Holidays for the Blended Family
Holiday Spirit for Blended Families
Inequality with Presents
I hate inequality. It is one of those things that as a parent we fight against. We want all things to be as equal as possible. Equal number of Christmas presents at Christmas; equal number of clothes purchased; equal size of entre at dinner and desert; equal personal time with each child. However the very nature of stepfamilies prohibits equality. One child or one side of the family is almost always going to get more things, more time, more attention, more grandparents than the other. It is unavoidable. You don’t have to like it but for the children’s sake you have to tolerate it. Worse, you have to explain it to the ones who don’t have the same number of grandparents or same gifts lavished upon them.
Second Change Marriage
I had this very problem. My husband’s ex and her parents were in a place to lavish more on their children than my ex was inclined to give my children. What’s more is that his mother was in no position to buy gifts or even visit because of her health. I did my best to explain but children don’t really want to understand inequality. They may have got it but they didn’t like it and it created a wedge between them. Outside the holidays they managed to get along very well, but the holidays were eternally hard.
One year my husband’s ex-in-laws offered to take my girls with them on a shopping spree. They were in their early teens at the time. That offer was above and beyond the call of duty for these grandparents. It was kind-hearted and much appreciated by my husband and I, but the children were still a bit depressed by it. My girls felt the void of their grandparent not coming even more. This is just one of the pit-falls of blended families to overcome.
Shouldn't it be called BLENDING families instead of BLENDED? Blended implies that it happens and it's over. But it's never as easy as all that. It is an ongoing process that doesn't even end once they have all grown and left home... We have a BLENDING FAMILY.
Adults need to be adult
One of the biggest problems is getting adults to act like adults. One couple my husband and I counseled told us about the wife’s parents who refused to accept the new son-in-law’s children as their grandchildren. This grandmother came over lavishing the wife’s children with gifts but refused to acknowledge the other children much less give them gifts as well. You don’t have much power to change the ex in-law’s parents but you can demand a few things from your own parents. Remember adults need to act like adults. It is not the children’s fault that you are divorced and it should never be taken out on the children. Also the children will not be able to understand why they were singled out to be ignored. They will grow up believing they didn’t deserve better, and that is just not right.
Do you have problems getting your parents to understand you and your parenting?
I think one of my favorite TV shows has been Gilmore Girls. It was Lorelei who decided that if her mother could not accept her and her child, then she needed to go and make her own life without her parents. This is an extreme but if your parents know that you can and will refuse access to your children if they insist on continuing to be mean and divisive toward the stepchildren, then they will probably change their tune.
The thing is that you will be faced with your children thinking this is unfair to refuse access to their grandparents. Remember you are the parent. If you buckle under this pressure, those same wonderful grandparents will sew seeds of doubt and animosity in your children to create a wedge at home. You don’t want this, believe me. I know from experience.
My own parents argued that I shouldn’t “force” stepchildren on them when they didn’t have a choice. To be honest they didn’t have a choice with the biological grandchildren either. Just because the divorce and remarriage wasn’t their choice does not give them the right to mistreat these new step grandchildren. Remind them of who the adults are and who the children are.
My kids acting like adults
Things to remember
- Don’t try to compensate for the inequity of gifts from extended family. You will be perceived by all the children as playing favorites and create a greater gulf of resentment to overcome.
- Try to explain the situation and keep children from lashing out at each other. Children have a hard time knowing what to do with anger and they tend to lash out at the nearest and dearest. The best thing is to help them understand anger and be free to express it, even work through it.
- Don’t make children bottle up anger over inequities. It will create a volcano of historic proportions and eventually spew out on everyone. Allow them to express it to you. Create a free zone where anger can be allowed and embraced. I used an anger mat. It was an old welcome mat where I traced footprints with a Sharpie. The instructions were: incase of anger, stand here and jump up and down until the anger passes. Yelling allowed.
- Encourage words. Children have the hardest time putting anger and depression into words. You have to create a place and time where lashing out, even at you, is allowed and understood as a child works through what really is making them angry. This is hard because in a way, you probably are angry too. As the parent and the adult in the situation, try to stay detached enough to see they need this.
Holidays are Supposed to be Happy
Remember this isn’t your fault. We parents like to take responsibility for everything. It is the adult thing to do. But for whatever reason divorce and remarriage happened, it is over and done. You must move on from here and try not to take the blame for this holiday anger too. Stay as up as you possibly can. Play lots of music, bake cookies, heat cocoa, pull out all the Christmas movie specials, pull the kids into the card making and mailing operation. Your healthy perspective will help their healthy perspective. It’s a must.
Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages
Five Love Languages
Research the five love languages. If you haven’t already, you need to make sure you know all the love languages of your children. If one child responds best to acts of service, just telling them how loved they are isn’t going to made the same impact as doing chores with them. It is holiday time that you need to be expressing these things more than any other. This is the time when all of them are feeling the loss of the absent parent and grandparents.
One year, I noticed that one of my particularly taciturn daughters had really been putting in extra effort to be cordial and amicable with the stepchildren. I decided I wanted to let her know that I noticed she made the extra effort but just telling her wasn’t enough. Her love language is gifts, so I put a chocolate kiss on her pillow for her to find at bedtime along with a note saying privately that I had noticed her effort. You cannot imagine what a change came over that girl for weeks. That one little gift cost me almost nothing but brought her mood up better than I had seen it in years. I started doing the same, small notes of encouragement and kisses, with the others but their love languages weren’t gifts. Sure they appreciated chocolate, but they didn’t really have the same response of that first chocolate kiss gift.
Build traditions that all the stepsiblings will be involved in. These will be traditions and memories that they can keep always. Do a tree cutting together at a Christmas tree farm; baking together; decorating together; making gingerbread houses together; caroling for friends and family. Whatever it is, make it something you fit into your holiday schedule each year and let them know it is their tradition. These seem like little things but years from now they will let you know it is something they don’t want to do without. It becomes a meaningful moment for your family. We created a song/skit tradition where the kids worked on a Christmas song along with dance moves and animation that they performed for family. It became a much-loved tradition.