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SUMMER VISITATION IN STEPFAMILIES: Providing Warm Memories. . . or Surviving Mayhem

Summer is here! That means spending more time with stepchildren who areis301-020 out of school on summer break. For many stepcouples it means an extended visit from children who live elsewhere the rest of the year. Here are some tips for stepcouples and stepparents to make the most of their time together this summer

Now’s the time to prepare your heart and your home!

Prepare your heart

• Know that transitions are tough on children. Lower your expectations a notch or two. Ease into family routines slowly rather than expecting stepchildren to smile and sit up straight at the dinner table from Day One.

• Build – or rebuild – your relationship with your stepchildren slowly. Be flexible. Realistically, stepchildren (and biological children, too) are likely to ignore and reject you at some point. Don’t take it personally.

• Expect meltdowns. Visiting children have major adjustments to make. They miss their home, their absent parent, their friends, their pets, etc. Tears, withdrawal, and anger are common reactions. It won’t last long.

• Before the visit, talk about and agree to a coparenting plan. Who does what? What are the roles you expect from each other? From the children? Who does the disciplining? It’s advised that the biological parent take the lead in disciplining and the stepparent be in a supportive role as friend, mentor, role model instead of trying to be parent.

• For Stepparents: Know that children and biological parents, especially those who don’t see each other often, need time to connect. You may feel left out. Your spouse and his (or her) child are just taking care of some biological family business. Be patient and understanding. You’ll soon have your spouse back.

• For stepcouples: Pay attention to your couple relationship during this time. Support each other by talking and listening. Take time to check in and connect with each other often. It’s OK to get a babysitter and have a date together.

Prepare your home

• Make your home kid friendly so they’ll feel welcome. If possible provide a space a child can call his own.

• Create a place for children to play and hang out. Have age appropriate toys and games for them to enjoy and for you to enjoy with them. Kids like to do artwork, hang their pictures and photos, read, put on plays and watch TV.

• Word of warning: Keep your valuables and stuff you don’t want children to get into in a safe, out of the way place. Don’t invite temptation

Make a plan

• Before the children arrive, make a phone call to inquire about their food and activity preferences.

• Plan some activities. Start looking for day camps, classes, and activities at the library or area parks. Having some planned events creates structure and forestalls boredom. Scout out the neighborhood kids . . . and babysitters.

• Plan for one on one activities between the biological parent and children alone so they can renew their relationship and get caught up.

• Also plan for activities to include the stepparent, stepsiblings and extended families and friends. Make it simple. Some of the best time between adults and children is car time and simple shopping.

Before and during the visit, step back and think about what memories you want the children to have and what stories you want them to take home. Then do your best to make those memories happen.

Susan Wisdom, LPC
June 2008

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6 responses to “SUMMER VISITATION IN STEPFAMILIES: Providing Warm Memories. . . or Surviving Mayhem”

  1. the evil step mom says:

    My step sons are teen agers. They just don’t like me – their mother has basically told them that if they like me they don’t like her. So they ignore me the whole time they are here. I just give them space. I push my husband to spend time with them alone. They won’t eat if I cook. The tension is horrible – after four days they mellow but on the seventh day they go home. Then when they come back it starts all over again. I’m just emotionally drained. I just don’t feel my husband understands how I feel. My kids like him. I don’t expect miracles but it would be nice if my husband would hold me at night, tell me he loves me and that it will all work out. Instead the whole situation causes tension between both of us. He thinks I’m pushing him away when I suggest a dad-son outing. Besides that I really thinks he wants me to “play” mommy and I’m not their mom. Any advice?

  2. Susan Wisdom says:

    To “the evil step mom”
    I’m sad to read about your situation. I wish your step sons could be given the opportunity and encouragement to feel positive about their stepmom knowing that you are not trying to interfere in their relationship with their biomom.

    Can you discuss this calmly with your husband at a safe time and place? Start with small steps.
    Good luck,
    Susan

  3. Karen says:

    To the “evil step mom”:
    I can relate. My stepdaughters actively try to cause trouble between my husband and I and he just isolates making them angrier. Everything is my fault. Just cook, and tell them if you don’t want my cooking you can go hungry. In whatever words… and stop trying to push your husband to do things with them. Let him pick the time he spends with them. Ignore them and keep being yourself with your husband, that will show them their behavior isn’t rewarded. Have fun without them – if they want to have fun then they can stop the attitude. Play with the children who want to, such as your children and your husband. Maybe your husband feels pushed away by you and forced to deal with it your way and he’d rather support you.

  4. Linda says:

    Hello: Thank you for this great article. With summer starting and me newly divorced, I have been stressing out about the visitation process. This is great information I can use.

    PS I have also read your book and loved it. Thank you for all you do.

    Linda
    Chula Vista, CA

  5. Angel King says:

    Wow I cry as I read these blogs, I have felt so alone for so long!! I just recently started taking a stance, and I feel my life is at peace for the time being. I don’t miss my stepdaughter, because I don’t miss the nine years of drama. I am no longer asuming responsibilty for her anger towards me, Iv’e done my best!

  6. The Wicked Step Mom says:

    Can understand completely my step kids spend greater then 50% of their time with us, actually me. Their mom and my husband are just always busy doing something else. It doesn’t matter what I do they say I’m trash. Their mom has acutally thrown them out of her house at different periods of time, they end up with us, I try to be supportive and I’m still horrible as soon as their parents say all is forgiven. My husband is anything but supportive. His kids have called me everything they can think of no matter what I do or how much it cost me (yes they do speak to me politely when asking for money like I need money for college tuition because my mom wont help), so now I just try to be polite (yes sometimes for weeks on end because their mom is needs a break) and just appreciate the great relationship I have with my own two children, friends and extended family. I’m still not sure how it will end but I dont question if I have don the right thing by trying to support them, I know I have. If things go terrible wrong and the marriage ends, I have no regrets because my behavior was appropriate and I did what was right, thats all I need to know.

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