Stepmom coach and author of "The Stepmom's Book of Boundaries," Claudette Chenevert, shared with us her personal stepmom story, what kinds of boundaries stepmoms need to be setting, and her best stepmom moment.
In her own words....
Claudette, tell us about your stepmom story.
I met Bernard via a dating agency in January 1990. This was way before
Match.com or any of those apps you see people swiping right and left. The
selection process was coordinated by this one guy who read our 8 page
handout of what we wanted in a future partner. No pictures were involved so
this was totally blind - in terms of appearance. I was a single mom of a six
year old boy, owner of my hairstyling salon as well as an educator and
trainer for Paul Mitchell at the time. I had little time for going out to meet
guys. My employees coaxed me into trying the dating thing. And was I ever
glad when I met him.
We hit it off immediately. We talked non-stop for ten hours. I went on this
date with nothing to lose, meaning I had planned on asking (or
interrogating) him everything about his past relationships, including why it
didn't work out. This was key because I felt that if he blamed everything on
his ex-wife, then I wasn't interested. I believe that we all play a part in
the success or failure of our relationships. Within a few months, we "moved
in together" as in we still had our individual homes, just spent most of our
time in either one of them. Within seven months, he moved to Montreal to be
closer to his daughters and I uprooted my son and myself to move in with
It was very rocky for the first ten years of our relationship together.
Bernard's family didn't approve of him being with a woman with a child of a
previous relationship. Hi ex-wife kept making our lives difficult by going
to court, changing the schedules, moving at least seven times in seven years
(which meant different schools for the girls as well.) She even sent them to
boarding school two hours away from where we lived, requiring us to drive
that two hours to pick them up and drop them off when it was our weekend.
In 1997, an opportunity was offered for us to move to Virginia for Bernard's
work. After researching all the requirements and paperwork to have all three
kids move with us, we once again uprooted our family in order to better our
lives. I gave up my work in order to become a stay-at-home mom for
the first time in my life. That first year was the hardest in my life. Not
only was I stuck at home with three teenagers who couldn't care less whether
I was there or not, my husband was travelling more than ever. I was alone,
in a different country with no friends or family.
After several major melt-downs from each one of the family members, I
decided to go to get my BA to pursue a dream of mine to work with women in
helping them live happier and healthier lives. Like any relationship, ours
ebbs and flows with the times.
Why write this book? Who needs this information?
Setting healthy boundaries is an area that many seem to have issues with. What's OK? What’s not OK? As stepmoms we don't always have good, healthy positive role models to help us in what healthy boundaries look like. I decided to write
this book. It's based on research, personal, and professional experience. The
topic of boundaries often comes up with my clients so I felt it was time
to write a book that would get them on the right path of what. And like I say in my book, take what fits your unique family situation and leave the rest be. We may look similar on the outside, but inside, we have unique needs and wants to address.
Where do you see the most need for setting boundaries in stepfamilies?
An area where there is the most need is in understanding what roles each of us play in a family, in our own home. We can't change other people but we can change ourselves. I think that is the first and foremost thing to remember. And that's an
important boundary to remember. You can't change others so focus on what you can control.
What are the biggest mistakes that you see new stepmoms making with regard to setting boundaries?
Not setting any. Seriously! I've had stepmoms come to me telling
me that they feel they are being walked all over. That's not OK. Don't be a
bully either where you demand your stepkids and your partner do what you
ask, or else. I see a lot of complaining and moaning. Although it might feel
good in the moment, it's not helping you or changing anything in your life
and in your stepfamily either. Start with setting some small yet important
boundaries - just one. Be consistent (another key factor) in honoring that
boundary. It could be something like "please knock on the door before coming
into my room." And then give praise for when that boundary is respected.
What do you hope this book will do for stepmoms?
My goal and hope is to give the tools stepmoms need in order to feel in control of their lives, so that they can feel whole. It's also about creating a strong and healthy
family life so that when the children leave home to build and create their
own families, they will feel they have had what they needed at home to do
just that. This isn't a quick fix type of book. It's filled with examples
and activities for you to do by yourself and with your partner, but like
everything in life, it takes time, energy and commitment. If its worth it,
then you'll find the ways to implement the strategies found in the book.
What advice do you wish you had been given as a young (or new) stepmom?
Be yourself. Don't try to please everyone, because no matter what you do,
someone's not going to like what you say or do. Don't forget who you are and
to love yourself. You're going to make mistakes just like every other human
being. It's OK! When you make a mistake, apologize, say you're sorry and do
better next time. Setting boundaries is good and healthy for you, your
partner and the kids.
What’s been your greatest stepmom moment?
My greatest stepmom moment was when my stepdaughter got
married and in her speech, said thank you to me for always being there even
when things were really hard between us, for never giving up, and for being
consistent in who I am.