Been There, Traveled with Them, Now I’m Tired…

I love vacations! No, I mean I really LOVE vacations. I live for planning a trip somewhere. Whether that is a short weekend an hour away, a cruise to a new exotic location or a family trip to see grandparents, I LOVE it. There is something about getting out of our day to day routine, unplugging a little more and creating memories together that I just adore. We get to have adventures and bond in ways that we can’t at home. We are faced with challenges we wouldn’t be at home and get to see who we really are. (No, really, vacations often bring challenges. Ask me someday to tell you about our car in Georgia!) So, why am I choosing to write to you about vacations, when honestly how can anyone think there’s anything wrong with family time??? Well, that’s because when you are planning vacations in a blended family… there is suddenly a butt load of challenges that nuclear families have to deal with.

This past year our family had some big changes. My step daughter’s biological mom moved out of state and she moved in with us full time and started public school in our district. We began an out of state parenting plan where she is spending most of the summer and school breaks with her mom, step dad and other siblings. We get a lot of time together with her and we are so thankful, however, a large amount of that time is school time. We actually pulled our kids out of school for 4 days this year to go on a cruise. (BEST vacation ever for a family of mixed age groups, by the way!) Next year, we don’t think we can do this as my step daughter’s schedule is getting more demanding with school, work and dual enrollment and AP courses. After meeting with her career counselor and discussing this with her, we have decided that vacations during school days are not what’s best for her as she feels utterly overwhelmed to catch up. With summer and school breaks as our only options for vacations, we are a bit more limited now. Then, we need to take into account our time sharing schedule and try to plan around that. Suddenly, our vacation time opportunities are VERY limited.

This year, I earned a travel voucher through work. It was very exciting (because, did I mention, I LOVE vacations?) We originally planned to use it to go overseas this Summer. My step daughter was going to travel to Europe on a short term foreign exchange trip before traveling to her mom’s for the Summer. We were going to meet her there and spend some time together. Sounds perfect right?? Well, as can happen with raising kids, our plans didn’t work out. My step daughter made some decisions that caused us to say that her foreign exchange trip wouldn’t happen until next year or her senior year. My husband and I then decided that traveling overseas with a very wild 2.5 year old wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do this year, and we would only be able to go during the time our teenager was with us which didn’t really work out with our work schedules.  Our travel voucher had to be used in this calendar year and our time that we were all together and the kids are out of school really was very limited. We stressed about how to make it fair, how to include everyone, how to make it fun for all the kdis of different ages etc etc. I am sure I will get some negative feedback for what we decided, but this is why I am writing this. There isn’t a one size fits all answer for raising kids, especially in blended families! We only have my step daughter for a week or two this summer and during that time I will be doing annual appointments, school supply shopping, registration etc. We will definitely spend some time doing a fun weekend trip, but our teen has already expressed that she really wants to spend as much time as she can with friends after being gone for so long. (That’s not normal for a teenager at all, is it??!?)

So, with all of the schedules considered, ages of our children and the expiration of our voucher, we booked a trip this summer without my step daughter. To say that we have struggled with guilt would be an understatement. It’s funny because the trip we chose wouldn’t even excite her, and she has some awesome vacations planned with her mom’s side, and yet we have literally lost sleep over feeling guilty! But the truth is, we can’t stop living our lives just because she is away living hers in her other home. We decided to take our smaller children to Disney. We live in Florida so our teen has experienced Disney often and wouldn’t feel like she missed anything.

How, as a parent do you balance those guilt emotions? How do you provide “fair” experiences when living in a blended family? A couple things that really help me while planning our family vacations is understanding that our family is made up of multiple family units. My step daughter is living life at her mom’s. She is not being “excluded” from our family. My sons are living life with us while she is away. While there are certain trips we would never take without her, we can’t always schedule everything together due to the complicated schedules blended families have. We also always keep the children and what is best for them in mind. It is best for my step daughter to have a healthy realationship with both homes. It is best for her that we encourage this. It’s best for my sons that we keep our home running as normally as possible while she is with her mom. There isn’t always an easy answer, but the one thing we have always tried to do is just make sure that no matter what my step daughter knows she belongs, that she is loved in both homes and that we miss her even if life is going on without her, and acknowledging her sadness if she feels she has missed out. We encourage her to share her experiences and vacations that she has had without us, and we share ours with her. Communication is huge in our home.

Are you carrying guilt or struggling to find balance? Are you a family trying to figure out what is best for your home and your children? There isn’t an easy answer, but just remember, your home keeps running even when there are people who aren’t home. Your step children have experiences you aren’t part of and it’s ok to have some that they aren’t part of. If your motives are pure and you consistently try to consider what is best for all members of your home, your children will feel that love. And lastly, remember you aren’t alone!

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