Parenting - - In This Issue - John Cowan

Tips for get­ting your blended fam­ily through the mine­fields of the fes­tive sea­son.

To have got­ten this far, you must be tough. So you are tough enough to get through Christ­mas. Talk­ing about ‘the hap­pi­est time of year’ as though it's an or­deal might strike you as pes­simistic, but if you are in a blended fam­ily, it can be very stress­ful. Here are some tips.

Plan some­thing for your­self. If your kids will be away with your ex, sched­ule some­thing great for your­self. Christ­mas can be cel­e­brated all sorts of ways, but watch­ing The Sound of Mu­sic alone with a beer and in­stant noo­dles should be at the bot­tom of your list. Drop hints to fam­ily and friends, then wait for the in­vi­ta­tions. Do not rule out tak­ing part in a com­mu­nity Christ­mas din­ner – they are great fun and hap­pen be­cause there are lots and lots of peo­ple who can­not be with fam­ily at Christ­mas, many of them for sim­i­lar rea­sons to you.

Make Christ­mas big­ger. Christ­mas Day is not long enough. It will stress you and your kids out if you try to pack too much travel, too many pick-ups and too many meals into the one day. Utilise the days be­fore and af­ter Christ­mas to sat­isfy ev­ery­one’s de­sire for catch-ups and cel­e­bra­tions. Plan ahead and start lin­ing things up with your ex and ex­tended fam­ily. When you are just as happy to cel­e­brate on Christ­mas Eve or Boxing Day, ne­go­ti­a­tions over what hap­pens on the 25th can be more re­laxed.

Cater for the ghosts at your ta­ble. Your kids may miss your ex or other fam­ily mem­bers who can­not be with you at Christ­mas. Their ab­sence may clash with your chil­dren's sense of how things ‘ought to be at Christ­mas’. The rea­sons for why you are not to­gether will be eclipsed in their young hearts by strong long­ings. You would not be hu­man if you did not feel a lit­tle flare of anger and you may feel they are be­ing dis­loyal to you. Like you have done so many times be­fore, you will have to make al­lowances for their chil­dren’s logic and sym­pa­thise with them.

Truce. On Christ­mas Day 1914, Al­lied and Ger­man sol­diers stopped fight­ing, climbed out of their trenches and ex­changed greet­ings, gifts and even played foot­ball to­gether. Maybe your deal­ings with your ex are peace­ful, but for many, it is still a bat­tle­ground. ‘Grace’ is a lovely word to de­scribe un­earned kind­ness and love. You may need lots of it as you ar­range calls and vis­its, when you have to bend to fit in with oth­ers, or when you give your kids money to buy presents for an ex who is still fight­ing you over child sup­port. Most of all, you will need grace to de­flect snip­ing re­marks or pas­sive ag­gres­sive sab­o­tage of your ar­range­ments. It will mean a lot to your kids if you can mo­men­tar­ily sus­pend hos­til­i­ties.

It’s not a com­pe­ti­tion. Gift-giv­ing is a lovely part of Christ­mas. As you choose gifts, re­mem­ber you have noth­ing to prove, nei­ther to your ex nor your kids. Over-ex­pen­di­ture is cited as a ma­jor source of Christ­mas stress, so take it easy.

Steps with steps. Bi­ol­ogy is hard to ig­nore. We are wired to pro­tect and favour our own ge­netic legacy and that means we need a lot of con­scious ef­fort to treat our step-kids as warmly as our own ‘bio-kids’. Be­ing in a blended fam­ily pro­vides end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties to dis­cover just what a won­der­ful per­son you truly are!

Tra­di­tional Christ­mas. Blended fam­i­lies mean a blend­ing of fam­ily cul­tures. When mem­bers from two dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies-of-ori­gin com­bine, they bring with them all sorts of ex­pec­ta­tions and tra­di­tions. You will have al­ready had to meld and weld ideas around bed­times, meal­times, chores, pocket money and fam­ily rules – now is yet an­other chance to sit down and share ideas of how you would like to cel­e­brate Christ­mas. Hon­our their mem­o­ries and the way they used to do things, but some­times com­pet­ing ideas need to be dis­carded in favour of a brand new fam­ily tra­di­tion.

Some­times com­pet­ing

ideas need to be dis­carded in favour of a brand new fam­ily tra­di­tion.

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