Excluding kids from ‘family’ vacation is a bad idea
Ex-Etiquette for Parents DR. JANN BLACKSTONE Syndicated Columnist
Q: I recently got divorced and my ex-wife has custody of our three children. I remarried a woman who has custody of her three children. Living with the three stepchildren has been a difficult transition. It has been difficult for me to deal with fathering my biological children at a distance. They do come over every other weekend, and my wife has her children on the same schedule so we can blend the children together. My wife wants to go on a vacation with me and her children. We have scheduled a blended family vacation this coming summer. I’m having a hard time going on a vacation and not inviting my biological kids. It feels like I’m choosing her kids over mine. My wife tells me that there are differences between the kids at our house and my kids at my ex-wife’s house. I agree with what she’s saying, but I’m having a difficult time. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: You may not see that you’re setting yourself up for failure, so let me explain to both you and your wife why taking only her children on a vacation may be a mistake:
First, there’s a fine art to combining families. The fact that your wife thinks that “there are differences between the kids at our house and my kids at my ex-wife’s house” is concerning. It sounds like she’s basing things on where the kids live most of the time — and that is a dangerous mistake to make.
This implies that she perceives your kids as merely visiting, but their “real” home is with their mother — just as she perceives her kids’ “real” home is with her. That kind of attitude promotes favoritism, resentment and jealousy — and there you are, right in the middle wondering why your children reject you. (May not be happening now, but I predict it will if you continue like this). After a while your kids won’t want to visit — and you’re thinking, “Why? What have I done?” You treated them like “step” children.
I rarely use the word “blend.” Reason being, when you blend something you lose the individual components, and an important part of making a stepfamily a bonusfamily is to acknowledge each member’s individuality and history.
Something else — you’re not only a bonusfamily when the kids are around. “Bonus” is a state of mind. It’s up to you and your wife to make those kids feel welcome and included 365 days a year, not just the four days a month they reside with you.
Bottom line, you’re planning a family vacation with only half the family, and your kids could very easily perceive that as favoritism. They may see all this as your wife’s doing and resent her and her kids for taking away their father. Plus, you don’t want your memories of your kids growing up to stop with your divorce.
I can offer a story from my own life: We had tickets to go to an A’s game, and my daughter, my husband and I were on our way when we ran into my bonusdaughter on her bike on her way to visit us. She asked where we were going and we said, “An A’s game.” You should have seen her face. We explained we didn’t ask her because she was at her mom’s that week. It made no difference to her where she was sleeping. She was hurt that she wasn’t included.
Getting all the kids on the same schedule is great, but it doesn’t give your kids one-on-one time with just you. I suggest you check with your ex to add a dinner visit each week that gives you some alone time with your kids. If you live too far away for that — set a Skype date every week and stick to it. Anything to let them know you think of them more than just when they are with you. The weekends can then be designated as Bonusfamily time. Create the family you want. It doesn’t just happen.
Finally, taking only your wife’s kids may be cheaper now, but it could be an expensive decision down the road.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies. com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.