Last week, I had a meeting with a coaching client who was simply fed up with the different expectations and standards her stepchild had at their other home.
As she unpacked her stepchild’s school lunch after school one day that had been prepared at the other home, she found three things: macaroni and cheese, Pringles chips, and banana pudding.
My client was beyond frustrated. This was a complete 180 from what was allowed in her home. How could she possibly instill the importance of nutrition when those lessons were actively undone in the other home?
It seems like just one of those things we add to the list as a stepmom, right? We have impact… until we don’t. We have impact… but not always as much as the parents.
I helped my client turn the narrative around and see all of the ways that she does have impact, even when her rules are undone in the other home, and I want to help you do the same.
Because even when your stepchild has different rules in their other home, you can still have a huge impact, my friend.
It’s not harmful.
Kids are far more resilient than we give them credit for.
Kids are adaptable, and they’re able to transition between a different set of rules at each of their homes. It’s not necessary to try to conform the rules to match between the homes or to forego expectations that are important to you because they don’t align with the other parent’s values.
Stick to your guns, and trust that your stepchildren are able to adapt to each home’s expectations as easily as they’re able to adapt to each home’s separate floor plan. If you wouldn’t buy an identical house on the exact same street as your co-parent to help them adapt more easily, there’s no reason to do the same with rules.
Just because you require more fruits and vegetables at lunchtime, the other parent enforces an earlier bedtime, or screen time limits differ between homes does not mean the child has less of a chance to grow up and be healthy and successful.
(Plus, if you do try to live and parent in a home with rules and standards you don’t agree with, you could easily end up in a place feeling resentful and like you don’t have control in your life.)
It doesn’t have to be inconsistent.
I once had a client seek advice for how to respond to her stepson who would consistently forget to recycle in her home and when reminded, would say “Why is it so important? I don’t have to do it at my other home.”
Feels like a sticky situation, doesn’t it? You don’t want to say the other parent’s values or priorities are wrong, but you want to teach why they are important to you.
There are a couple of ways to tackle this:
Everyone has different values and things they prioritize and find important in their lives.
It doesn’t make one right or wrong (unless we’re talking about harming others), but it’s part of what makes each of us unique and beautiful.
We all get to make our own choices and form our own opinions.
We aren’t told what to believe or how to think, and it’s up to us to do the research to learn the facts for ourselves.
It’s important to never talk poorly about the other parent. You will want to avoid saying “Your mom is wrong” or “Your dad is dumb if that’s what he said.”
Instead, focus on how we all have different values, different research we’ve done, and different priorities. Every parent is doing the best they can to raise their child in a way that they think best prepares them for adulthood. That will likely look differently for each of us.
(It’s also TOTALLY okay to pass these conversations onto your partner and have them be the one to navigate these potentially precarious conversations.)
It doesn’t have to be obvious.
Continue to role model healthy behaviors and values that are important to you.
Your stepchildren will pick up on those behaviors and learn from them. It doesn’t always have to be a very obvious conversation about “This is why we do this” or “This is why this is important.”
Sometimes, the best way to teach important lessons is to set a positive example. The more your stepchildren see you eating healthy foods or limiting waste, the more curious they will be and the more impactful your words will be.
I understand it’s frustrating.
You might feel like your time or efforts are wasted, but they’re not. Your stepchildren see your contributions, and whether or not they realize it, your lessons are sinking in.
Comparing your house’s rules to the other’s, stressing about what your stepchild eats on days they’re with their other parent, or worrying about how their parents’ divorce will impact them longterm doesn’t serve your most important goals. It only makes things harder on yourself.
If you’re struggling with different house rules, or another part of stepparent life, consider reaching out to see if stepmom support coaching would be a good fit for you. I’d love to help you find more control and happiness in your blended family!
P.S. Remember it may not be possible to align house rules—or co-parent at all with a difficult ex.