How can I make sure my step-kids have friends when they visit us in the summer?

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By: woodleywonderworksCC BY 2.0

I have never wanted bio-kids of my own, but I fell in love with a father and now I have two step-kids who I love to pieces! They live full time with their bio-mom and her family and currently are overseas because of the military, so we keep in touch via phone calls, Skype, packages, and very infrequent visits. We just got the news that they will be moving back to the States (yay!) and our visitation will become more frequent and regular. We have a great relationship, but I want them to really feel like our house is their other home, and I especially want them to have social support and friends in our community who they will be able to return to on summers and school holidays. Since they will not be able to meet classmates through our local schools, we don’t have any kids in our neighborhood, and we’re not friends with many parents, here is what I’ve brainstormed so far:

  • Joining a Unitarian Church. My husband and I are not religious, but they go to Temple, and we thought the kids at Unitarian Church will be accepting of everyone’s choices.
  • Volunteering as Big Sisters / Big Brothers with kids their age and introducing them when they are visiting us.
  • Volunteering with a local Girl Scouts troop, as they are in a troop on their military base where they currently live.
  • Enrolling them in summer camp

They will only be visiting us a few times a year, and we really want to spend that time with them, but we also want them to have friends here, so family-oriented activities are a plus. We tried visiting a family counselor to brainstorm other suggestions but she wasn’t very helpful. Any advice from other offbeat families for how to help them make friends and feel at home with us? — Sally

Comments on How can I make sure my step-kids have friends when they visit us in the summer?

  1. First and foremost, you’re an awesome stepmom. Good job. 🙂

    I want to comment on your Unitarian Universalist Church suggestion. Your stepkids are being raised Jewish, from what I gathered in your post. A church is still a church, even if it’s a progressive one. You guys aren’t religious yourselves, why involve religion for the sake of community? Especially with all the other ways you can have community.

    I don’t know your stepkids, but I think that whatever you choose to do with them should have something to do with what they themselves enjoy the most. I was just on the phone with my aunt the other day and she told me about the 5 million different summer programs my cousins are involved in. Math enrichment, sports, music classes, you name it. Talk to your stepkids and ask them what they might find fun. Then go to your local school district or Parks & Rec (my hometown ran all the summer programs through Parks & Rec), maybe the library even. I’m certain you will find a vast array of stuff to do with the kids. 🙂

    • I second this! Our local community centers (run thru parks & rec) publish a city-wide catalog of classes available at each center. If your city/neighborhood/individual center offers a similar thing, you could even pick up a listing and mail it to them. Let them know you’d love to sign up for classes with them, and they should circle/mark which ones they’re interested in.

      If your community centers have an online listing, even better! Send the link via email and discuss the classes they think they might like over Skype. Then you can pre-register and get things ready to go before they arrive.

    • Yes! This makes me nervous. As a Jewish kid in a predominantly Christian environment, I was extremely uncomfortable being taken to church social events (pizza/pool parties, bowling, lock-ins). Little things like saying grace over a meal (wording specific) because a Big Deal, because I didn’t know how to handle them politely. I was uncomfortable, nervous, and suspicious of overtures by probably very nice kids. And it took me years to tell my parents – who let me go to these things because my friends invited me, and they wanted me to have friends – that *I* didn’t want to go.

      I second everyone’s suggestions of community center activities (non-religiously affiliated). And lots of free time at the pool.

  2. My grandparents were alful about this when we came to visit them during the summer. They tried so hard to make sure I had friends that it almost didn’t seem worth the effort to go out and try to make friends on my own.

    My advice? Take the kids to the park, to the pool, to where ever kids are around. Week long day camps in an area that they are interested on, offered through a college, rec center, county extention office are great. Library activies are another suggestion. Don’t make social commitments that you wouldn’t otherwise make for the sake of making connections for your kids.

    • Yeah, make sure they don’t feel like you don’t want to spend time with them! Obviously I know you have the best intentions, but when I went to visit my dad and he kept rushing me out to meet people it made me feel like he didn’t want to spend time with me. (He did!)

  3. I’m definitely on board with the library thing. When I was growing up I made a lot of friends at the library.

    Depending on how old your step kids are, they may prefer to volunteer at the library/4-H programs/whatever rather than be actual participants. I was a 4-H volunteer in middle school and met some cool people that way.

    Maybe also something like swimming lessons?

  4. I’d suggest finding an activity or a place and making it a regular schedule. When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the same seaside town for a week every summer. Up until I was about 13, I found it really easy to make friends there. We used to go to the same spot on the beach every day and sit/play there all day every day. It wasn’t hard to find families who were doing the same. So whatever you find, a pool, community center, club, beach, I think that consistency, rather than variety, is the key. Once your kids start seeing the same faces every time it’s easier for them to become friends.

  5. I second (third?) the pool idea! There were always plenty of kids around when I’d visit my grandparents and we’d meet up and go to the many public pool sessions that were offered! While summertime friends might be transient from year to year, it was relatively easy to make friends.

  6. Please reconsider the idea of volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a way to meet kids your step-kids’ ages. Being a Big is (should be) a serious, long-term commitment in which the focus is on the Little Brother/Sister and what is in their best interest. While many Bigs do get a lot out of being a part of the program, I really don’t think you should join the program with certain expectations on how you will benefit from the experience.

    The ideas to go to kid-friendly community places like pools, parks, and libraries are great suggestions.

    • I would also worry that introducing your “littles” to your step kids could have a strange dynamic. Any “littles” you would have through Big Brothers Big Sisters would be in your area full time, and you’d be expected to fully engage with them throughout the year. To your step kids, this might feel like you have tried to replace them… especially if you were specifically paired with littles their age.

      As a kid, my mom did a lot of mentoring with kids my age, and she would sometimes try to get me to be friends with her mentees. I resented this sometimes, because it felt like she preferred them over me somehow, and it affected my “friendships” with them. It was also just strange to try and be friends with kids I knew hung out with my mom on a regular basis without me. Sometimes it felt like they knew her better than I did in some aspects, which was hard for me.

  7. As a kid of divorced parents I never had friends when visiting with my dad (every other weekend, 6 weeks out of the summer), even when they shoved me off to summer camps.
    It really sucks when you are a shy kid and always feeling like you have to make friends every freaking weekend just so you can pass time.

    I’d say do family time and activities and spend time with them. Sure take them places like the park or pool where they can play with other kids, but if you don’t get to see them often then it should be more about the relationship you two are building with them than what they build with other kids (which they are doing when living with their mom).

    I resented the fact that my father and stepwitch would demand I come for visits and yet make me spend at least 8 full hours outside on my own (only allowed to come inside for lunch and bathroom) and never spent any quality time with me.

  8. My son lives with his dad during the school year right now and me in the summer. He made his closest friend in summer camp. Then, I kept in touch with his friend’s parents when he wasn’t here, and made sure to make time for them to spend together when he was here. It’s been two years, and they are still very close. But the first two years, he didn’t have many friends here. Those are great opportunities you list, so just do those and it will happen when it happens.

    I stayed with my grandparents over the summers, and I visited with my cousins when I did. Maybe also try to find friends of your own with kids that age. Kids don’t have to be best friends to play together.

  9. I hated being forced to make friends when I Spent time with at my dad’s place. My brother and I became closer because we were the only kids we knew in the area, and it’s hard to make friends when you’re only there for four days out of a month, or two weeks at a time.

    I suggest doing it in a more “organic” way, then forcing your kids into things. Bring them to pools, do some day camps or community events, go swimming, let them ride their bike, go to the park, just be kids. Most kids are ok at being friendly with other kids, and playing with whomever.

    And don’t be alarmed if your kids are only friends with their siblings. It’s a weird enviroment for kids, not really a home but yet a home at the same time, and sometimes just having someone who’s doing the same things as you, and who understands how hard it is, will make siblings closer.

    • I second this. As an introvert, I’d be upset if I was forced to make friends or forced to go away from my parents whom I rarely got to see. I think you should focus on doing things with the kids where other kids might be around. Going to the park, pool or beach sounds good. But then so would doing massive art projects at home where you can just relax and get to know each other better.

  10. The day camp I work for offers a ‘half day’ program where kids either come just for the morning or afternoon. This option seems to be wildly popular with adults with visiting children. It gives the kids some structured social time, but the other part of the day is more free for family activities or other camps or whatever.

  11. In response to the first few posters: Unitarian Churches are not like other churches (and many people don’t consider them “Christian”). Depending on the congregation, members may identify as Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, atheist, humanist, etc. (I’m a Jewish Unitarian myself). If there’s any grace said over meals, it would probably be something nature-related, that people would read — there wouldn’t be any expectation that the kids know what to say or anything. So of course there are lots of other things to do to be part of the community too, but if the children like having a religious activity in their lives, it could be a fine choice. It seems like having a number of suggestions of things to and finding out what the kids are interested in might be a good way to go.

    • This is absolutely correct. I’m also a member of a Unitarian church and I don’t identify as Christian. There’s really very little mention of specific beliefs at all.
      That said, you should only go if you enjoy going and then bring your kids along.

  12. First, thank you for knowing how important this is! My sister and I had weekends and summers at our dad & stepmom’s house, and it was usually pretty boring. There weren’t many kids our age in the neighborhood, and during the school year we spent Saturdays doing family things, but in the summer it got a lot more complicated. We had a patchwork of day camps, swimming lessons, weeks at overnight camps…all of which kept us busy, but we never really developed relationships with kids our age in the city our dad lived in.

    In terms of community building…there’s a huge scale of UU communities, all along the spectrum from Unitarian to Universalist. What might be helpful is for you and your partner to build relationships with other families with kids through a community like that, and do things with those families in the summer, bringing your kids along. If you do have a truly universalist congregation in your area (one full of religious diversity rather than just Christians), it might be something to invite the kids along to if they’re comfortable with it.

  13. Maybe if there’s a local JCC, you could look into daycamps there. That way they can make Jewish friends and get a little dose of their mom’s home life while they’re away.

    I second the idea that a UU church is still a church and that going on Sundays and not Saturdays (or Friday nights) is going to be weird for any Jewish kid old enough to know the days of the week.

  14. The UU church might actually be a great idea. I joined a Universalist church for the sake of meetIng people and spiritual development and I never felt like I was in a Christian church. I belng to one of the largest UU congregations in the country, and we regularly celebrate Jewish holidays. I would not, however, join any community that you yourself do not feel a connection with and only for the sake of the kids. My suggestion is to go to the church you’re considering a few times before making your decision. Remember that because there are no rules for how to run a UU church that each one is different. At mine, it it structured with a sermon, the Lord’s Prayer (which you may choose not to say), and music sung from the hymnal by the congregants and professionals. The other UU church right down the road offers less structured services with focus on meditation, openness, and different ways to worship/celebrate (ie drum circles). Check out their website and go to a few services (and maybe wait until Fall. The UU churches in our region tend to knd of shut down in the summer.). Whatever you decide, I hope you have a positive experience!

  15. I know you aren’t religious, but if you are willing to consider UU are you willing to look into your local Jewish Community Center? I used to go to the one next door to my grandmother for day camp and to swim in the pool. At least that one had non-Jewish kids and counselers enrolled in the camps as well. While some kids were the children of conservative Rabbi’s, there were plenty of Reform and not-really-observant kids there, too. It might be a good way to connect to your kids culturally with out getting too far into the religious part (but you do have to watch what snacks you send with them due to the Kosher kitchen, but everything else is just arts and crafts and soccer and Peter Pan plays).

  16. I don’t think Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a good idea. The organization strongly encourages one-on-one interaction over spending time with others, especially if there is a possibility that your Little will feel like they need to compete for your attention.

    The Girl Scouts is a great idea, though. In stead of being such a big commitment, troops frequently just need an extra volunteer occasionally. It’s a great idea if you want to meet other parents, too. Most troop leaders are used to accommodating kids from a wide variety of family arrangements. If your local Girl Scout troop remains active in the summer, they might be able to very easily accommodate two extra kids, because attendance is usually no where near normal levels.

    I would compile the activity schedules of your local library, community centers, and parks. I’d start checking your local newspaper, too. Until I had to know about them, I had no idea how much stuff even my small community had for kids to do. You should also look into fun places and local attractions that they might not have gotten to experience before. My step-family lived close to a historical site, and I made most of my friends one summer in olde crafting classes.

    As far as the Unitarian Church is concerned, I think it might be best to follow the kids’ leads. Even a pretty young child will notice that a Unitarian Church is not Temple. A Unitarian Church might fill their needs fine, but it might be a good idea to also become familiar with the nearest Jewish Community Center or Temple. While the Unitarian Church might celebrate Jewish holidays, the culture and community might still be very different. It’s impossible to predict what two specific kids might miss, so you might want to know the nearest place to get some matzo. (I was a rather easy-going kid and handled the adjustment pretty well, but I had a pretty epic breakdown over holiday food. I refused to eat anything other than soy milk and a can of tuna.)

  17. Does your local library have some sort of summer reading program? When I was a kid this was a favorite way of getting out of the house and having fun with other kids. Not only did out library have weekly story time for the littlest kids and activities for the older kids, they also hosted periodic “Roving Reader” sessions. The “Roving Reader program was really great; librarians picked a location in town the lawn of the library, a park, the steps of the big church etc. and kids could bring the book(s) they were reading and just have some quiet reading time once a week for a hour or so supervised by library staff. If you have some sort of summer reading program near you it could be a great opportunity for the kids to be around other kids and maybe even for you to make some parent friends.

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