Step & Blended Family Vacations

FamilyTravelForum shares some resources and advice for step and blended families thinking about traveling together.

At this time of year, when travel planning is in full swing, parents in step or blended families may find themselves on opposite sides of the Vacation-with-Kids issue. Should we take all or some, cater to one age group or another, see your relatives, mine, or theirs?

For some adults, the first combined family vacation may even be to attend their own wedding, now that tropical getaways such as Jamaica's FDR Resort and St. John's Westin Resort offer special "Second Wedding" packages, complete with childcare so that "honeymooners" can find time alone.

You don't have to feel alone in confronting these issues. A Los Angeles Times story noted that the U.S. Census Bureau counted 5.2 million step families with children under 18, making 16% of American children part of a step family. And according to the Step Family Foundation, 64% of families today live in some form of divorced and/or stepfamily relationship. That's a lot of family travelers!

Here are some helpful tips to make planning fun time together go more smoothly.

1. Discuss Feelings.
Make sure each child is comfortable expressing his or her feelings. Plan a "sit-down" where every family member is encouraged to say what type of travel adventure appeals.

Be a good listener, particularly to kids who may be subconsciously concerned about spending time with new siblings in a new environment. Children may be jealous of eachother's possessions, insecure about adults' affections for new siblings, or simply annoyed at having to share with someone new (and uninvited).

2. Respect Individuals & Age Differences.
Experts agree that it can take two years for a step family to overcome the difficulties of change, and find cohesion. Just because toddlers and teens are blended into a new family unit doesn't mean they want to spend their vacation time together. Even new siblings of the same age may resent expectations that they become instant best friends.

At many family resorts, parents will find supervised activity programs for different age groups. While young ones are looked after by counselors, teens can make new friends their own age, and adults can strengthen their relationship by enjoying time together.

Also, children often enter their new family with a deep sadness for the family unit left behind. Allowing some vacation time for biological parents to be alone with each of their own children will make every child feel special, and an important part of your new family.

3. Involve the Kids.
Once you've made some decisions, ask each child for help in planning the trip. If there are aspects of your vacation which don't appeal to one family member, ask the others to become involved in solving the issue. Younger children may need reassurance they won't be left behind during strenuous activities such as hiking or camping; older children may be afraid of losing their independence to the new family unit.

Parents should be aware that discussing previous parenting styles and discipline can be tricky with a new spouse. Adults should work out issues of appropriate attire and manners on vacation, then share expectations and consequences of misbehavior with all children.

4. Review Your Plans.
Once a week or so prior to departure, invite everyone to review the trip itinerary, contribute news about the destination, or express a newly awakened interest. Use positive reinforcement to encourage everyone's participation. In this way, children will have a stake in making the trip a success.

5. Take Traditions With You.
Allowing time on your vacation to maintain some of your new family's new traditions (maybe it's Chinese Food Take-out, or a Watch TV Together night, or a fancy Sunday Brunch) will help children feel secure in a new environment. Use this opportunity to create new traditions recalling what fun you had together on your journey.

References and resources for blended families & stepparenting / stepfamilies

National Stepfamily Resource Center ( - Clearinghouse of information, resources, and support for stepfamily members. Topics include counseling, finances, co-parenting, co-grandparenting, and more.

Stepfamily Foundation ( - Their mission is to assist you to make the family, as it is now, function well. They have created a successful management system for the stepfamily,the unacknowledged majority.

Kids Health ( Living with Stepparents - Article on feelings children might have when a new family is blended together. (Nemours Foundation) – Tips for making a second marriage a smooth and healthy transition. -Help with the issues and problems unique to the blended family. Ways to reduce and manage these problems. You'll find frank discussion, definitions, explanations, resources and many related pages to help children and families.

Blended family resource - Working with blended and step families, working with adolescents, Men's issues, Play Therapy (for children), Interactive Guided Imagery, Energy Psychology, and Gottman approaches for couples. Offers advice, direction, and understanding for stepfamilies everywhere

Eight myths about blended families

To a child who does not belong to one, the term stepfamily may suggest Cinderella's troubled family or the eerily perfect Brady Bunch. Actually, neither situation tells the whole story. In a stepfamily, or blended family, one or both partners have been married before. Each has lost a spouse through divorce or death, and one or both of them have children from their previous marriage. They fall in love and decide to remarry, and in turn, form a new, blended family that includes children from one or both of their first households.

Here are some common myths about blended families:

MYTH #1: Love occurs instantly between a stepchild and stepparent.

Although you love your new partner, you may not automatically love his children. Likewise, the children will automatically love you because you are a nice person. Establishing relationships does not happen magically overnight.

Even when you recognize the time involved, it is hurtful to want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship with you. When people hurt, they may become resentful and angry.

Stepfamily adjustment will be easier if you begin your relationships with your stepchildren with minimal, realistic expectations about how those relationships will develop. Then you will be pleased when respect and friendship blossom and less disappointed if it takes longer than you anticipated.

MYTH #2: Children of divorce and remarriage are damaged forever.

Children go though a painful period of adjustment after a divorce or remarriage. Adults often feel guilty about this, and want to “make it up” to their children. This makes it hard to respond appropriately to each child’s hurt and to set appropriate limits (an important part of parenting).

Research has demonstrated that in time, most children recover their emotional equilibrium, and will be no different in many important ways from kids in first-marriage families.

MYTH #3: Stepmothers and stepfathers are wicked.

Because many fairytales feature stepparents who are unkind or unfair, new stepparents may be confused about their roles. You may be a wonderful person who wants to do a good job, but the negative model of the stepparent can impact you in a very personal way, making you self-conscious about your new role.

MYTH #4: Adjustment to stepfamily life occurs quickly.

Couples are optimistic when they remarry. They want life to settle down and to get on with the business of being happy. However, it can take a long time for people in newly blended families to get to know each other, to create positive relationships, and to develop a family history.

MYTH #5: Children adjust to divorce and remarriage more easily if biological parents withdraw.

Children will adjust better if they have access to both biological parents. Sometimes visitation is painful for the nonresidential parent, but it is important for the child’s adjustment and emotional health – except, of course, in the rare instances of parental abuse or neglect.

It helps if all the parents involved - both biological and step - work toward a parenting partnership. Sometimes this can’t happen right away, but it can be something to work toward.

MYTH #6: Stepfamilies formed after a parent dies are easier.

People need time to grieve the loss of a loved one. A remarriage may reactivate unfinished grieving, which can have a detrimental effect on the new relationship.

A person who is deceased exists in memory, not in reality, and sometimes gets elevated to sainthood. When people remarry after the death of a spouse, they may want a relationship similar to their previous one. New partners may find themselves competing with a ghost.

MYTH #7: Part-time stepfamilies are easier.

When the stepchildren visit only occasionally, perhaps only every other weekend, there is not enough one-on-one time to work on stepchild/ stepparent relationships, and less opportunity for family activities and bonding. Since stepfamilies follow an adjustment process, the part-time stepfamily may take longer to move through the process.

MYTH #8: There is only one kind of family

A stepfamily doesn’t have to be – and probably won’t be – “just like” a biological family. Today, there are lots of kinds of families: first marriage, second marriage, single parent, foster, stepfamily. Each type is different; each is valuable.