Reality TV queen Gemma Collins, 41, recently said she was “buzzing” to be on her first family holiday with fiancé Rami Hawash, 48, and his son Tristan, three.
And she isn’t the only celeb to share blended family getaway snaps.
Kate Ferdinand, 30, enjoyed a break in the Maldives with hubby Rio, 43, their son Cree, one, and Rio’s kids, Lorenz, 15, Tate, 13, and Tia, 10. But while blended families are the fastest-growing family type in the UK, they face some unique challenges.
Kate admitted in an OK! interview recently to “crying every day for a year” after becoming a stepmum.
“All family holidays can be intense, but blended families have an extra layer of emotions to navigate,” says Navit Schechter, a parenting therapist and the founder of Conscious & Calm.
So, if you have a blended family, make your first getaway a success with tips from Navit and Professor Lisa Doodson, author of How To Be A Happy Stepmum and founder of the Happy Steps parenting website.
1. Prepare the kids beforehand
Introduce your families slowly – a two-week holiday abroad is probably not the best place for everyone to get to know each other. That needs to happen way before you get to the airport.
“The slower the integration, the easier it’ll be,” Navit explains. “Start out with meals together, then sleepovers, then perhaps an overnight stay away, followed by a UK mini-break, before you try a longer holiday.
2. Give everyone their own space
Providing plenty of space makes it “easier to manage some of the more intense feelings”, Navit explains. Lisa says that, rather than going for a hotel where room is limited and you’ll be living on top of each other, a house might work better. Tempted to chuck all the kids into one big room? “Discuss it beforehand,” says Navit. “Younger children might find that exciting, but older kids might hate it.”
3. Choosing a location
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When planning a getaway, you hope it will help to build relationships and strengthen bonds in your new family – just bear in mind the old adage that less can be more. “Keep it simple, don’t be over-ambitious,” says Lisa. “Don’t start with a week in the Maldives. A short, cheap break in the UK is a better starting point.”
Talk to your kids about it well in advance, and share photos of where you’ll be going, so they know what to expect. Also ask them what they want from their holiday. “You can do this individually, before a group discussion, so everyone can have their say,” says Lisa.
4. Set holiday rules before you go
If your parenting style differs from your partner’s, iron it out before the beach. For example, you don’t allow phones at the table, but he does, or you have different bedtimes. “You need to compromise,” says Navit. “My partner and I have different views on sugar. I don’t allow much, but on holiday I allow more, for the sake of harmony.”
5. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly
There are bound to be some meltdowns. “Big feelings will arise,” admits Navit. It could be scary for children to be away from their other parent, or there might be some sadness or resentment.
“In a blended family, there’s a lot of loss,” explains Lisa. “While the adults may have moved on, the children might still be grieving.” Remind yourself it isn’t personal and they might just need time to catch up. “Whatever their feelings are now, they might change in the future,” adds Navit.
6. What if our children argue?
You can teach children they need to be kind and polite to people, but ultimately they need to learn to navigate relationships by themselves. “If they’re bickering, leave them to work it out,” says Navit. “Only step in if a disagreement gets physical.” And when the squabbling drives you nuts? “Deep breaths!” says Navit. “And spend time with each of the children individually.” If problems do arise, go to dinner early to give you time to talk things through.
7. Don’t expect everyone to do everything together 24/7
“You don’t have to all be knitted together for the whole holiday,” says Lisa. “A small amount of quality time together is better than forcing everyone to do things they don’t want to do, creating resentment.”
Planned activities can help with bonding, but find out what the kids like in advance. “It will come down to personal preference,” says Navit. So, for example, if his teens want to stay in bed until 3pm, but you and your kids want to hit the beach at 9am, you could agree that they meet you in time for lunch.
8. Mix it up
“Try not to separate the two halves of the family down biological lines,” says Lisa. So, rather than you taking your kids and your partner taking his, he could take the younger ones for a bike ride, and you could take the older ones shopping – or vice versa. Then you begin to blend.
“If you are a step-parent and don’t have your own children, don’t be afraid to take some time for you,” adds Lisa.
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