Summer will be here soon and you might be planning your next vacation. Among the list of things to decide… where you will go, when will you go and who will be going. If that last decision makes you nervous, you’re certainly not alone.
Working stepmothers have limited time off a year. Vacations are expensive. Everyone wants to have fun on their trip and enjoy each other. If you have children of your own, or children with your husband, you will likely want them to go with you.
However, if you are a part of a family that has not blended, you may have cause for concern. Given the unpredictability of your relationship with your stepchildren, your vacation could easily turn into a nightmare.
Stepchildren who resent their stepmothers can make a vacation miserable for everyone. Body language, passive aggression, negative attitude, pouting, being argumentative, or incessant complaining can turn everyone’s focus away from having fun together. With everyone staying in tight quarters for extended amounts of time, there may be no escape. You may find yourself dreading your vacation long before it even happens.
Your husband is in a tough spot. It’s his vacation too. Of course, he would like his entire family to be there with him. It wouldn’t be fair to leave his kids at home. On the surface, his argument is understandable.
However, it also means he’s choosing to overlook a complex history of stepfamily dysfunction while hoping that everything just works out. Very often, everything does not just work out.
Choosing to overlook the negative feelings that often lurk in stepfamilies leaves everyone worried that the worst will happen. With no one addressing the situation, no expectations or boundaries are made and there is no assurance that the vacation everyone hopes for won’t turn into a painful memory.
So what do you do?
1. Communicate with your husband – Explain your concerns. If you’ve had vacations go south in the past, consider having two shorter vacations rather than one long one. Take his kids on one, and not on the second one. Stepmothers are often blamed when stepfamilies don’t blend. Blame doesn’t do anyone any good in a blended family. If dysfunction exists, it should be addressed. It means that individuals in family have been hurt and have unresolved feelings. If someone in the family has a history of continually acting out on those feelings, it shouldn’t mean that every vacation be doomed. It means you and your husband will need to strategize to find solutions that work best for everyone, rather than continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
2. Plan events that put you shoulder to shoulder, rather than eye to eye – Too much down time can create havoc for stepfamilies on vacation. It can lead to too much time for thinking, building more resentments and sending messages of disapproval. Plan activities that keep you together, but side to side. Create your schedule in advance – mini-golf, bowling, horseback riding, hunting for shells on the beach, water skiing, snorkeling, etc. Leave less time just hanging out in the room or spending too much time sitting in a restaurant.
3. Involve your stepchildren – If your stepchildren don’t want to go and make that clear, talk to your husband. They shouldn’t be pressured to go. If they do want to go, have some family talks about the trip. Present them with different activities and get their feedback. Bringing them into the planning will make them feel included and more a part of the trip rather than feeling like an outsider.
4. Plan some time alone with your husband – If the children are too young to leave alone, find a professional babysitting service nearby. Check out their reviews and call in advance to ask questions and book the times. Having dinner with your husband will give you both some time alone and provide your kids with a break from you as well.
5. Have a plan if things turn sour – We always feel better if we’re prepared. Have a plan for what you will do if your stepchild acts out toward you. Don’t go without considering how you will respond. You always have options, but you might not realize them if you don’t think about them until you find yourself in a stressful situation. You can have a “time out” signal with your husband that indicates you need some time away from his child. Plan on not being overly emotional or reactive. Practice neutral statements and practice your tone. Stay pleasant and do not let one person’s attitude explode a family trip into misery by allowing it to spread. If your stepchildren need consequences, make sure they come from your husband. If the trip becomes too miserable, have a backup plan. It might be cheaper to cut the trip short, than to ride it out and use up the rest of your vacation days and money if it becomes apparent that the vacation is doomed.
We can plan our hardest to have a great time on vacation, but we can not control others. Not everyone experiences the success of a blended family who can go on trips and make memories together. For families who struggle with getting along, it is necessary to think outside the box when planning trips so that nobody ends up regretting it every time. Hopefully you have, or someday will have, a blended family that blends.
If you’re reading this, there is a chance that you have not achieved blended bliss in your stepfamily. If that’s the case, you’re not alone. You deserve a vacation, one that you enjoy. If your experiences have been cut short by family chaos, you’ll need to change your plans so that you can get the R&R you need.