Bringing a blended family together involves a little juggling and a lot of sensitivity to everyone’s needs and emotions. And just when you think things are running smoothly, along comes the holidays to turn everything upside-down.
Most of us love the holidays and look forward to them, but even the biggest fan of festivities is familiar with the stress and strain. When you add in the emotional impacts of divorce and remarriage, those stresses can increase tremendously. Children miss their former families and feel a greater sense of loss during the holiday season, because most families have a long list of traditions — some grand and some so simple they’re easy to miss. Planning for all the dinners and other get-togethers can lead to conflicts. Gift-giving can become competitive for parents and be viewed as unfair when some kids get more than others.
But the holidays can actually present a great time to strengthen blended families and help children transition to their new lives. They give families opportunities to create new traditions that will become just as beloved as the familiar ones. They provide a chance to guide kids through the sadness about what was and to let them know their feelings are normal. If parents are careful not to put children in a place where they feel torn between their families, the kids will have less stress, and everyone will enjoy the holidays more.
It’s important to plan ahead and make sure everyone knows the plan (even better if those plans are in writing). When kids know what to expect as far as events, travel, and the like, they’ll be more excited and less stressed. It’s also good to make sure everyone understands expectations about gift-giving. Respect your former spouse’s time with the kids. A clear, agreed-upon schedule can prevent fights about who goes where with whom when.
As your new family creates new traditions, see if you can incorporate elements from both families’ past traditions. Maybe everyone spent an entire Saturday baking and decorating cookies or traveled together to pick out the perfect tree (letting the kids make that choice can build a sense of teamwork). Come up with fun new traditions, like a scavenger hunt, a mini-golf tournament, or a holiday movie night. Sing carols or go ice skating. Next year, everyone will remember and look forward to doing the same.
Take care of yourself, too. It’s so easy to become focused on trying to make everyone else happy that you end up miserable. Every minute of the season doesn’t have to be about the kids. Spend some quality time with your spouse creating your own traditions, whether that’s a romantic dinner or a ski weekend. Seeing the two of you draw together helps to build stability for everyone, and it strengthens your relationship for that time when the kids leave the nest.
Still uneasy about what’s ahead? Not sure how to handle unique circumstances in your family situation? One of our professional counselors may be able to listen to your challenges and offer practical advice that can help you get through the holidays with a smile. Why not contact us today?
Jennifer Strege specializes in marriage and family counseling, with a particular focus on issues associated with blended families.