March marks the beginning of Spring which includes a Spring Break vacation for many families. 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.
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. In the beginning, we limited the number of times our kids could have ice cream and it 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?