Planning a family vacation with your step or blended family? We share resources and expert advice to make step and blended family vacations — and any travel together — a success.
At this time of year, when travel planning is in full swing, parents in step and 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 several tropical, all-inclusive resorts offer special “Second Wedding” packages, complete with childcare so that “honeymooners” can find time alone.
You Are Not Alone in Planning Step or Blended Family Travels
You don’t have to feel alone in confronting these issues. Step and blended families are just another variation on the outdated “two parents two kids” nuclear family. Smart Stepfamilies notes that 40% of America’s married couples with children are “stepcouples.” Stepcouples means, Smart Stepfamilies says, that at least one partner had a child from a previous relationship before marriage.
More recent research suggests that 10.5 million children in America over the age of 18 (including cohabiting stepfamilies) live in residential stepfamilies.
Here are some helpful tips to make step and blended family vacation planning go more smoothly. Remember, the planning and the getting there should be as much fun as the being there together.
1. Discuss Feelings When Planning Step and Blended Family Vacations.
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 and 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 time off together on a step or blended family vacation. 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 in your Blended Family Vacation Planning.
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 and teens 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. Repeat. Let Everyone Get Used to the Idea.
Once a week or so prior to departure, invite everyone to review the step and blended family vacation trip itinerary you created together.
Encourage every family member to 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 and Create a Blended Family Culture.
Allow time on your step and blended vacation to maintain some of your new family’s new traditions. (These traditions may include Chinese Food Take-out dinners, or a Watch TV Together night, or a fancy Sunday Brunch.) Familiar traditions help children feel secure in a new environment.
Use this travel opportunity to create new traditions recalling what fun you had together on your journey.
Other Resources for A Step And Blended Family Vacation
“Travel With Others” by Nadine Nardi Davidson is aptly subtitled “Without Wishing They’d Stayed Home.” In this old but classic guide, Ms. Davison offers hundreds of psychologically sensitive and astute observations. Best yet, she has practical solutions for resolving conflicts with almost any type of travel companion, from pets to in-laws, bosses to step kids.
The Step Family Foundation has an online listing of qualified counselors who specialize in divorced, step and blended family issues, links to other resources, and seminars across the country.
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