Re: Familymoons

Thank you for contacting the Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta in regards to your questions on “familymoons”.  We are pleased to respond to your request and will do so on both conceptual and practical levels. You have our permission to use the information presented below providing: a) that you reference our web site,, and b) acknowledge that we remain at liberty to publish this information elsewhere. We trust you will find this reasonable.

First, with regards to the limits of our expertise, at the Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta we work almost exclusively with people who are “reconfiguring” into, or currently living as a stepfamily. None of the couples that we are aware of have taken their kids “in tow” on their honeymoon. In fact, a good number of the women living in stepfamily settings report feeling resentful because they were unable to have a honeymoon due to their responsibilities towards the children. (This is especially true for women who do not have a biological child of their own when they form the stepfamily.) The men in these circumstances may also be resentful, but they tend not vocalize it if they are.

We, at the Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta, regard a honeymoon as a ritual, and believe its central purpose is to strengthen the “couple bond”—not to create family cohesion. Rituals persist across time because of the profound meaning they hold for, and convey to us as human beings. [See, for example, the writings of Joseph Campbell.] We tend not to benefit from abandoning our rituals. For example, to a considerable degree, we have abandoned the ritual of marriage. The statistics surrounding this are clear: couples that live together without getting married (or who live together prior to becoming married) are much more likely to experience a permanent breakdown in their relationship than is true for couples that marry before cohabitating. With some notable exceptions, family breakdown is a lot like cigarette smoking--little good comes from it. Regarding honeymoons, most people asked will acknowledge that a honeymoon has a special and a positive meaning for a newly wed couple. If pressed to detail what this meaning is, they will state something like: “It marks the real beginning of the couple’s journey through life together.” The predictability of responses like this have us convinced that the honeymoon ritual simply ought to be preserved.

It is widely recognized that “hierarchy” problems tend to occur in stepfamilies. In stepfamilies experiencing hierarchy problems, it can be much less than clear who truly holds authority and is genuinely is “in charge”. Not surprisingly, when hierarchy problems are present, chaos tends to prevail. It is our view that children’s attending their parents’ honeymoon blurs an important adult-child boundary (that Jeannette Lofas refers to as the “blood-sex boundary”). As such, we believe that, in the bigger picture, a familymoon is more likely to generate chaos and confusion than contribute positively to a family’s cohesion.

When relative strangers are thrown together in an intensely personal situation (such as sharing a hotel room), they are almost certain to feel awkward; and most are unlikely to enjoy the experience. When children are feeling awkward and not enjoying themselves, they misbehave. Disciplining the children is typically the NUMBER ONE problem stepfamily couples report. Misbehaving children are likely to "polarize" the two "mini-bio families" on a familymoon, creating a conflictual rather than a welcoming experience. Conflicts occurring during a ritual tend to be indelibly etched in the history of that event. In other words, recovering from a bad familymoon is likely to be a very difficult thing to do.

All things considered, we suspect that the odds of a familymoon turning out to be a blissful, family-bonding experience are substantially less than one in a thousand. Accordingly, if a couple were to ask us for our opinion on a "familymoon", our reply would be as follows:

1. First, on your own, spend some time considering why you would entertain such an option. If you determine that guilt, fear, self-sacrifice, or abandonment issues are motivating factors, you would be well advised to reconsider having a familymoon. Parenting that is driven by these factors does not produce healthy kids.

If your intention is to create a sense of belonging in the children, it is important to understand that we acquire a sense of belonging from the investment we make in something’s care. For example, my neighbours know that I belong at my house because they see that I am the one who cuts the lawn. Likewise, kids who have chores to perform around the house will know that they belong BECAUSE they have chores to perform (in the service of caring for their home). How does this notion apply to kids on a familymoon?

If you are having trouble finding the “link” between belonging and a familymoon, try the following: Picture yourself having been away on a vacation, at the residence of a very considerate host who refuses to allow you to wash the dishes, take out the garbage, make your bed, or perform any other menial tasks during your stay. Despite receiving this “royal treatment”, after a period of about three weeks, all you want to do is to go home. Why? Because you don’t belong. Think about that. How is a familymoon any different?

2. Next, imagine having attended your parents' honeymoon when you were say five, ten and 15 years of age. Had you done so, what activities would you have enjoyed doing together with the two of them? What activities would you have wanted to do with them, one-on-one? What activities do you think they would have preferred to do with you rather than their new spouse? Finally, let’s say that you began to become impatient with your parents, or began to feel that they really didn’t want to have you around during the honeymoon. How, at each of the age levels listed above, would you have reacted in these circumstances? Do you expect that your kids would act/react differently?

3. Then, as a practical preview to the familymoon, pick several outings  (e.g., a movie, a nice romantic meal, etc.) where all of the kids are obliged to attend with you and your partner. Surreptitiously review everyone's level of happiness (including your partner’s and your own) before, during after each of these events.  

4. After completing the exercises above, thoroughly discuss the topic and your findings with your partner. If, after this, you both remain enthusiastic about having a familymoon instead of a honeymoon, proceed to point 5, below.

5. Spend some time, as a couple, detailing the minimum outcomes each of you would have to experience on the familymoon to be able to judge the event a success. Assess your individual and joint abilities to make these necessary outcomes become realities.

6. Then, have the same discussion (regarding necessary outcomes) with the kids. Again, assess your individual and joint abilities to make these necessary outcomes into realities.

7. Develop a plan of action to follow if the kids should: become bored, start misbehaving, fall ill, get injured or become homesick.

8. Finally, and most importantly, figure out a way (e.g., taking along a nanny) to carve out some private couple time to create a few romantic memories together.




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Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta