Tips for an Enjoyable Stepfamily Vacation

Throwing family members together for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on even the most stable family. For a fragile stepfamily, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Tips for a Peaceful Stepfamily Vacation

So if you’re headed out for an adventure with your stepfamily, take along a few tools to keep peace. Here are some tips to consider:

1.  Ask your stepchildren for help in the planning stage.

Gather ideas and brainstorm options at a family meeting to gain participation from everyone.  Kids feel included and assume a better attitude about a vacation when they get to offer their ideas. While relationships are bonding in the early years of your stepfamily, make plans for shorter trips to prevent tension-filled days as a result of too much togetherness.

2. Make the trip fun and spontaneous by breaking a few house rules.

Bring along your sense of humor and allow the kids special privileges they don’t get at home. On our first cruise, our youngest son spotted the self-serve ice cream machine the first day. For the first few days, ice cream was only allowed after noon. But by the last day of the cruise, the ice cream rule evolved to ice cream at breakfast and other times throughout the day. The kids knew it was a special treat that would change when we returned home, but they fondly recall running to the ice cream machine together as one of the highlights of the cruise.

3. Be mindful of the kids.

A stepfamily vacation isn’t the time to insist on quality moments with your partner–that can happen on a separate trip with just the two of you. For a successful stepfamily vacation, assume a mindset of creating lasting bonds and memories. Seek to make it a special time for the kids. Even if they don’t acknowledge your efforts now, they will remember the time and energy you spent on family vacations when they get older.

4. Build in down time to rest and recuperate and maintain a flexible spirit.

 Stepfamily vacations don’t always feel relaxing, especially in the early years. Make an extra effort to find activities that promote rest and leisure without a jam-filled schedule. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset or catch the fireflies on a lazy evening. Be willing to change your schedule if plans don’t go as anticipated. Memories are created as family members spend time together doing activities they enjoy, whether simple or elaborate.

5. Keep a positive attitude and expect a few bumps along the way.

Unlikely happenings occur on vacation.  On a cross-country trip several years ago, I watched in horror as a large concrete truck backed into our Suburban, smashing the driver’s window and denting in the driver’s door before coming to a halt. I remember the screaming and sheer panic I felt as I watched the truck ram our vehicle. It screeched to a halt before injuring anyone, but our vacation spirits were dampened as we recovered from the frenzy and repaired our car enough to proceed. We drove the entire week with plastic rattling from the window in an attempt to silence the wind. We laugh with our kids about the disaster of that trip now, but my husband and I had to work hard to keep the tragic beginning from ruining our trip.

Be reasonable with your expectations, particularly in the early years of your stepfamily. Stepparents lose their patience, cars break down, step-siblings argue, kids get sick. Unrealistic assumptions create a sense of failure when plans go awry.

Stepfamily vacations play an important role in creating family identity and a sense of belonging with stepchildren. As relationships bond, it’s easier to spend extended time together. Don’t give up on a peaceful vacation, even if you experience tension-filled days.  Try again next year and the year after that. The memories you’re creating with your stepfamily are meaningful, even if they’re not perfect!

What tips would you add for a peaceful stepfamily vacation?

Related Posts:

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

The Effects of Patience in Blended Families

Finding Success Through the Bumps on Your Stepparenting Journey

As I listened to my husband on the other end of the phone with his daughter, I knew something bad had happened. He handed the phone to me and said, “She wants to talk to you.”

1170300_important_callThrough tears, my stepdaughter, Adrianne, relayed that her boyfriend of six years had broken up with her. When she was home over Christmas, she had told us she thought they would be getting engaged in 2013. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

My heart is breaking for her. I know she’ll work through her sadness but at 27 years old, she’s invested a lot of time in a relationship that’s come to a halt.

I’m thankful she has reached out to us during her difficult hour. She asked if she could come spend next week-end with us. Of course, we’re happy to have her drive the three hours to our place and visit any time.

Here’s the paradox of stepparenting. During her adolescent years, we had the typical stepmom-stepdaughter relationship — highly strained the majority of the time. Research shows the stepmom-stepdaughter relationship is often the most difficult. Our relationship was no different.

However, as she matured through her young adult years, Adrianne began reaching out to me more often.  She began asking my opinion on issues and calling us more regularly. She made it a priority to attend family vacations with us and create stronger relationships with her stepsisters.

Well into the second decade of our marriage, Adrianne and I have a wonderful relationship. I’m thankful we’ve been able to connect and can now enjoy our time together, instead of walking on egg shells when she’s around.

Does it have to take that long to bond with your stepchild? No! Some stepparents connect easily and find stepparenting a joy. But many do not.

The adolescent years of stepparenting are tough. It’s easy to slip into thinking that the relationship will always be strained.

The teen-age years may take a heavy toll on your relationship. But kids do grow up and often recognize the value of their parents when they leave the nest.

Don’t give up on finding success on your stepparenting journey. Maybe you won’t find it in the first decade of your marriage. Maybe it won’t happen until your stepchildren leave home.

But it’s never too late to enjoy the success of a thriving stepfamily relationship when it happens.

Is it taking longer than you hoped to find success on your stepparenting journey? Will you share about it?

Related Posts:

Learning How to Love my Stepchildren

Is It A Privilege to be a Stepparent?

Are You Willing to go the Distance as a Stepparent?

 

When Stepparenting is Messy

I sent my son to bed last night with consequences for his lack of obedience on a homework issue. He wasn’t happy with me and barely said good night as I left his room. But as his mom, seeking to raise a responsible young man, I knew I needed to address the issue, even if he didn’t like it.

He bounded out of bed this morning with a smile on his face and a big good morning. The night before had become a thing of the past that he wasn’t going to hold a grudge about because as my biological child, he doesn’t stay mad at me long, even when I dole out consequences. He’s quick to forgive and let go of ill feelings toward me.

It isn’t always the same with stepchildren. I expressed my opinion several weeks ago with my young adult stepson on an issue I didn’t agree with and he let me know he didn’t like it. He hung up the phone mad and called his dad to fill him on the details, hoping his dad would side with his opinion. For two weeks, my stepson and I had little communication. I knew the conflict would strain our relationship for a short period of time.

I try hard not to compare my stepchildren and my biological children but it’s easy to notice differences in how they respond during and after conflict. The blood bond that exists with biological children gives them a connection that doesn’t easily break. But the fragile thread that exists with stepchildren, particularly in the beginning stages of relationship-building, can easily be severed.

Stepparenting is messy – there are not black and white answers. It’s easy to say we need to defer issues of conflict and let the biological parent handle them but that can’t always happen. My stepson had called me on a different issue that naturally led to the issue that caused conflict. Did I overstep my bounds in how I expressed my feelings with my stepson? Maybe. Would I have expressed it the same way to my biological child? Yes.

How do you cope when it seems you’ve been misjudged in your stepparenting role? For me, I remember that I’m more than just a stepmom seeking affirmation from my stepchildren. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a loyal friend, and a child of Christ. God’s love for me is unending. I cling to His promise in Ephesians 3:18 that says, ““And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may  have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? We can’t escape the love of Christ.

If we allow our worth to be dependent upon how our stepchildren treat us or feel about us, we set ourselves up for hurt. But if we remind ourselves that God’s love for us is everlasting, even if we fail or others mistreat us, we make room for peace.

How do you cope when stepfamily relationships seem messy? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with Your Stepchildren

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection as a Stepparent

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

Back to School – Five Tips for Success with Stepchildren

Our youngest son started middle school last week as a 6th grader and has had some intimidating moments at his new school. He started off in the wrong classroom for homeroom but didn’t discover it until the teacher called roll. He left to go to the correct classroom and finally entered the right room–tardy.

The next day he innocently walked through a circle of 8th graders on his way to class and was belittled by the older kids who insisted he “Go around next time!” And later that day he discovered the bus he rides home includes a few high school students who aren’t always nice to the young ones!

bus School is tough for our kids. Their days are stressful and intimidating, especially for those starting new schools. But we can help make their school year a success. Here are a few tips I suggest:

1. Pray regularly for your children and stepchildren. In her book, The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian says, “The battle for our children’s lives is waged on our knees. When we don’t pray, it’s like sitting on the sidelines watching our children in a war zone getting shot at from every angle. When we do pray, we’re in the battle alongside them, appropriating God’s power on their behalf.”

2. Evaluate your schedule – have you left room to help with homework? It’s easy to inundate ourselves with too many commitments. I evaluate my schedule regularly to see if I need to change/add/delete anything. Raising children requires time and energy.  Our role as stepparents is even more demanding, mentally and emotionally.  If we give all  our energy to outside commitments and demanding careers, what do we draw from to deal with the inevitable crises and unexpected irritants that will surely come our way?

3. Resolve conflict as it occurs. Our children are impacted every day by what happens in our home. If we refuse to be cooperative with an ex-spouse regarding a new school schedule or negotiating activities, our children suffer. Here’s what Ron Deal says on this issue in The Smart Stepfamily: “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children. Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass, for they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.” Someone has to be the bigger person and work to resolve conflict – will it be you?

4. Expect the best of your children. And let them know you love them. Our kids will live up to the expectations we set – they’re looking for someone to believe in them. As I drove my son to school this morning, I told him, “I’m proud of you for keeping a good attitude, even though I know your first days of middle school have not been easy.” Our stepchildren need our support. On days they’re not easy to love, ask for God’s help. “I am with you; …I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

5. Get to know their friends. Make your house the hangout.  If we don’t know our children’s friends, we can’t help them in their relationships. Friends can directly influence what kind of school year our stepchildren/children have. If you’re raising teens, keep food around – it always works. And gently talk to your kids about friends you don’t approve of and why. Childhood friendships are a breeding ground for teaching  what healthy relationships look like.

Are you looking forward to a new school year or dreading it? Will you commit to do your part in helping your children/stepchildren have a successful year?

What other tips do you offer? I would love to hear from you.

Pic by scottchan

Related Posts:

Back to School Routines and Your Stepfamily: Peaceful or Chaotic?

The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent

Change: A Friend or a Foe in Your Stepfamily?

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

“Mom I have mono. The doctor thinks I’ve had it six or seven weeks. He says I might need to quit my job so I can finish out the school semester while trying to get well.”

My daughter’s words were distressing. A 21-year-old college student living in another state, I knew she had been sick but never guessed it could be mono. I felt powerless as to how I could help.

A few days later I received another call from my 21-year-old stepson, also a college student living out of state. “Gayla, I have bronchitis. The doctor put me on an antibiotic but says I need to take a few days off work and get plenty of rest.”

Again the feeling of helplessness came over me. Accepting my role as a mom living 250 miles from three of our children has been agonizing for me at times. But I can’t change it.

It reminds me of the years my stepdaughter and stepson lived with their mom more than 300 miles away and how helpless I felt about their circumstances. My stepson suffered from severe allergies and asthma but lived in a home with two parents who smoked. When he came to visit, we went to the doctor, refilled prescriptions, and sent instructions back home regarding the need to keep him isolated from smoke.

But the instructions were often disregarded.

I couldn’t change his circumstances. I couldn’t change the behavior that took place in their home. I could only control my reaction to it.

The stepparenting journey will inevitably bring unpleasant circumstances and difficult behavior we cannot change. Maybe it’s an ex-pouse. Perhaps it’s a rebellious teen-ager. Or it could be an unforeseen circumstance that disrupts your home, like my husband’s job loss that resulted in an unwanted re-location.

Regardless of the situation, we find peace when we accept what we cannot change, and choose to focus on our reaction and ability  to change what’s within our power.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’ve had my share of pity-parties when I’ve cried out to the Lord about living so far from our children. I’ve pleaded and bargained with Him to change our circumstances.

But I don’t find peace there. I don’t find answers to my struggles. I find discontentment and hopelessness.

I find peace only when I go back to the Serenity Prayer and sincerely pray:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,                                                                                                             Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

What about you? Are you trying to change a circumstance you need to accept? Or have you found peace through acceptance? I’d love to hear from you.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Creating Healthy Boundaries with your Ex-Spouse

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

Coping with  Stepfamily Drama Part Two

Are you Willing To Go the Distance as a Stepparent?

My husband, Randy, and I leave tomorrow to travel to Little Rock to run the Little Rock marathon on Sunday. The picture below is after last year’s race – Randy is on the left.

Randy posted a faster time last year than his previous four marathon events. On our way home from LR, we talked about how he improved his time. Many of his training methods relate to similar strategies we can use as stepparents.

1. If it isn’t working, try something different. Randy had struggled with leg cramps toward the end of each previous marathon race. This time, he sought help from a specialty running store and used some magnesium tablets that seem to have prevented the cramps, allowing him to decrease his walk breaks at the end of the race.

If you’re struggling in a particular area of your stepparenting role and don’t know a solution, it may be time to seek help. Find a pastor, trusted friend or counselor who is familiar with stepfamily dynamics to confide in and seek advice. Check out coaching/counseling options that are offered through stepfamily sites (including mine here).

2.  Be willing to invest a lot of time. Preparing to run 26.2 miles in a marathon is not an easy feat. The training schedule involves 18-22 weeks of strenuous running, along with other cross training workouts. Attempting to run a marathon without the training leads to failure.

Successful stepparenting also involves a lot of time. Stepping into your stepchild’s life and expecting an instant relationship only leads to disappointment. Be willing to spend time getting to know your stepchild, understanding his likes/dislikes, and finding common ground on which to build a relationship.

3. Expect setbacks along the way. Long distance training often leads to injury. The workouts are hard and your body begins to break down. An unexpected weakness shows up through a muscle strain, bone fracture, or ligament tear. With adequate rest and therapy, injuries heal and the training can begin again.

Stepparents can also expect setbacks. A difficult ex-spouse, rebellious teen-ager, or unexpected conflict can lead to setback. It may take months or years to work through a difficult phase, but progress can always begin again if you don’t give up.

4. The biggest prize comes at the end but there are rewards along the journey. The medal earned for completing a marathon is placed around the runner’s neck as he crosses the finish line. However, a sense of pride and satisfaction is enjoyed throughout the training period as a runner sets and reaches goals he never dreamed possible.

The greatest reward for successful stepparenting is experienced as stepchildren leave home, appreciative of strong relationships they share with one another. However, stepparenting also has rewards throughout the journey as bonding occurs and love for one another develops.

Successful stepparenting, like marathon training, has rewards worth seeking. But the journey to the finish line can also be cherished when you choose to keep going the distance, even when it’s not easy.

How do you keep going as a stepparent when the road gets tough? Will you share? 

Related Posts:

There’s Beauty After the Pain

It’s Always Too Early to Quit