Holidays are a time spent cheerfully with family. This sounds nice in theory, but can sometimes be difficult, especially for those with large families. Budgeting free hours between multiple families can be stressful. Blended families also bring a particular set of challenges. As divorce and remarriage have become more prevalent, many Americans spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with step-fathers, step-mothers, step-children, half-siblings and step-siblings.
My mother always told me, when you marry a man, you marry a family. When I first met my five stepchildren, they were teens and pre-teens. Children this age have their own special personalities, wishes, and goals. Blending their expectations with our expectations was actually quite smooth – here is what we did.
When couples divorce, the family unit undergoes a drastic change. Will the children stay in their home town? Will they move? How far away will they be from the absent parent? How will this affect family gatherings? Has the absent spouse remarried? Understanding that stress exists, and the cause of that stress helps everyone deal with it. Even adult children of divorce will be affected during the holidays. They now must split their time between parents and may feel they are losing out on beloved traditions.
Make time to talk to everyone involved about what their expectations are for the holidays. And make sure you communicate your expectations too! This helps manage everyone’s expectations and ensure that any anxieties or stressors can be addressed before they begin. You would rather know something will not be taken well beforehand to plan for or discuss it.
Each family has its own beliefs, traditions and shared activities. The important thing to remember is that children have no ability to be in two places at once. Often, a family can attend Christmas Day brunch with Mom and Christmas Day dinner with Dad. Many families get together on Christmas Eve. Make it work! Part of the excitement of blended families is the opportunity to create new traditions!
You must commit to making blended families work. Jump in with both feet. Be aware of those expectations you’ve discussed but don’t let minor circumstances derail your plans. The night before a planned family trip to Disneyland, my twelve-year-old stepdaughter said she had a stomachache and couldn’t go. She did this often, so we told her we were all getting on the plane the next day. That’s what we did, and we all had a great time.
What is more important, the holiday or getting together for the holiday? My husband and I both worked for different airlines and were based in San Francisco. There is no such thing in the airline industry as a holiday for employees. So we arranged our schedules to work over the holidays and went to Seattle after our flights to visit the kids. It worked out well for everyone. They shared holidays with their mother’s family and we got to see all of them a few days later. Win-win. The successful blended family is a flexible family.
The world would be a happier place if we could practice forgiving and forgetting past insults or hurts. Even in non-blended families, it is almost inevitable that someone in your family will hurt another family member’s feelings. With the extra difficulties that come with blended families, you can imagine how easy it is to hurt one another in big and small ways.
This happened to my husband and me after we paid for one of my stepdaughters’ senior trip to Paris, France, with her high school French class. She came home, wrote us an “I never want to talk with you again” letter, and got married. I still don’t understand why this happened. We didn’t communicate with her for four years. But there are just some things you have to let go of and eventually, we got back together again. I don’t hold that time against her. Choosing to forgive and forget brought us back together and has made our holidays spent together that much more enjoyable.
Living in the moment has its advantages. Forget your worries and cares for a while and enjoy what is in front of you. It may be easy to dwell on the way things were once done or what you wish had happened. But this is not helpful to anyone in a blended family! Focus on what you do have, encourage others to do the same and celebrate those joys with the ones you love. They will be happy to share this time with you and create new memories.
All families come with challenges. Blended families are no different, but from their difficulties can also come love, understanding and joy. Enjoy the love and camaraderie that a big family can bring. Happy Holidays!