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.