The Holidays Are Coming – But There's No Break For Stepfamilies

With the dark nights closing in and heating being turned on in our homes we can safely say that summer is now behind us. However, for some stepfamilies there is a blessed relief that business as normal can be resumed.

Most parents struggle to balance work with their children’s long school holidays, but for stepfamilies this can bring additional challenges.

As a psychologist dealing primarily with stepfamilies, I find that my weekly ‘postbag’ is full of requests for help in managing this tricky area. Most stepfamilies have a regular routine, where they know what days of the week the children are likely to be staying. Often weekends alternate and children skip between their biological family, spending time with each parent and seeing their wider family network.

However, summer holidays usually mean this routine is abandoned, with rash promises of looking after children given by one or other parent. This often means that they have to retrospectively negotiate with their other half – the stepparent. Biological parents can frequently be left feeling frustrated and ‘in the middle’ of this exercise. They’ve made promises to their ex partner about the holidays, and now they’re either going to disappoint them, or risk falling out with their new partner.

My advice to anyone in this situation is not to commit to any changes before checking with their partner first. This may sound obvious, but it is generally one of the biggest and most recurring problems. Negotiating with an ex partner is difficult and people often want to finish these conversations as quickly as possible. So, when your ex asks if you can look after your children for an extra week over the summer, the default answer is usually ‘yes of course,’ particularly if you don’t see much of them during term time or regular weeks.

The answer should always be ‘let me check and get back to you later this evening’

My suggestion to fix this is really very simple: the answer should always be ‘let me check and get back to you later this evening.’ This…

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