-without being wicked.

By Jacquelyn B. Fletcher

When a stepfamily unit first moves in together, it's pretty easy for women to clench up and try to control everything in the household, including the children. But this is a mistake, ladies. Try to breathe and sit back. Watch the kids and find out how the house was run by your husband before you came along. You are the stranger in the house. And it's not your place to be disciplining the children right away or demanding that they clean their rooms and make their beds every day. It's your job to get to know them. Find out what rules they are used to living by.

"Stepfamilies are very different from biological families" says Michele Diamond, a licensed independent clinical social worker who specializes in working with stepfamilies near Boston. "The biological dad and the stepmom have to have really clear communication between the two of them. They must work together as a team. But the biological parent, especially at the beginning, has to be the one who sets the rules for the family."

Your husband must step up to the plate. He's got to take the lead on the parenting instead of just sitting back and letting you do it, especially in the first few years. "Dad's got to be supportive when you decide what your role is," says Patti Kelley Criswell, a licensed clinical social worker in Portage, Michigan. "If you say, 'I can't stand it-the dishes aren't done,' he has to be the one who says to the kids, 'Come on, guys, let's do the dishes.'"

Telling Dad he doesn't know what he's doing with his children can leave him feeling criticized and defensive. So tread lightly when you're having discussions with your husband about parenting.

But Stepmom needs to feel heard and empowered, too. There's nothing worse than feeling that you're invisible or walking on eggshells in your own home. What most stepfamily experts recommend is that the couple sit down together and hammer out a list of household rules together that Dad then presents to the kids along with what the consequences are when they are not followed. That way, you can feel included, but Dad still takes the responsibility (and blame) for the rules.

To help you get started, here are some rules we came up with for our house:

  • Don't interrupt when someone else is talking.
  • Shoes must be placed inside the front-area bench so the dog won't eat them.
  • All homework must be done and checked by an adult before the television is turned on or games are played.
  • If a bedroom door is shut, you must knock and wait to be invited in.
  • Flush the toilet after you use it.
  • You either help make dinner or you help clean up after dinner.

Excerpted from A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom by Jacquelyn B. Fletcher. Visit her website at Becoming a Stepmom.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.

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