I have a 10-year-old stepson. I came into his life when he was four. He holidays with his natural father (who has remarried) three times a year, usually skiing, scuba-diving, trekking in fancy places. While my stepson and I have a warm relationship, the aftermath of these holidays is a little rough on both my wife and me. We end up being the wet blankets who get him back to his routine. We have a six-year-old daughter who does not go on these holidays, and feels left out. Do we stop him from talking about his holidays in front of her? And is he going to slot me as the boring father and his real father as the fun one?
I can see that you have your work cut out for you! However, having said that, let me reiterate (you know it already, but you need to have faith in this) that your so-called “boring” presence is actually an extremely steady presence in the boy’s life. You’re there at mealtimes, to put him to bed, listen to his day-to-day issues, work on homework and, most importantly, as someone who loves and supports his mom. Surely that amounts to much more than all the skiing and scuba-diving anyone can do with him.
Quality time: Being a great dad isn’t about taking your son on an exciting holiday.
Two things: You use the word “fancy” about the holidays. You need to stop thinking of the vacations as some superior form of interaction. The natural father does what he thinks is appropriate to maximize time with his son, who he sees only in set periods. While it may be coming out that way, you are not really being “upstaged” in any way. So what I’m saying is that you need to be more at ease with the situation.
The other thing is that if the natural father is approachable, then perhaps you should ask him not so much to “tone down” the holidays, but to also take on a few mundane activities, such as the holiday homework. Why don’t you throw that in as part of the required holiday interaction between the man and his son? That way, he doesn’t get to be Santa all the time. And some of the back-to-earth-with-a-thud duties are taken off you.
As for your second child, I can see how the little girl may really wonder and resent why she isn’t included in her brother’s fabulous-sounding outings. You’ll have to compensate by ensuring that she enjoys while he is away; but also, soon she will be old enough to know the equations and perhaps accept it all better. You could also request your son to perhaps slightly tone down the descriptions of his holidays in front of his sister. Of course, he is a young boy himself and you need to be careful that he doesn’t end up feeling guilty about having fun with his father.
The balance that you have to strike—particularly because there is the second child involved—is to not, as a family, see his outings as some fantastic manna falling from heaven, and yet not ignore or snub his enthusiasm about his brief but exciting times with his father. For this, you have to cultivate a sense of security and assurance about what you have to offer the family unit, and not fall prey to comparison or competition. My sincere good wishes in this endeavour.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Write to Gouri at email@example.com