I’ve been amazed at the emails I’ve gotten asking about the travel document I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Instead of replying to each, I thought I’d just address it here and Q&A the few that aren’t touched.
First of all, I am no blended family expert. I’ve mentioned this before, but we are a traditional family when Daniela is at home and I suspect it’s the same at her mom’s house. We’ve never had to deal with a lot of the problems that the majority of blended families face so I can’t speak for everyone when I tell our story. Daniela doesn’t remember a time without me or her stepdad in her life so there was never a real transition period for her. She considers her stepdad and myself to be just as much her parents as her mom and dad are, and I am constantly in awe of that honor and responsibility.
When Daniela’s mom first approached Marco about taking Daniela on this cruise, they both knew that an international travel document would likely be required. When a child leaves their home country without both parents, the non traveling parent’s consent must be provided. This could be something as simple as a notarized letter, or something more complex like our travel document. You can find a lot of travel document templates online, but Marco is a cautious person and prefers to have all his bases covered personally. Lucky for him, he married a writer and I am often at his disposal for one written thing or another :)
I’ve facilitated travel documents in family mediations a few times so I was comfortable with what he was looking for. I used the same format that I would use for any Record of Agreement because that’s what I’m comfortable with, but it’s certainly not mandated, and parents my choose to write it however they wish. Here’s my format:
Marco also wanted to make sure that they had covered anything that might come up later. In simple, numbered paragraphs our travel document covered:
- The itinerary
- Changes to the regular time sharing schedule
- Telephone contact during the trip
- International Medical Insurance
Both parents signed and notarized it, and Dani was all set for a fun filled Spring Break cruise!
One thing that made the trip preparation much smoother was that it was a closed circuit cruise, meaning that it left and returned to the same US port. US citizens do not need passports to travel on a closed circuit cruise, so there was not the issue of a passport to address.
Though it did not come into play with her cruise, I do want to mention that whenever you are traveling with your child (or consenting to your child traveling) internationally, it’s always wise to check with the US Department of State concerning the laws and travel requirements and/or travel advisories for your destination. I can’t emphasize this enough for blended families. The US Dept of State website has wonderful resources concerning traveling with children and an entire program geared toward the prevention of international parental child abductions. It’s called the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. As scary as it is to think about, there are families who are living through horrendous ordeals of parental kidnapping. Safety plans are there for when they are needed. Additionally, there is a treaty called the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention) that ensures, should you find yourself in that nightmare of a situation, the signatory country will uphold the most recent custody order in the US and return your child to you. Because sovereign nations can’t interfere with each other’s legal systems, US family court orders are generally not recognized in other countries. The Dept of State website also lists the countries that have signed the Hague Convention so that you can make an informed decision concerning your child’s international travel.
Ok, enough with the heavy.
Traveling with, or allowing your child to travel, internationally is a privilege not many are gifted with in childhood. I was fortunate enough as a child to experience just about every state in the continental US and being able to pull on those memories as an adult with the incredible lifestyle diversity I saw right here in the US, has made me a vocal proponent for exposing children to the many lifestyles and cultures and religions that can be found all over the world. That’s the whole concept behind being a world citizen. I identify with world citizenship and try to instill in Daniela the concept of being at home in the world. But as parents, we have the responsibility to be smart about the decisions we make that directly effect our children. If your family situation does not allow for world wide travel, bring the world to them! One of my favorite websites for exploring the world with kids is Kid World Citizen. The world in your living room!
There were a few other questions that I couldn’t quite fit into this, so here they are in Q&A format. A few of the questions were not really related to international travel, but I liked them so I’m sharing them :) #bloggersperogative
Q: Was there an emergency contact plan included in your travel document?
A: No. If an emergency where to arise on the trip, Marco and I have no doubt that her mom or stepdad would be quick to notify us. Additionally, were an emergency to come up that incapacitated them, I’m sure the powers that be would be looking at emergency contacts from the cruise line’s paperwork, not our own individual travel document.
Q: Does the travel document need to be signed by a judge?
A: Nope! It’s a very simple way of showing immigration that the child has permission to leave the country without mom (or dad, or guardian) traveling with them. Ours was written in the format of a legal document because that’s what I’m most comfortable with, but it’s not necessary at all. The only thing it must have is travel dates, names, and notarized signatures for mom and dad.
Q: Did you sign her travel document too?
A: No. As a step parent, my rights are very limited. The travel document is strictly between mom and dad, and those are the only two signatures necessary. Of course, legal guardians may also sign if mom and/or dad are unable.
Q: As a stepmom, do you have a final say in your step daughter’s activities? Like playdates, trips, and sports? Could you have said “no” to this trip?
A: Hmmm, that one’s a bit tricky! First of all, no, I could not have put the kibosh on this trip. That decision is strictly between her mom and dad. If I, for whatever reason, felt it was a bad idea, I would have shared that with Marco but ultimately the decision is between the two of them. For the first part of your question, if it’s something that is strictly taking place at our home (like a playdate with a friend) I’ll schedule it without consulting the other parents (provided it’s during our timesharing and whatnot). Trips and sports are generally agreed upon between Mom and Dad specifically and my input is shared with Marco if I feel so inclined.
And for my favorite question!
Q: Is it hard for you to love a child as much as you do and not really be her mom?
A: Noooo!!!!! I know a lot of step moms struggle with genuinely loving their step children as their own, which is completely natural and okay. I loved Daniela from day one and I got super lucky that she totally loved me back. We’re kismet. As far as being her real mom goes, I guess it depends on your definition of “mom”. For years I struggled with how I identified as a mother and I finally had to come to the conclusion that a mom is many different things to many different people. There are people who will never see me as a mom, and that’s fine. There are also people (myself included, sometimes!) that forget that I didn’t actually give birth to Daniela. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to be any other kind of mom, but being a step mom came very naturally to me. That’s not to say I’ve always done everything right. Good lord, no. I’ve stumbled across emails I sent her mom in the very beginning that make me cringe! I was out to prove that I was good for the whole family and I came off like an ass, at best. I like to think the worst of my pride is behind me. But no, the love I have for this child makes it very easy for me to be whatever kind of mom she needs me to be.
I tried to answer as many questions as I could, but if I missed yours (or you thought of another one!) leave me a comment or shoot me an email and I’ll do my absolute best to get you an answer. And remember, I’m not an attorney. If you have qualms about your own blended family/international travel issues, it’s best to find a spectacular attorney who can guide you through your questions. That’s just not going to be me :)