Summer is here! That means spending more time with stepchildren who are 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