parent opinion

"Travelling with my kids and younger, childless partner for the first time was terrifying."

There’s nothing like travelling together as a family. But when the “family” consists of you, your three young kids and, for the first time, your new, younger, childless partner, the prospect can be terrifying.

We were off to Hawaii for two weeks.

One whole fortnight.

“It’s going to be great!” I said, to everyone who would listen – partly so I’d believe it myself. I knew my kids would love the resorts, the pools, the beach and a new place to explore. And the thought of going anywhere with my partner of six months was an absolute thrill.

But I worried that for him, the reality of travelling with my daughters of nine, six and four would be tough, and our sugar sweet honeymoon period could sour.

Michael was 33 and had very little experience of kids. I was 40 with a noisy entourage that he had spent little time with until that point. We had travelled just the two of us a few times before, which had been easy and wonderful. Travelling with my kids would be very different.

My partner thought it would be a great trial run for us all living together further down the line. I expected it to either make – or break – the relationship.

step parent in family
"My partner thought it would be a great trial run for us all living together further down the line." Image: Supplied.

And so we found ourselves on Hawaii’s volcanic Big Island. An outdoors mission is usually good for team bonding so we decided to spend our first day trekking the 3km trail down to Kealakekua Bay, where Captain James Cook lost his life at the hands of natives in 1779. The turquoise bay is a stunning place to ponder what happened here, and also enjoy a swim and a snorkel.

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It was a great day. The hike there and back was a challenge - thick bush, heavy humidity and threatening wild goats. But the kids took it on gladly while Michael told them stories about the famous British explorer, then they splashed about in the bay. Happy new memories.

Enclosed spaces with kids, by contrast, are never as fun. When the girls were loud or bickering on car trips, I was unable to tune out as I usually would, desperate to appease the situation. “See, travelling with kids isn’t that hard!” I wanted to say.

But it really could be. When kids are excited, they’re loopy, and when they’re tired or bored, likewise. This played out in a restaurant one night when the girls took to running around while waiting for their dinner. A glass was smashed.

I saw Michael’s dismay and I felt humiliated, as though their behaviour reflected on me.

All the pressure of creating a perfect family holiday erupted in tears. I worried that, for Michael, this behaviour would define my children. Would he ever develop love for them? Would I be enough to make him want to?

Like many single parents, I attempted to shield my new partner from most of the parenting chores, thinking that’s what he would prefer. Michael and I also decided that, in the early days, I would handle the discipline, while he would be their friend. It just didn’t seem fair to expect him to share the load.

But as a result, he felt a little redundant - unsure where to jump in, guilty for not supporting me like he should.

The answer to it all was space and time - and lots of talking.

Blending a new family is complicated. The girls craved time alone with me; Michael and I needed time alone to reconnect as a couple; Michael needed time away from us all; and I needed time away from the constant pressure to process.

step parent in family
"Blending a new family is complicated." Image: Supplied.
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We began to factor this in. But what I hadn’t considered was that Michael also needed time alone the kids. He wanted the chance to take charge, establish his own relationship with them. And importantly, he wanted the chance to help the woman he loved.

One of the best moments of the trip for me was after a couple of blissful hours alone in the hotel spa. I wandered out to the pool where Michael had been playing with the girls.

I caught sight of them before they saw me, and spent some heart-fluttering moments watching my new partner teach my three-year-old how to snorkel, while the older two were grabbing onto him, big smiles on their faces.

They were happy together, and beyond the shadow of my anxiety, Michael was able to shine. I realised how desperately he needed me to let him.

Throughout the trip my partner and I remained a united front. When the girls were a challenge, we tried to stay calm, and tackle it as a team.

Coming into the relationship with more experience than our younger days, we were determined to instil a pattern of respect and kindness with each other. This was also important for the girls; they needed to respect us and believe in us.

Keeping things simple is a golden rule when travelling with young children. Over-planning and over-scheduling can truly be killjoys. Good memories happen when we have the space to play and talk and laugh.

At the end of a gruelling day of too much driving on Maui, we settled in for a late afternoon boogie board at a beach on the western shore. We stayed for hours, snapping photos, chatting while the girls performed gymnastics, watching the sun set on our holiday.

The trip hadn’t broken us; it had made us stronger. It hadn’t been a relaxed, happy holiday but instead an exhausting ride of frustration and fun. But life with young children is like that. Michael saw the reality and he was still with me, committed.

Travel had accelerated the development of our family unit. And that felt like a huge relief.

Have you travelled with your children as a single mum? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

Caroline Riches is a freelance writer from Sydney. She writes mainly on travel, health and relationships, while raising her three girls. You can follow her on Instagram at caroline_riches

Tags: family , features , kids , relationships-tag
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