Editor's note: This article originally appeared at SmartStepFamilies.com.

In anticipation of her four teenage stepdaughters coming to her home for the summer Cheryl wrote to our ministry to ask, “I am dreading the six week visitation? The last two summers have been an emotional roller coaster. What can we do to survive the summer visitation?”

Spending a number of weeks at a nonresidential parent’s home during the summer is typical for many stepfamily children, but not all stepfamilies have an extended summer visitation. For those that do, managing the transition and emotional challenges is an important part of parenting. Residential and nonresidential parents and stepparents alike find the summer visitation switch somewhat troublesome. Children, of course, deal with many transitional issues as well. For example, while children of every age feel some excitement to spend extra time with a nonresidential parent, they also feel sad for leaving a parent or siblings behind. Saying hello to someone always means saying goodbye to someone else. Children and teens may also feel frustration and out of control over how the schedule impacts their personal life and friendships. In addition, the summer transition may heighten the loyalty pinch children feel between parents. Wise parents maintain sensitivity to these common pressures and seek to minimize them for the sake of their child’s well-being.

Despite mixed emotions about summer visitation children and adults experience many rewards as well. Nonresidential parents are able to reconnect with their children over an extended period of time while nonresidential stepparents find opportunity to build a stronger relationship with stepchildren they may not see very often. Residential parents may experience a much needed break from the daily demands of parenting and find refreshment for the child’s return.

The following guidelines will help you maximize the rewards in your summer schedule while minimizing the stressors. Be sure to read both lists to gain perspective about the challenges faced by your child’s other home.

Nonresidential “Receiving” Home

  • Resist the temptation to “compete” with the other home while you have the children. Summertime “Disneyland Dads” and “Magic Mountain Moms” repeatedly buy the children gifts and take them on extravagant vacations in an effort to win their affections. Engaging in fun activities or vacation is certainly appropriate when balanced with a typical family schedule. Time is what your children need from you, not stuff.
  • Depending on how long you have been married and the amount of visitation time throughout the year, stepparents like Cheryl may feel that they are “starting over” with their stepchildren. Relationships do take “two steps backward” when physical distance and little time together prevents frequent contact. This can be very frustrating for stepparents. Take a deep breath and again connect with stepchildren through interests you have in common. Listen to their pace and match it. If they hunger for time with you, give it. If they keep their distance, find simple ways of connecting, but don’t force affections or you may embolden resistance. Hopefully, over the six weeks your relationship will improve.
  • Initially, the biological parent should spend a lot of time with their children. Children usually come thirsty for this focused time; withholding it can amplify jealousy. Stepparents would do well to gift this time without resentment. Try to balance the need of stepsiblings to spend time together with the biological parent’s time with their children. After a couple weeks the entire family can settle into the expectation that everyone will be included in activities.
  • Never guilt children for having strong affections to those in the other home. Listen to their stories and celebrate their joys. A heart of grace for the affections of children is usually a later recipient of grace as well.
  • In your pre-summer schedule planning, agree with adults in the other home to get the “other side of the story” from them should the children complain or share negative comments. There is always another side to consider. Giving the adults in the other home the benefit-of-the-doubt before choosing judgment prevents needless hostility and child between-home manipulation.

Residential “Sending” Home