So, how would you fill in this blank? This season of the year can bring different reactions from Step parents. What is the “relationship temperature” in your home? Summer can be a tropical paradise, or as cold as the Antarctic. Believe it or not, you, as the parent can set the temperature in your home.
There is a myriad of circumstances that will be occurring in stepfamilies this summer. Some kids will get on a plane to visit their bio parents for six weeks. Other families will welcome a bio kid into their home for six weeks. There can be a nonstop shuttle between soccer camps, ballet camps and art classes.
If travel is in your plans, this is a great opportunity for adventure. Travel can be so enjoyable; and at the same time, so testing our patience. We have heard some crazy stories of family trips that were complete disasters but nevertheless offered the most cherished memories. We took a camping trip pretty early on into the formation of our stepfamily. We highly recommend a camping trip because it’s pretty easy for something to go wrong. Here is an excerpt from our book, Restored and Remarried, Chapter 8:
Some of our early attempts at bonding bring us laughs, even today. One of the best ways to bond a family is to go camping. I (Brenda) had a tent trailer that we decided to take to the Oregon Coast. The kids (all teens at the time) were excited to get out in the woods. Conversations of who was the biggest pyro ensued. There would be incredible sand dunes too to jump off of as they were working on their skateboarding skills.
We got to the campground and found our site. My kids jumped out to help Gil guide the tent trailer into our home for the weekend. Gil’s kids ran off to check out where the bathrooms were and all there was to do. My kids were really concerned about backing this trailer in. “Does Gil know how to do this? Is he going to hit the tree? Watch out for the electrical outlet!” Although Gil had done this a million times and was good at it, my kids were freaking out. Gil’s kids were oblivious to their concern. They had seen their Dad do this a million times. Moving on…
I appreciate how organized Gil is. He is Mr. Prepared. I must admit I appreciate an organized campsite too. We got everything settled and had a wonderful dinner. As we were setting the boys up in tents, Gil asked for help putting up a tarp over the trailer and the tent. Gil’s kids were ready to help. My kids said, “Why do we have to do this? It’s not going to rain. This is a waste of time yet, they were respectful and helped.
About one or two in the morning we heard it. Drip, drip, and then light filled the tents and the sky roared. Then, you got it…a huge downpour. As we all woke up and checked to make sure we were dry; all was OK so we went back to bed. In the morning my boys sheepishly said, “Gee, that was a good idea, putting up that tarp, we would have been soaked!”. Now we see why you did that, Gil, thanks”.
We still laugh today at the downpour that was not supposed to happen. That was one of the first steps of trust my guys had with Gil.
With more family time together during summer, look for “on-ramps” to your step child’s heart. Move out of your comfort zone, into their world. I (Brenda) was not familiar with the skateboarding world. Kyle, Gil’s youngest son was really into it. I was looking for that “on-ramp” with Kyle and saw skateboarding as the place. No, I wasn’t brave enough to take a bowl or try a kickflip, but I could take photographs. So, I asked Kyle if we could go to the local skate park and do a photoshoot of him skating. His eyes lit up. I learned a lot when I intentionally stepped into his world. I felt like I got to know his heart better and he was grateful (I hope) that I made the effort. I don’t think you can ever go wrong by at least making the effort.
The hardest part about making that effort, especially toward a step kid that drives us crazy, is to step out of ourselves(I think that’s why we’re called step-parents). As the step-parent, we need to be the adult and at least make the effort to engage with our kids. Now, remember, the child sets the pace of the relationship with the said step-parent. You may take steps to engage and the child will shut you down. Don’t stop. Adjust your efforts and be considerate. Also, don’t forget, whatever the age of the child when you got married, it usually takes that same many years for you to have a clear take off toward the “on-ramp”.
We highly recommend enforcing the dreaded “Triple F Night”. The definition of the “Triple F Night” is this: Forced Family Fun. This is where all members of the family (at least in the home) do an activity together. Have the kids take an active part in planning the activity or you could be really brave and surprise them. If you have teens, you may get some resistance; but they’re teens, they are supposed to act that way! When kids have an opportunity to hang out and do something fun, they learn a lot; like how to get along with people different from them, how to develop a healthy respect, and keys to forging a deeper connection because of a shared experience (which can build better communication and increased trust).
What is ahead for you this summer? We encourage you to take a deep breath and set a positive tone. Look for those “on-ramps” with your stepkid/kids and study them. Make it a goal to learn something new about them and their hearts. Offer adventure and time to just hang out. Always forward…