Stepparents: Coping with the Weekend
By Karon Goodman
One issue that causes continuing problems for many stepparents is the every-other-weekend visit of stepchildren. Perhaps you know those feelings that start a few days or even a week before the visit? The fear, the dread, the uncertainty, the insecurity -- all very real and upsetting. And as much as you wish you could, you just can't seem to get past them.
If you're a non-custodial stepparent, the time just before the stepchildren visit may include anxiety and depression and even fights with your spouse, often dwelling on problems from the last visit. Or the anticipation of another hostile weekend may seem like more than you can handle. The weekends together are supposed to be filled with bonding and blending, but instead, stress and hopelessness set in. The weekends feel more like punishment than promise, and you count the minutes until Monday.
How do you handle those feelings surrounding your stepchildren's visits? Is there any hope for dealing with what only feels like a terrible disruption to your life? Let's try to find some solutions that will help.
Keep your distance. Some stepparents find that the weekend may go well, but the arrival of their stepkids can be stressful and uncomfortable. So they arrange to be away for the first few hours their stepkids arrive so that they and their parent can reconnect and share some time alone. Sometimes, just that little consideration gets everyone in the right frame of mind to enjoy some time together. Other stepfamilies do something as simple as having the same traditional meal every night the kids come to visit. It's a way of signaling the transition to this family.
Keep your rules. In some families, arrivals can be especially touchy because the kids will often bring habits from their other parent's home - habits that you may not allow. You may feel like you have to start all over on every visit, and making up the same ground gets exhausting. Consistency is the only defense.
Kids can adjust to different rules at different homes, but they may need a few minutes. Give everyone time to settle in, and if you need to, go ahead and address this issue head on. Go over your house rules, remind the kids of the consequences, and then expect them to comply. If they don't, follow through with the consequences. They don't have to like the rules, but they do have to learn that they're real.
Keep your perspective. Don't you hate it when people tell you to just deal with -- it's only a couple of days? Well, in this case, it is. Sometimes just telling yourself, "This, too, shall pass," can get you through.
Limit your anxiety. The visit will only last for 2 or 3 days, so try to keep your anxiety confined to that time period, too. Fight those feelings that try to overtake you days before the visit by not dwelling on it. Instead, set aside some time, either immediately after the last visit or the morning or evening before the next visit, to discuss with your spouse issues that need decisions and plans. The rest of the time, push the negative thoughts out of your mind. Of course, you can't pretend that your stepkids don't exist or won't be coming back to your house, but you can keep it all in perspective. Don't give that part of your life front and center every single minute.
Know the schedule. Find out if there are ballgames or birthday parties or other events that involve the kids and require your help or participation. Any advance preparation will help eliminate some of your stress, especially if you'll be called upon to play chauffeur or entertain guests. Having an idea of what the weekend will look like before hand will allow you to make some choices. Perhaps you can re-arrange your schedule to accommodate the kids' needs, or maybe you can plan something relaxing for yourself while they're occupied with their interests. Either way, the fewer surprises you face, the smoother the weekend will go.
Anticipate, but don't expect, problems. That sounds like the same thing almost, doesn't it? There's a difference, though, and it's all in your attitude. Think about what may become an issue during the visit. If it's a recurring problem, talk with your spouse and try to find a solution, even if it's just a temporary one to try for one weekend. Look for simple steps that you can take to make even a tiny difference.
On the other hand, consider the possibility that the weekend may go well. Just because you've had problems in the past doesn't mean that every visit will be a disaster. Be prepared for events that may trigger problems, but don't look for them where they may not exist. Be open to the idea that your weekend may go well.
Look for the positive. Because every weekend is another opportunity for your family to grow together, pay special attention to any positive developments. Even a kind word where none existed before or a surprising 'thank you' from a distant stepchild is something wonderful to build on. When those kinds of things happen, take note. That's where the bonding starts.
An absence of hostility is another positive development. If your stepfamily is at odds, just being able to peacefully co-exist is a step in the right direction. So be grateful for what doesn't become a problem. If you make it through your next weekend together, you have a better chance of making it through the ones that follow. Good luck!