The holidays are stressful generally but may present special challenges for blended families, especially newly blended families.
By Laura Reagan-Porras, MS
I divorced 13 years ago and remarried 7 years ago. I have gained some insights about what works and doesn’t work about navigating the holidays as the mom of a blended family. As a marriage and family sociologist, I also facilitate co-parenting education groups for parents in blended families.
• Have realistic expectations.
There is no such thing as a perfect holiday meal. There is no perfect gift that will heal divorce. There is no perfect holiday family activity that will make everyone suddenly feel closer. There are only opportunities to connect. Children may choose to connect, or they may not, depending on where they are in the process of accepting and feeling a part of the blended family. Wherever they are in the process is valid.
My husband, their stepfather, invited our daughters to his parents’ Christmas Eve dinner but did not push them to do so. They were older and had their own traditions established with me as their biological parent prior to the new marriage. My girls chose to go to dinner with his parents but did not want to say for the gift-giving extravaganza since they really didn’t know all the extended family members. Tweens and teens may need to take their time embracing an extended family.
Many experts believe it takes approximately five years to blend a step family. David L. Brasher, BCSW and family therapist states, “If you decide to be a stepparent, be sure to attend to the needs of your own children also. Above all, be patient with yourself, your spouse and all the children.
• Be Open, Adaptable and Flexible.
“My mom doesn’t make the turkey that way.” An actualized step parent will not be threatened and will simply respond by saying something like this, “Tell me how your mom does it. I might want to try it like that sometime.” If the child says, “Daddy’s Christmas tree has the ornaments I made when I was little.” A wise step parent might say something like this, “That must be really special to have those special ornaments on the tree. Will you help me make an ornament for our tree?” Biological parents might support the blended family dynamics by sharing with the child, “Not everyone does things the same way, and we can try a new way.” Learning to live with different people and different styles of conducting day to day life is a positive skill that can help kids of blended families for years to come in their interpersonal and professional lives.
• Choose Simple Family Activities.
Keeping activities simple helps diffuse tension and helps new family members get to know each other without pressure. The following list are suggestions that may lay the foundation for new family traditions.
- Watch a holiday DVD and string popcorn for the tree.
- Go to a holiday movie in a theatre together.
- Go Christmas caroling around your neighborhood.
- Go to church, synagogue or mosque together.
- Volunteer together at the charity or non-profit of your choice.
- Bake holiday cookies together.
- Make New Year cards for military service personnel.
- Trim the Christmas tree together as a family
I grew up with the PBS show Mister Rogers Neighborhood. He was fond of saying, “I like you just the way you are.” Family should be a place of unconditional love where we are comfortable to be ourselves. Blended families must be the place where we practice this level of acceptance.
Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a parenting journalist and sociologist. She facilitates co-parenting education classes with blended family members. Laura and her husband, Medardo have blended their family with two daughters.
There are many helpful resources for blending families.
Divorce care groups, co-parenting education support groups and stepparent support groups can help parents discuss these all blended family issues but especially holiday related topics this time of year. Many churches and some non-profits agencies offer such groups and services. Parents and stepparents always have the option of working with a therapist.