I’m approaching the end of an era. After four years as a single mother to my two boys, my boyfriend and I are talking about next steps. By this time next year, I could be living a very different life as part of a blended family.
To celebrate our time as a family of three, I decided to take my boys, ages 6 and 7, on what I thought might be our last hurrah. A vacation for just the three of us, tailored to our interests and needs. A trip that was uniquely us.
As we flipped through a travel magazine, they whooped when they saw an ad for Prince Edward Island, Canada’s tiniest province. This little island, with a population of approximately 146,000, wasn’t on my radar, but it quickly became the only place in the world my boys wanted to travel.
I decided to go all out.
I reserved a room at the Holman Grand Hotel, located in the center of Charlottetown, the capital city. I booked exciting adventures: lobster-trapping, clam-digging, a farm adventure. I even scheduled a professional family photo shoot on a beach with sand dunes and a lighthouse.
Somehow, taking this trip felt poignant. It seemed to symbolize the end of one chapter and the start of a whole new book.
Yet according to Noah Rubinstein, a licensed family and marriage therapist and founder of goodtherapy.org, my approach may have been all wrong if I wanted to blend our family soon.
“Commemorating the end of single parenthood in a big way can have the potential to backfire,” says Rubenstein, who is based in Olympia, Wash. “If you believe you’re about to undergo a momentous change, it will be a momentous change. What we fear generally happens. If you focus on it being easy, it will be.”
He advises single parents to celebrate their bond with their children every day. That could mean family dinners, creating photo books, telling stories and expressing love daily. “If you want to take a trip or do something special, don’t make too big a deal about it or tell your kids this is the last trip,” says Rubenstein. “Make it a happy, fun time. Kids pick up on our feelings of anxiety.”
Blending families isn’t so simple as thinking positively, says Patricia Papernow, a psychologist in Hudson, Mass., and author of Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn’t. “Stepfamilies are fundamentally different than first-time families,” says Papernow. “In a stepfamily, deeply established relationships and attachments are between the parent and his or her children. Stepparents come in as outsiders to the parent-child relationship.”
While it’s important to do things as a new family, parents and their children should continue to have special time together, even after remarrying.
“We talk about blended families and have a vision of becoming one, but that’s not reality,” says Papernow. “If you act as if becoming ‘blended’ is the goal, you can set yourself up for feeling like you’re failing.”
The goal should be for the couple to become a team — a team that can talk about their many differences in ways that are caring and understanding so they can handle the glitches along the way. And there will be many glitches. “Combining families is challenging,” she says. “Successful stepfamilies know it may take years to build trust in new relationships.”
As I frame photos and make photo books from our trip to Prince Edward Island, I now appreciate the significance of our vacation differently. Whether I’m a single mom or part of a new family, this adventure with my boys wasn’t necessarily the last, but perhaps just the first of many.
Erin Silver is a writer and blogger based in Toronto. Visit her at erinsilver.ca.
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