Summers for blended families can be as stressful as they are rewarding. We recently had a week of “staycation” with our six children. I just wanted to share some of the lessons we learned (or were reminded of) during this week.
1. Your kids just want to spend time with you.
More than anything else, what kids want most from their parents is time and attention. Perhaps this changes as they get older, but this is true for our family right now. In a blended family, I think this is even more true, especially if you are not the primary custodian. For me, it is challenging to constantly hear “Daddy,” “Daddy can you do this?” “Daddy, watch me.” “Daddy, can we…?” “Daddy Daddy Daddy.” Seriously, there were times that it just drove me up the wall. (Notice that it wasn’t “Mommy Mommy Mommy” haha. Can you tell which of us is the more “fun” parent?) At the same time, I think it is AWESOME that they want to spend time with us. For me, it’s about balancing the personal space with the family time, and I feel like we are learning how to do that better.
We both felt it was important that we take the opportunity of vacation/staycation to spend a day just with “our” kids. While it was less important for my two as they get me all the time, this was definitely something that my husband’s kids needed. And I do mean needed, not just wanted. We focus a lot on blending our families, but it is vital that the kids know that they are not losing their biological parent. We can’t facilitate this segregated attention on normal weekends, but during the summer, it’s a little easier to make it happen.
2. Kids are going to fight, even on vacation.
Kids will be kids, and having disagreements or fights is normal. It’s bound to happen, maybe even more so on vacation since you’re off routine and potentially in a new environment. In our case, we elected to do a staycation this year, which I think helped. The kids were in their home environment and we were comfortable sending them outside to play, which gave them some much needed space. I only remember one fight in any detail, involving three of the six kids, all of whom were in the wrong. After we discussed what happened, they ate dinner, took showers, went to bed, and woke up the next morning buddies again.
Go into your vacation expecting there to be some disagreements. You’ll be better prepared to handle them when they do happen. It’s unrealistic to expect the kids to behave 100% of the time on a regular day, much less when they’re excited to be on vacation! Give them some grace.
3. Make allowances in your schedule for spontaneity.
Kids can be so creative. Having our staycation allowed them some freedoms they might not get if we had been staying in a vacation home. They had full access to their arts and crafts bins, as well as all of their toys. When we went on vacation last year, we had most activities planned out for the day and we didn’t stray from that plan very much. Staying home opened up opportunities for late night dance parties and karaoke, complete with invitations. The kids loved organizing these parties, and we had fun just watching them hang out and have a good time together! Here are some of my favorite “fun” moments:
The sign in sheet for the karaoke / limbo party (apparently there were age restrictions)
Crazy dance party – DJ was teaching them the cha cha slide
How low can you go?
4. Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be memorable.
As I said before, your kids just want to spend time with you. They don’t necessarily care what it is that you’re doing with them – just that you do it together. Some of my favorite memories from our staycation were practically free – the dance parties, limbo, getting our hair cut with our favorite hairdresser, watching my daughter finally learn to swim! Look up things to do in your area that you wouldn’t normally do. Find some parks or historical monuments and make a day out of it. Do a road trip to local waterfalls, or you-pick farms. We spent the day at a local lake, playing with some of our blended family small group friends. It was relaxing for us and fun for the kids!
5. Vacations can be educational and fun at the same time!
We took a couple of day trips during our staycation. One of them was down to Sullivan’s Island. We spent the morning on the beach, where we learned about sand dollars, blue crabs, horseshoe crabs and boats.
We enjoyed our packed lunch of sandwiches and fresh watermelon before spending the afternoon at the pool, where my daughter finally got the confidence to go down the slide without someone to catch her, learned to swim, and learned to dunk her head under water. She had gotten some swimming instructions earlier in the week from one of our blended family small group moms, and she was able to apply it one her own! Then, we took the kids to Patriots Point where we were able to tour an aircraft carrier, submarine and destroyer.
They really enjoyed learning about these boats. DJ especially likes seeing the kitchens…and this recipe for 10,000 chocolate chip cookies!!
I especially loved watching my daughter read in the back seat while we drove. She is definitely my daughter!
6. Everyone needs a little quiet time.
One thing we’ve implemented for ourselves and are still working to implement fully with the kids is our daily quiet time with God. We started each day of staycation the same way we start every other day – with a cup of coffee and our Bibles. This really helps us start our days out on the right foot.
I followed up my quiet time with a solo run on several mornings. That is my “me” time, which is very important for me. I’m more introverted than my husband and can get overwhelmed with the sheer number of kids in our household. Running allows me to clear my head and focus my thoughts.
There were a couple of days where we all had some siesta time, as we call it. 30 minutes in your bed just chilling. If you sleep, that’s great. If not, that’s ok too, but you better not get up grumpy or you’ll go back. I think this helped to keep the number of real fights to a minimum.
7. Surprises can be fun!
I am not normally a fan of surprises, but for our staycation, we kept the daily activities a surprise for the kids. This helped to prevent disappointment if we had to change plans due to weather, and kept them guessing about what we were going to do next. It was awesome to see their faces when we arrived at the beach – they didn’t figure out where we were until we got to the beach (even though we drove over the intercoastal waterway). They were all so excited when they figured out how to dig up the sand dollars (though they were disappointed that I made them put them back and wouldn’t let them bring any home).
8. Blended Summers do get easier.
To be honest, last summer’s first blended family vacation was difficult. This year, I think we had a better understanding of what to expect and had strategies to deal with the various issues that arose. So if this is your first blended summer, I encourage you to just power through it. You might spend a lot of time on your knees in prayer, and that is OK. Know that you are not alone and that it will get easier with time. This summer gives me hope for our future summers (and other extended visitations).
What lessons have you learned during your blended summers? We’d love to hear from you!