I spent five of my most formative years in California, finding myself. I’d move back in a heartbeat.
I was offered a job in Austin, one of my favorite cities in the world. I wouldn’t hesitate under other circumstances.
I dream of living overseas, teaching English or residing on a house boat. I regret not doing it when I had the chance.
I love traveling and would love to be the adventurer who spends months in different cities, submerging herself in the culture and learning about the various people of the world.
Yet, I’m landlocked.
The hardest part about being a stepmom and helping raise someone else’s child, is knowing that my family’s decisions will always be dependent on my husband’s first wife.
I really struggled with being his second wife, but once I found my purpose and role, things got easier. I wasn’t facing daily turmoil anymore, and I actually became friends—best friends even—with my stepdaughter’s mom.
While I am SO thankful for our friendship, I’m still a little resentful of shared parenting in general.
The Constraints of Shared Parenting
My husband and I can’t leave DFW without either his ex-wife’s permission or risking not seeing our daughter as frequently as we do now. We can’t travel for more than our 1 vacation week each summer without asking for a time swap that works with his ex-wife’s calendar.
When family or friends want to have play dates with our family, we have to ensure it works around the shared parenting calendar or else decline since my stepdaughter would be at her mom’s.
I resent that moms in nuclear families don’t have to worry if their children will be with them wherever they go, and they certainly don’t have to ask permission before they do it.
My stepdaughter’s mom is flexible when it comes to time and allows trade-offs and time swaps often, but she’d never be okay with her daughter being away with us for months at a time (just like we couldn’t imagine her being away from us for months!).
Ultimately, it comes down to a mental shift. Stepparents must learn to give up autonomy and the ability to make decisions unilaterally or else get creative. It’s entirely possible to live freely under a shared parenting agreement; you just have to think outside the box.
Live Freely and Continue to Wander
I’ve never been able to sit still very long. I’ve juggled school, jobs, and extracurricular activities for as long as I can remember. I chose to go to school 1,500 miles from home without a friend on the West Coast because I couldn’t resist the allure of the ocean.
The first year my husband and I dated, we took 5 trips, visiting 4 different states. Our first family trip (to Disneyland!) was exactly a year after I met my now-stepdaughter for the first time. And if our destination wedding was any indication, we plan to continue the trend of traveling and exploring for the rest of our lives.
But we want to include our daughter on those trips – she’s part of our family, after all.
My husband and I aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week, 52 weeks per year kinda employees. We don’t want to spend every day of our year in Dallas, Texas. We want to explore, adventure, wander.
Our daughter seems to be growing up similar to us – loving travel, scenery changes, and new cultures, just as much as we do.
How to Travel when you’re Tied to a Shared Parenting Schedule
Remember the Golden Rule
Treat others as you’d like to be treated, always. If you wanted to move back to California (for example), you shouldn’t have married a man with a child whose parents were both in Texas. Don’t threaten to move away because if you wouldn’t want to be without your child for months during the summer, you shouldn’t ask her mother to be without her child for months during the school year (or vice versa!).
Co-parenting is all about working together, so figure out how to live freely and travel without moving – unless you can convince Mom and Stepdad to move, too (hey—I’ve seen it happen!).
Shorter, More Frequent Vacations
Taking shorter, more frequent vacations instead of longer, more occasional vacations helps to work around custody schedules. It’s pricier this way because you’re paying for more flights, gas, or bus/train rides, but it’s effective.
If you can travel for 4-7 days at a time, neither parent should complain that the child was gone for too long. If you’re trying to take your child on a trip for 2-4 weeks, that’s a completely different story.
Remember: Golden Rule.
There are so many wonderful attractions and sites throughout the USA, I can’t imagine there’s not a handful (or more!) day trips you could enjoy as a family. This is especially helpful for those looking for inexpensive options to sprinkle in between those shorter vacations.
My family recently did a hike through a cave, just a couple of hours from home. It was a great day trip that got us out of our normal surroundings, gave us quality time in the car together, and taught us new things!
Split 2-Week Travels
One of the easiest ways we’ve found to travel freely is to book 2-week vacations and make sure to send our daughter back halfway through so she doesn’t go too long without seeing her mom and stepdad.
My husband and I spend the 2nd half of the trip focusing on adult attractions instead of children’s museums, playgrounds, and other kid-friendly vacation stops.
It’s actually a really great way to travel: the perfect mix of family and couple bonding, both equally important.
Surely you’ve seen the viral story about the family that took their little girl to Walt Disney World! That’s exactly what I’m referring to. Instead of worrying about “my time” or “your time” – just go together!
This is definitely not possible for all stepfamilies. You know your family best, so don’t force what isn’t right for you.
Necessity Drives Innovation
Is this the life I dreamed I’d be living? Of course it isn’t. I was going to be someone’s first wife, we were going to experience childbirth together for the first time, and his first love wouldn’t be such a prominent person in our daily lives. But things change. Life throws curve balls at us, and we have to learn to adapt.
I may dream of living overseas, but I can enjoy shorter trips with my small little family or longer trips split down the middle just as much. I’d rather spend time with them than live alone overseas – there’s really no comparison.
No, the life I have isn’t what I dreamed of – it’s better.
P.S. This is a really interesting perspective from the other side—what it’s like living a vacation week without your stepkids.