Traveling as a stepfamily can have its challenges. It takes time, energy, and patience for stepparents and stepchildren to think of one another as insiders rather than outsiders, and to become comfortable spending long periods of time together.
One way to cement the family bond is to experience new things together, thus creating new memories as the stepfamily. And few things make memories as lasting as family travel — “Remember the time Timmy threw up on the plane?” “Remember when we got that flat tire on the side of the mountain in North Carolina?” “Remember the great pool at that hotel in Nashville?”
Here are a few ideas for boosting the fun and making great memories while vacationing as a stepfamily:
1. Those long car trips are perfect for getting to know one another while playing trivia games. If the kids are younger, ask trivia questions based on their favorite books or cartoon shows. If they are older, try music trivia questions. And remember, everyone gets to play and everyone gets to make up questions to ask. It’s a great way for you and your step children to get to know each other. They get to learn a little about you, too. Who knows, your new teenage son might actually be impressed to learn that you once saw the Rolling Stones in concert.
2. Be strategic about the electronics. If you have the ability to play a movie in the car or on the plane, try to come up with one that everyone will like. Better yet, visit the library and check out a couple of books on CD that might interest everyone (which gives the driver the option of participating in this family bonding moment as well). If that’s not possible, don’t immediately say no to individual electronics. Hand-held video games and iPods may not promote family bonding, but they can promote individual happiness, which is never a bad thing. Set some limits though–the games and iPods have to be turned off during family meals, for example.
3. Let the kids have a say in the vacation. Depending on the age and cooperation level of the children, you can simply let them come up with an idea (once you set a time and money limit to ensure the activity is reasonable) or you can make it a multiple choice question: Which of these three activities would you like to do this morning? The multiple choice option gives you some control and can increase the likelihood the activity will work for everyone in the family. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to choose–if you’ll be gone three days with three kids, that’s one kid choice per day. If you’ll be gone three days with four kids, make it two activities per day for two days and parents’ choice on Day Three.
4. Break bread together. It’s tough to get families together for meals at home, but it shouldn’t be tough when you’re on vacation. Eating together is a critical part of family bonding. And it gives stepfamilies a chance to build rapport and respect, as well as get to know each other better.
5. Document the vacation. Taking plenty of pictures helps the memories last. Be sure to take a photo of every family member individually, in groups and as a entire family (there’s always another tourist nearby willing to snap the photo so you can get in the picture, too). Then, frame the family photo and exhibit it in the house for everyone to see. As for the other photos–think about using them an excuse for another stepfamily project: Let everyone choose their favorite photos and help make a scrapbook of the trip .
Judy Graybill is a stepfamily coach. Visit her at http://www.sensiblestepsolutions.com