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