My stepdaughter spent 42 days with us every summer, usually broken into two chunks. That’s a lot of time with the sweet girl we only saw four days a month during the school year! I don’t know about you ladies, but I was a bit anxious the first few years, wanting the time with her to be full of memories but also to feel “normal.” I got lots of advice from mom and stepmom friends alike – including the gems below. Let’s look at each of them, and what I learned from the experts – my stepkids.
- They’re just “visiting.” I know it’s called visitation, but that doesn’t make the kids visitors. My stepkids have two different moms. We were custodial with my stepson, and non-custodial with my stepdaughter…which presented its own unique set of challenges. We always made sure my stepdaughter knew she was an equally valued and equally loved member of the family. I always spruced up my stepdaughter’s room with new paint or bedding, put out her favorite snacks, and tucked in a surprise like lip balm or a new book. Even if circumstances or finances mean that kids don’t have their own room, there are ways to carve out a space and make it feel like home.
- It’s summer vacation…no chores required. Um, no. Extra mouths to feed means extra hands to help, as my mama would say! Whether you assign chores like laundry or dishes, or ask for help in the moment, having kids pitch in around the house creates a sense of ownership. My husband always told the kids that it was their house too – meaning that they were responsible for helping take care of it.
- The kids have to be entertained every waking minute. It’s really okay (and in my opinion, really necessary) for kids to have regular downtime. In fact, we stopped planning things the first night that my stepdaughter arrived (including weekend visitation) so she could settle in and decompress. I’m a planner by nature, so this was a hard lesson: kids need space on a physical and emotional level, just like adults! I am not suggesting that they should hole up in their rooms for hours on end, and screen time isn’t the same thing as down time. But giving kids space to talk to the other parent, catch up with friends, or just relax to a favorite show or book can help balance the busyness of summer activities.
- Don’t be Disneyland parents. I have always disliked this phrase, primarily because it’s always associated with non-custodial parents taking their kids on vacation…like that’s a bad thing?! We could spend all day arguing about child support, and if one parent pays enough or the other parent gets enough. The point is, whether you’re headed to an all-inclusive resort or a road trip to the Midwest, take time to catch your breath, get refreshed and bond as a family. Some of my stepson’s favorite memories with his mom are on her family’s annual trip…and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
- The kids should be with you 100% of the time. I recently chatted with a new stepmom who mentioned how bummed out she was that she and her new husband wouldn’t get a date night for more than a month. When I asked why not, she explained that his kids would be at the house for the first part of the summer. Sweet friends, you have to make your marriage a priority. I promise you, it’s okay to spend time as a couple during summer visitation. (You can imagine this poor woman’s horror when I told her that my husband and I went out to dinner by ourselves at least one visitation weekend each month!) The same goes with summer camps or weekends with the grandparents. Here’s a good litmus test: if you had full or primary custody, would you schedule your time the same way?
“Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” – Psalm 119:18
My stepdaughter is turning 22 this summer, and I often bounce blog post topics off of her to get fresh perspective. She shared that as much as enjoyed spending the time with her dad, brother & I during the summers, it was terribly hard for her to be away from her mom for that long. As a non-custodial parent or stepparent, it can be hard to understand…unless you stop thinking about loyalty and start focusing on love. If you are struggling to connect, or anxious about the extended visitation period, I encourage you to take a step back and ask the Lord for fresh eyes and an open heart.