PREPARING STEPFAMILIES/BLENDED FAMILIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS

The holidays can be a stressful and challenging time even under the best of circumstances. When you add in the complexity of blended families or an extended blended family network, you are introducing more people, differing ideas and conflicting schedules into an already hectic holiday season. The other important thing to recognize is that all step and blended families have at least one thing in common. At one level or another stepfamilies and blended families are born out of one or several losses either through death, separation or divorce. Because the holidays are a time of remembering and that includes past losses, relationships, good and bad memories alike, they can be a time when emotions also run high and individuals, adults and children alike, can find themselves sad, easily disappointed or pessimistic because they expect the holidays to be difficult.

Keeping these things in mind it is important that we are aware of the under currents of memory and emotion that may lead to emotional outbursts and unexplained behaviors, especially in children, and be particularly sensitive to this. What you see isn’t always what you’re getting – it is often much more deeply rooted than that. Also, just knowing that the holidays can bring many stresses, when what most of us really want is a relaxed and peaceful time, we have to set realistic expectations so that we don’t set ourselves up for failure. A good mindset and a willingness to be flexible will help us all to roll with the unexpected things that may (probably will) come our way. Expect the unexpected is always a rule of thumb in step and blended families, and even more-so at the holidays.

But take heart, it’s not all doom and gloom. New families, new experiences, and new beginnings also provide us with opportunities and a chance to create new memories if we keep our goals simple and focused on what really is important. So with that, I want to lay out a few ideas or suggestions about ways to prepare, anticipate and plan for your upcoming holiday with your step or blended family. And by the way, Best of Luck to All, because we can all use a little of that anytime…..

Here are a few ideas to help you decrease some of the stress and tension of the holidays, and maximize your chances of creating a memorable time together. Remember, minimizing holiday stress can be one of the greatest gifts we give our children; the memory of a peaceful and wonderful holiday far surpasses any gifts we can ever buy.

  • Let go of any preconceived Fantasy of the Brady Bunch Christmas. It is only a fantasy and will lead to disappointment.
  • Plan Everything: Communicate everything with co-parents, extended families; discuss options and plan ahead as much as possible. Have family members share their thoughts and ideas – be inclusive. Keep plans as simple as possible and avoid last minute planning. Everyone needs an itinerary and the kids will be less stressed too if they know what’s going on and what they can expect. A good plan will also allow you to be flexible when you need to be.
  • Be Creative and Flexible: You don’t have to do things a certain way although it should be some combination of old traditions with new. Take everyone’s wishes in to consideration. Be particularly sensitive to anyone for whom this may be their first holiday together. The best way to be INCLUSIVE is to ask people what they would like to see, do or contribute. For new stepparents, don’t assume that they are just willing to go along with the way things have always been done without having any input. Be mentally prepared for the unexpected – knowing that you will be called upon to be flexible will reduce the frustration when unanticipated things do happen and will allow you to do what needs to be done at the time.
  • BE INCLUSIVE wherever possible. Include your stepchildren in as many activities and traditions as possible, given schedules and other obligations. Make sure everyone gets some of what they need.
  • Strive for Equity in Gift giving for children, step and biological alike. Even though the gifts are not the main focus, children do notice and make comparisons and want to be treated equally as much as possible.
  • Try to avoid Over Commitment – To your time, to expensive gift buying, to too many activities in a short period of time. Space things out. Provide down time for the children. Often less is better
  • Try to Rise about Bad Feelings and Hostility – Children are relieved when the adults in their lives demonstrate that they can be civil and respectful of each other. Remember that the holidays are a time of peace so especially at this time, try to make this a priority, if only for the kids. Take the challenge of remaining calm under trying circumstances and focus on your own behavior (which is the only thing you can control) instead of the behaviors of others.
  • Old Traditions – Mixed with New: Traditions are so important to all of of us and especially to children who have lost so much; they want to hold on to things that give them a sense of continuity and reassurance. Blending families requires a balancing act of maintaining existing ways of doing things and incorporating new traditions which either belonged to a new member or are absolutely new ways of celebrating that the family has created together. Creating new traditions can give a blended family a sense of togetherness and wholeness and will be the start of creating new family memories one small step at a time.
  • Encourage Expression of Feelings: Expect it and let others have and share their feelings. A child for example, whose biological parent is absent, may need to express sadness, guilt, anger, regret. Acknowledging these feelings helps the child move through them.
  • Kids and Teens: If the kids, particularly teenagers, don’t buy into what looks like to them as your attempts at a “fantasy holiday”, try to see it from their point of view; they may need time and maybe this isn’t the year where they are ready to let go and really throw themselves into celebrating. We can be positive and optimistic without being over the top or in their face about it. Allow them their feelings or lack of enthusiasm, all the while encouraging them to partake and be part of the holiday time. Even though they may resist the notion of the holiday itself, the message that they are welcome and wanted to join in, is important to them.
  • Absent Parents: When a biological parent is unavailable, absent or simply not interested, try to identify someone that can fill that void in a special way and pay close attention to the child to minimize the void for them in the absence of their parent. This could be a stepmother, a grandparent, an aunt/uncle or close friend of the family – as long as someone can take it upon themselves to pay special attention to the child(ren) in this way, then it will take some of the sting away from not having mom or dad there with them. The reason of choosing someone in particular and planning ahead like this, is that in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, attention to this can get lost and a child can feel seemingly unnoticed without anyone realizing it.
  • Be prepared for difficult transition times for the children as they leave to go from place to place. Encourage them and be upbeat and help them to anticipate the good times they will have with each of the families they will spend time with. Help them to see some of the advantages of having so many people to share the holidays with.
  • Small details can be important such as signing cards and including everyone’s names or making sure kids have someone to help them with their shopping.
  • Don’t get into a competition over gifts.
  • Expect the Unexpected: If things go awry, and they probably will, see this as normal and don’t blame it on the individuals or the “blendedness of the family” itself; kids and adults alike are not always at their best. Overanalyzing or rationalizing doesn’t always help. Pick up the pieces and move on.
  • PARENTS AND STEPPARENTS – TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP.
    Biological and Stepparents alike will need to have the energy and motivation to plan and carry out a special holiday for everyone, so you need to take care of ourselves so you can take care or everyone and everything else. Making a plan to even shave off as many hours of shopping or decorating time as possible (6-10) in anticipation of the season, and investing that time in doing things for yourselves or as a couple, such as going for a massage, doing lunch with a friend, making sure you get your regular date night in , etc. so that you and your partner continue to stay as connected as possible at this hectic time. WE can choose to put ourselves last on the list and everyone and everything else beforehand but in the end we will be drained, and resentful and that’s no fun for anyone. Martyrdom just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be so do EVERYONE A FAVOR and pamper yourselves a little. It will make the holidays more enjoyable, more memorable, and dare I say, more tolerable….
  • NEW STEPPARENTS: If it all seems a bit too much and overwhelming – this is normal. You have just walked into a new world and need to give yourself the time to adjust. Contribute your ideas, rely on your partner for support and pace yourself. Be yourself and don’t try to be everything to everyone or you’ll surely burn out. Remember the key to making this an enjoyable holiday for all is to make sure you are a part of it and to nurture yourself so you have the energy and motivation for all of the challenges ahead.

For more articles about Blended Families and local resources:

http://www.smartstepfamilies.com/view/84

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/relationship_challenges/blended_families.aspx

http://www.bandbacktogether.com/blended-families-resources/

http://life.familyeducation.com/stepfamilies/holidays-and-seasonal-events/47628.html

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/blended_families_stepfamilies.htm

http://www.perspectivesoftroy.com/doc/Heart_of_Family_Beth_2013.pdf