Extending the Season: Adjusting Smoothly from Summer to Fall Time-Sharing
By Sarah Kinbar, BigBlendedFamily.com
Over the summer, we spent a lot of time at the beach, in the pool and on the lake–loose, silly, unstructured time. Thanks to the vacation clause in our time-sharing agreements with our exes, our four children (Todd’s two and my two) spend two vacation weeks with us in addition to the regular time-sharing schedule. These stretches of summer together time breed intimacy that we all cherish: the hugs and “I love yous” increase many times over. But once the kids go back to school and the normal schedule kicks in, it’s harder to maintain that closeness because we just don’t have as much time together.
As we get closer to the first day of school, I’ve been thinking about the issue of diminished impact that most blended family parents deal with. You can teach, guide, love and support your children when they are with you, but the rest of the time, when they are with their other family, your parenting shifts from hands-on and active to something more nebulous (unless you are the type to frequently call them when they are with their other parent!). You can pray for your children, plan ahead for their return home and practice self-care (and those are all good things) yet the parental instinct inside you wants to be sure your positive influence is instilled in their hearts so they feel your support every day, wherever they are.
If you share custody with your ex, how do you keep ties strong once you’re back on your regular time-sharing schedule? Nothing can replace time spent together, but some of these tips can help.
1. Create a summer memory book or photo album.
Last year I uploaded images to my Shutterfly account throughout the summer. One night per week I would harvest the pics from my phone and Todd’s camera and choose the cutest ones to upload. When the kids went back to school and I wanted to make an album that portrayed our summer together, it was easy because the images were already uploaded–procrastination was not an issue. All I had to do was select which images would go where in one of the site’s photo album templates. It was inexpensive to print and I made extra copies for relatives. The album not only reminds our family of the fun we had, it also cultivates togetherness for our extended family who have been supportive of our blending.
2. Choose summer activities that can extend into the fall.
Because we live in Florida, in many cases there’s no distinguishing between our summer activities and our year-round activities. Swimming and boating continue well into the fall, so there isn’t an abrupt shift in our our free time shapes out. But even if we lived up north, there are things we do year-round that translate across seasons, like family outings to the science center and YMCA, and playing favorite board games. Over the past year we’ve made church a more regular part of our lives. The continuity helps keep us strong.
3. Feel out your involvement at your step kids’ school(s).
Some schools are great about communicating information and volunteer opportunities with both households a student lives at, but let’s be honest: most aren’t. There’s a mom culture that tends to exclude not just stepmoms, but even dads. Since schools rely so heavily on moms to support their programs through volunteer efforts, they are going to support them politically and show favoritism, so you’ll have to make a special effort to get even basic information. This year, my partner hasn’t received basic information directly from the school about his daughter’s enrollment there, and my ex hasn’t gotten any messages from our daughter’s new school either. The best way for this to be corrected is for the child’s mom to clearly and kindly inform the school that dad and stepmom should be fully informed, and to provide their contact information. The second best approach is for dad to contact the school and ask for direct communication. The third avenue–and this is the path of most resistance, unfortunately–is for the stepmom (or blended family mom) to seek interaction with the school.
Once you’ve found a way to connect, though, volunteering at all your family’s children’s schools, including your stepkids, is a great way to support the kids and maintain your relationships with them even if they aren’t staying over at your house as frequently. If being involved at school isn’t possible due to your work schedule or the school’s resistance, make an effort to track their curriculum and know what they’re learning from week to week. That approach is less intimate than physically showing up at their schools, but it’s something.