This week my 12 year old daughter left to spend the summer with her mom in the northeast. The school year ended last week so she’s free to just relax and enjoy life – as carefree as ever. She’s very much looking forward to some downtime the next couple months.
Last weekend, before she left, our family had a getaway – a mini vacation of sorts. We went to the west coast of Florida and took a little break to spend some quality time together. It’s as good a time as we’ve had in quite a while.
That got me thinking about something. What if we took that same trip this coming weekend - after my daughter already left? It certainly wouldn't be the same. Then I wondered about other families like ours - those that have a child who's a member of 2 households - and particularly when the households are in different states. How do you include the kids in your family activities when they're often away with their other parent?
When my former wife and I divorced almost 10 years ago, our daughter became like so many other kids who have seen their happy home become two homes, with her going back and forth between both of them. Because our divorce was a very unpleasant process, I knew the importance of letting our daughter know that despite what happened between her parents, she has always been and will always be loved and cherished.
Over the past several years since the divorce, quite a number of life changes have occurred for our daughter: my ex-relocated to her home state with her; then our daughter came to live with me; then I got remarried; then our son was born. You can read about how it all came together in The Story of My Blended Family. But these are significant changes and she had to adjust to each of them.
Through it all, I’ve done my best to ensure that with all the changes taking place around her, my daughter would always feel loved and very much a part of each of her households. So as much as possible, I try to plan special activities around her schedule. Special family getaways like the one last weekend are timed so that she can be a part of them.
Understandably, there are times when that's not feasible but it's an ideal to aim for. For example, with her away for the summer (till August), if we have a July 4th Independence Day activity, it would happen without her. But as much as possible, we try to plan special activities with her in mind. My wife and I talked about having a Labor Day barbecue in September after my daughter returns, where we’d invite family and friends. If we do it for the 4th of July holiday, she’d miss it. It’s all about making her know that she’s a priority in all we do.
Why do I share this? Because I believe that kids from blended families are particularly vulnerable. It's easy for parents to take for granted the fact that the kids have to adjust to the changing circumstances. Since I went through the divorce, I have tried, as much as possible to have our daughter have as normal a life as one could have - even with divorced parents.
I recall times when she would say, "All my cousins have their mom and dad at home; why do I have to go back and forth between two homes?" What's a dad to say in response to that? Well, here we are years later and her perspective has changed so much. She appreciates the collective efforts by her mom and me to make her life as smooth and carefree as possible. Interestingly, last weekend while we were on our trip she said, "I'm the luckiest girl alive! I have 2 homes where everybody loves me. I’m here now having the time of my life and I’m going to my mom next week to have more fun." What a difference in perspective!
If you're a parent of kids who have 2 homes, please do your best to create the environment where they feel that they're an integral member of each household. Plan your family activities around their schedule as much as possible. Let them know that their happiness is your top priority. If they feel insecure about the changes taking place around them, encourage them with kind words and follow up with kind deeds. Be consistent in displaying your love for them. That does wonders for their self-esteem.
Kids are a joy and a wonder. And those of us who have the privilege of being parents are fortunate. When our marriages and other relationships don't quite work out, let's remember that our role as parents is the role of a lifetime - nothing can undo that. Let's do our best to assure them of our unchanging love - both by our words and deeds. By including them in our activities, that lets them feel valued and appreciated. And that's what parenthood is all about.
Enjoy your day.
The Upbeat Dad