It's midterm, and many of us are preparing for a minibreak away with the family – in whatever shape or form the latter may take. It may be a "traditional" family unit or it may well be a so-called blended family, of which Ireland has an increasing number, including my own.
But we aren’t all the Brady Bunch. Being part of a blended family presents its own challenges, for parents and children alike, and bringing those challenges on holiday can make it a testing time for all concerned, especially if it’s the first time that everybody in the group has spent extended time together.
So what’s a blended-family holiday like, and what’s the best way to approach one?
For the past six years my partner and I have taken our assorted children away to Greece each year. It hasn't always been plain sailing, but it has always been worth it
For the past six years my partner and I have taken our assorted children away to Greece each year. It hasn't always been plain sailing, but it has always been worth it.
On our first trip the children ranged in age from 13 to 16. This year the youngest was 19 – which presents its own challenges. In the early days we would trawl the resort, looking for inflatables and assorted pool games. This time around we were on the hunt for a reliable taxi service to bring wayward night owls home after a night on the tiles. We also needed to buy lilos – some things never change, even if ones with built-in cupholders are now highly desired.
We have watched our respective children grow and subtly change from young teens to fully fledged (technically) adults who long ago could have chosen to decline the invitation to spend time with us, yet never have. Not everyone makes it every year, and that’s okay, but when they do it’s extra special.
A Greek break has become our thing, to the point that every year we are asked the same question: what date are we going? Right from the early days the balmy evenings have been restorative for us all. Our holidays have been an escape, with any resentment petering out, eclipsed by the happiness of returning to our favourite place.
One of the most crucial factors in making your blended-family holiday a success is space. Ensuring that everyone has enough of it is key, so, if possible, splash out on the bigger apartment or holiday home, to allow everyone to decompress in private should the need arise.
Never comment on the missing parent unless it's positive, and don't expect all the kids to get on – it's okay if they don't. Occasionally there may be jealousy or homesickness, but that's natural too, and should be expected
It’s also important to recognise that you don’t need to spend every minute of every day together. Depending on the age of the children, allow them the freedom to make their own decisions about how they spend their time – as long as they are in a safe environment to make those decisions. Organised outings are all well and good, but not everyone will want to go to everything, and whether you are the parent or the parent’s partner, you need to take these rejections on the chin, without taking it personally.
According to Jennifer Downey, a Dublin mum of two who holidays each year with her children, her partner Marc, and his children, the advice is simple: "Never comment on the missing parent unless it's positive, and don't expect all the kids to get on – it's okay if they don't. Occasionally there may be jealousy or homesickness, but that's natural too, and should be expected. And, last but not least, the same rules apply to all of the children – and these may not be the same rules that apply at home." "Most importantly," she jokes, "enjoy the wine."
Dr Victoria Samuel, a clinical psychologist with Supernanny, suggests that each parent also carve out regular quality alone time with their individual children. "A walk or drive in the car can be great for catching up and reconnecting," she says.
Should all else fail, consider bringing friends along on the holiday. (This is what we do; these days that often means the children bring assorted boyfriends and girlfriends.) The presence of a friend often defuses potentially difficult situations and changes the dynamic, usually for the better. Teenagers and young adults are so invested in their friends that the simple act of inviting one along can make a child or teen feel more secure and anchored in their surroundings.
But, whatever happens, if you’re heading to the sun, don’t forget the lilo and a ball for the pool. Believe me, this is blended-family holiday 101.