As we head into warmer weather and spring holidays for school, we need to start planning how we are going to handle those holidays. I know it seems a bit early, but there really is no such thing as early with you are dealing with the complications of biological family or rules for foster children. Down time from school is always a fraught time for kids, even if they are still having to deal with remote learning. Any change in routine, even a good change, can add to their stress and anxiety.
Advance planning is a key part of lowering that stress. Whether you are working with the biological family of a stepchild or biological family and caseworker for a foster child, you will have to navigate a lot of emotional land mines. Identifying them early will make it more likely that you can find an early solution. Even if you can’t avoid the land mines completely, you can prepare yourself and your child for the fallout.
One point to remember is that planning is a process. You don’t need to have an actual plan right now. You simply need to start the discussion. It may be hard getting everyone on the same page, or even to agree about what a custody order says, but you can at least start narrowing down the areas where you disagree.
Don’t hesitate to set boundaries in your planning. You may or may not be able to satisfy everyone’s desire for time with the children, or a trip out of town. Be sensitive to your child’s needs, but balance that against the needs of everyone else in the family. Insist on a schedule that works for your family and not just for a few people.
That being said, don’t forget to be flexible. You may need to postpone your plans for a great spring break vacation in order to facility reunification of a foster child, or to help your stepchild work on a relationship with biological family. Recognize that, if the child spends most of his or her time with you, then you have more opportunities than anyone else to schedule events. Maybe you need to scale down a trip to just a long weekend or substitute some other event.
Which thought leads me to another important principle — plan a unique celebration for your immediate family. Whether you are parenting stepchildren or foster children, you are forming a unique family team. You need to do all you can to build relationships within that team. Part of that building process is resisting the forces that tend to divide the kids into “ours” and “theirs.” Complex blended families and foster families usually see different sets of children visiting with different sets of biological relatives at different times. You need to accommodate each child’s desire to visit with his or her own biological family. But in the rush of scheduling for everyone, build in some time for your family to celebrate together with no outside distractions.
This family time can be something simple, like a family dinner-and-a-movie. It can be service-oriented, or just a day at an interesting museum. The details of the project are not as important as there being a project. Time and the opportunity to work together are essential to the relationships that you want to build in your family. Don’t miss the opportunity to provide those tools during your school breaks.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of down time. You don’t have to schedule everyone’s time with lots of fun, or even educational, things to do. Give your children — and yourself — some time to just relax. If you stay at home, ignore the laundry for a few days and take the kids for a picnic or a hike. Let them spend some of their time on useless activities — even video games can have their place. Humans are not designed to always be working or learning or active. Your children need to relax just as much as adults do.
These principles won’t get rid of all of your stress, but maybe they will help lessen it. Plan ahead, prioritize relationships, and let your kids enjoy their break as much as possible. This year, find a way during school breaks to actually take a break.