Your Questions Answered: Traveling with Stepkids

27 05 2010

Hi Jacque,

First off, I want to thank you for the wonderful resources you are making available to women around the world like me. Reading your book and listening to your podcasts have given me very important support and wonderful perspective on becoming a stepmom.

I’ve been dating my partner for over a year now and moved in with him about 7 months ago. He has 2 beautiful children from his first, 6 year long marriage who stay with us most weekends and on holidays. After listening to some of the horror stories you retell, I know that I am very blessed in our situation. The kids have really opened up to me and like me (their mom does not discourage this) and my partner is a great, strong parental figure who tells them how important I am in the family, is not afraid to discipline, and is a great communicator, both with me and the kids. Of course I’m worried about the teenage years (only a few years away), but I know that working as a team we can handle it.

BM has been difficult over the last few months, as she seems to be in a less stable and satisfied frame of mind. She is quite controlling and judgemental, and doesn’t usually listen to reason, as she considers herself the authority on everything. She’s living with another woman now, although the kids do not seem to be informed if this is a relationship or a friendship and we’re just going with the flow, as it’s not our place to comment on what’s going on in that home. Perhaps you have some pointers on how to handle delicate situations like this, and what to say if questions arise?

What I’m most concerned about, however, is a big upcoming transition, and how our blossoming (still young) step family will adjust. I’m going back to school to get my masters and because my school is across the country my partner and I (and the kids) will have to do the long-distance thing for 2 years. I’m committed to him and we’ve talked it through- he can’t come with me because of his job and because he wants to be close to the kids. I’m not as worried about him as I am about the kids- how they may pull away from me because they see that I’m leaving them, that I’m hurting their dad by being far away, even though I need to take this next step for my career and myself.

Do you have suggestions for things I can do to better prepare them (and all of us) for this transition? To make them feel safe about it and to know that I’m still there for them, even though I’m far away? What are potential stressors and pitfalls we should be aware of that will affect our relationships- both my partner and I and our whole family? Also, suggestions for smart ways to plan our special holidays and times together in between school so that BM doesn’t freak out if we want to travel with the kids?

Thanks again for all the virtuals support and advise. It’s been so helpful over the last several months and I look forward to more podcasts to come.

Dear Stepmom,

It’s fantastic that the kids’ mom has not discouraged them from opening up to you. This is a BIG DEAL. You didn’t mention how old the children are, which does impact my response some. But I’ll give you my general thoughts. First of all, how you will all handle the children’s questions about Mom’s new partner should be discussed by all the adults if possible. Or at least your boyfriend and his ex need to have that discussion so you’re all on the same page. There is a book you might take a look at as a resource: Families Like Ours by Abigail Garner talks about what it is like for kids to be raised by a gay parent or parents. It’s a wonderful resource.

As to your long-distance relationship, you’re right to be concerned. This will impact your bonds with the kids and your partner simply because you won’t be physically around. We have lovely new technology that will enable you to keep in touch (skype, ichat, etc.,). If you want to stay connected you might set up skype calls every week with the kids just to check in with them and see how they’re doing. Write them letters. Stay in touch and stay as present as you can in their lives despite the distance. My advice is the same for your partner. Use the time apart to get to know each other even better through your conversations.

Traveling with the children is something that your boyfriend should also discuss with his ex so that it is not a surprise. Sometimes exes have to provide each other with a letter in order to travel with the children. Find out now what she will be comfortable with and you can then plan what you’ll have to do. I would be prepared to do all the traveling to them for a while just in case the ex is not okay with having them leave.

Since you are a relatively new stepfamily, rest assured that the comfort level with things like travel often changes over time as everyone gets to know everyone else and learns to trust each other’s intentions with the kids.