The days are long and the pace slows down this time of the year. Meals are casual; evenings are relaxed; entertaining is simpler; weekends seem made for easy, lazy times.
Unless you're a stepparent, of course. Then the phrase "a little stranger (or two, or three) is coming to visit" can take on a whole new meaning. No matter how much you love your stepchildren, their summertime visits can make you feel invaded.
Before you begin running in small circles shouting, "The stepkids are coming! The stepkids are coming!" here's some advice from Connie Chambers, administrative director of the Stepfamily Association of America Inc. in Lincoln, Neb.:
"It's important for you and your spouse to decide ahead of time what rules will be in effect during the visit and who will be doing the disciplining.
"It's preferable that the biological parent take over the disciplining and enforcement of the rules," said Ms. Chambers, "because if the stepparent does it, his or her discipline will almost certainly not be accepted."
Provide your stepchild with a private place of her own, too -- if not a whole room to herself, then at least her own bed and chest of drawers -- and make sure that the other children in the household know that this space is for her only.
"Then plan for your spouse and his child to spend some time alone together, so they can share their feelings and get to know each other again on a one-to-one basis," advised Ms. Chambers, who's a veteran stepparent.
"Your stepchild and her biological parent have such a short amount of time together! They're going to need that time together even if it's only an evening or two or three hours on a Saturday afternoon," she said.
"You and your spouse will need time alone together, too, during this time -- and you will definitely need time to yourself, as well. This is bound to be a stressful time, after all, especially if you also are trying to handle a job away from home.
Take time out just for yourself during this visit, or you won't be able to take care of yourself, your spouse or your stepchildren.
Finally, keep in mind that you aren't solely responsible for the success or failure of this visit; your spouse and stepchildren also bear some of the responsibility.
And even if everyone doesn't have fun, fun, fun all the time during this summertime visit, don't despair. This is real life, after all, not a sitcom, and real life is sometimes messy, awkward and filled with uncomfortable silences and dumb misunderstandings.
It's important for our children -- and stepchildren -- to learn this early on.