Summer Vacation Stress for Stepparents

by Amy  - April 10, 2023

If you have stepkids that are young enough to be in school then summer vacation may be a time that brings up some stress. 

Vacations can be complicated in a blended family. Summer school breaks can be complicated and it can be challenging for stepparents to figure out where they fit, what are their obligations and responsibilities and what’s not.

Why is school break over summer vacation stressful?

I remember summer vacations as being a wonderful time of no homework and freedom as a kid. I went to summer camps, I hung out with my friends. It was great. 

When the kids are not in school but the parents work that adds stress. 

Who will take care of the kids and what will they do? 

I didn’t realize until I was an adult with a job what a colossal hassle this is for parents to navigate. As a stepmom I got a small peak of this before I had to tackle it as an adult. 

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Keeping the kids busy with camps and activities is hard.

Day camps don’t run the entire school break. They also don’t run the entire work day. Plus they are expensive. So you have to figure all of that out and then make it work within your schedule. 

What part of this is up to you as a stepparent. That will change from family to family.

This is a spot where often stepparents will feel like they are asked to jump in an pitch in and help. Sometimes they don’t want to do that. Other times even if they do they don’t feel appreciated.

It can feel a little bit like walking a landmine field. If you’re struggling I’m here to help.

The kids are gonna get sick over the summer

This is another thing I have apparently completely forgotten from my own experience as a child. I don’t remember being sick over the summer. But all of my stepkids and my kids have all gotten some kind of ear infection, rash, virus, flu over the summer. 

So as an adult you do all this work finding all these fun things to do …you pay a kings ransom to get them all secured …and then … blammo…sickness invades the whole house.  The parents all have jobs so it’s hard to figure out who will do what to take care of the kids. 

Over the years we handled this in a bunch of different ways. If I had one method that worked perfectly I’d share it. I don’t. In my experience, sick kids can be huge hassle any way that you slice it. 

To see the action steps I took as a stepmom click here.

I talked to a stepmom who was very angry at her husband because the stepkids were coming over and they were sick. She thought that the mom should keep the kids if they were sick. I tried to help her see that it just doesn’t always work that way. Taking care of sick kids is both parent’s obligation. As a stepmom if you live with the dad this can impact you too. It’s a tough spot to be in because you may not really want to live with a sick kid but your partner has the obligation.

I can think of times where we got a call that they should probably stay because the whole house has a stomach bug. We appreciated that because we’re happy not to share. There have also been times where a parent needed to work and so the sick kids had to switch houses. And there are also viruses and things we’ve shared between houses without knowing.

If you want to try to take a family vacation for one or both houses this can be complicated.

As a kid myself, I never noticed that our vacations were always during school vacation time. I mean it made sense to me because that’s my schedule. As an adult with no kids I never traveled during those times because it was peak travel. As a stepmom, my partner was committed to traveling during school vacation times. 

These issues are not totally and completely unique to blended families but it can feel more complex in a blended family. As a stepparent it can be challenging to figure out what say in these decisions you have. You might feel like you have none. In my case, I didn’t have much say in what the kids did but it turned out that I did have more say over what I chose to do.

Summer can be very expensive

The top cause of fights and conflict in families is money. Summer can be a very expensive time.

This can be extra explosive in a blended family where one branch of the family might be in a position where they feel like they are entitled to make financial commitments on behalf of another branch of the family. 

For example, a child may decide that they want to go to sleepaway camp. Maybe one parent knows that the other parent is supposed to pay for the summer activities and they have paid for daycamp in the past. They figure no problem. They sign the child up for sleepaway camp and when they tell the other adult – there’s a big fight because it’s significantly more expensive than daycamp 

Communication is often very important here. The earlier the parents can talk about what the available budget for the summer will be the easier this planning will be. 

As a stepparent the expenses of summer might feel overwhelming and sometimes like a burden.

I talk to stepparents often who feel like they are crushing under the financial weight of decisions that they are not making.

The calendars don’t always match

When my husband got divorced there were 2 adults and 2 kids in one school. 

Fast forward about 10 years and there were 4 adults, 2 houses, 6 kids and 4 separate schools each with a slightly different school calendar. 

This is not just a blended family or a stepfamily situation this could also be the case in a family with a large amount of children. This is one reason I happen to think that large families often drift toward homeschooling because it simplifies the calendar. I don’t know if that’s true. 

I bring this up because if you land in this situation as a stepmom patience, humility and a sense of humor are good things to have on hand. 

One of the most common reports from stepparents and divorced parents of discontent stems from feeling like other people have control of their schedules, calendars and decisions. 

This comes up over summer vacation.

I definitely felt this way. When I was a new stepmom I felt like our summer was laid out by my husband’s ex-wife. She set her schedule for the summer around the break and the kids camp and then a trip to visit her parents. My husband was fine with it and wanted me to come up for vacation with the kids and his parents.

On one hand, I didn’t really mind because it didn’t impact me much whether the kids were in school or day camp. The thing that impacted me was that once we were married my husband assumed that I would be a part of the family summer trip. Both sets of grandparents lived nearby each other. When they had been married they did this every summer. After divorce they just split this up part with one set of grandparents and part with the other set of grandparents. One even longer trip for the kids. Nobody ever asked me and it turned out that  I really didn’t love using all of my vacation time to do the same thing every year. 

I placed the blame for this on my husband’s ex. That was unfair.

What I see now is that she was doing the work of all of the planning and my husband was doing not much. I didn’t realize this until I took on the work of planning summer breaks for my kids many years later. Anyway, my blame was misplaced. Also, it was always negotiable for me how much I wanted to do – it just took me a few years to see that and say. Hey, I don’t want to do this. 

If you want to see more about the lessons I learned in 20 years as a stepmom click here.

I’ll mention this here although it’s kind of a big shift. I was placing the blame on the actions of somebody else. I wanted the fix to be that my husband’s ex should do things differently. The solution was actually me getting clear on what I wanted and taking responsibility for myself.

Isn’t all this arranged in the divorce agreement? 

Well, yes and no. 

In my experience, the custody agreements are written for what’s relevant at the ages of the kids at the time of separation. As the kids age, the needs and desires shift along with everything else. Jobs can change, where you live can change, what the kids want to do can change, what the kids need will change.

Families will either need to adjust amongst themselves or go back to mediation/court to update the terms. One of these is less expensive than the other method but they both work. The mindset shift here is to expect that every year will be different. 

One thing that I hear a lot from divorced parents that I want to bring up is that it’s not always helpful to think about the time with the kids as your time. I hear parents say things like this is my week and that’s your week. This completely ignores the reality that this is the child’s life.I think it’s helpful to think of this as the child’s time. One reason is that. as the kids grow up they may have stronger preferences about how they want to spend their own time. This can be a tough realization for adults when it happens. 

There are other implications of changing how you think about this but those are deep topics – beyond the scope of a blog post. Also, always remember, I’m not a lawyer.

At the end of the summer comes getting ready for the next year

In my memories of childhood school supplies are like a tiny blip on the radar. One day of shopping. 

In my experience as a stepmom and a mom getting ready for the new school year is a gargantuan amount of work. It just never occurred to me as I was living it as a kid. 

This is a spot where blended families and families where children live in multiple houses really are unsupported by schools in my experience.

All the doctors forms and appointments need to be completed for each school. As a stepmom I wasn’t really involved in this at all. I do remember that some of the appointments fell onto our summer time and that I felt like this was inconsiderate of the mom. 

Now that I’ve had my own experience trying to get these appointments scheduled I realize that everybody gets booked up very early and it’s a firm deadline to get these completed. Similar to the work of the summer planning – this was all done by my husband’s ex wife. He just showed up. I did not realize how imbalanced this workload was until I did this for my kids later. 

Beware overstepping with milestones

Start of a school year is a milestone. Parents sometimes are emotionally attached to participation with milestones. 

Every year I talk to stepparents who in an attempt to pitch in have accidentally overstepped and angered a parent who wanted to participate in a milestone. 

I can’t tell you where these will be in your blended family all I can do is suggest that you watch out for them. Could be wanting to buy new shoes or the backpack or drive to school on the first day. 

Uniforms and school supplies. 

Every family will do this differently. This is a spot that I see as being much more complicated in a blended family than a family with one jouse. When my husband got divorced his kids were young. As they got older their needs changed dramatically. So did how we handled it. My one pro tip is to buy extras of a lot of the things. Extra lunch boxes, extra uniforms, extra sneakers. Extra note cards. 

Sometimes this comes down to money.

It’s unfortunate but schools and teachers in my experience are not great at supporting multiple house families and the kids sometimes suffer. Wherever possible if you can help to reduce the kids stress where related to transitions and school events that helps. The good news here is that this mostly resolves itself as the kids get older.

I veered off of summer and into the school year at the end there. That’s okay — they are related.

If you want to talk to me about the stress in your house over summer vacation click here to find ways to work with me.

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent


Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created

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