Blended Families: How to Do it Without Shaking Everyone Up
Not Your Ordinary Family
Being a step parent is a difficult thing sometimes. During the holidays this year however, I have to admit, it seemed simpler. Perhaps I was farther removed this time, albeit not necessarily by my design. I bought the necessary items to make the requested contribution to the family meal, which was held at my step-daughter's house.
My oldest stepdaughter, Julie is a great hostess, and loves to have family around her. If she ever feels differently, you would be the last to know, she is the family diplomat. I am sure she got this fine quality from her mother, who really makes the holidays something to remember for her children. Julie has wonderful children and her husband is quite creative and entertaining. One of my greatest memories was a few years back, when he had us in hysterical laughter as the vocalist for our "Guitar Hero" rock band performance.
Preparing for the get-togethers as the step-parent includes attitude adjustments. They are days that invite goodwill, gratitude and grace, but don't always exhibit them in practice. If there is unresolved conflict in the family, everyone feels the tension. Each family member comes with their own preferences and expectations, but while some families make these times a passive battle, others make them a blessing just by them being together.
As I have aged, I have had to learn to adjust to the different situations of the blended families of which I am a part. Change is necessary, but it is not always easy. The people around you may have ways of interacting that you don't understand. On their best behavior with each other for the moment, try to remember that no matter how things appear, you can be yourself.
I try now to imagine my as a tourist with a passport, going to a foreign land. I don't have to understand everything that goes on, I just have to adapt to the land I am in for now. I am not a foreigner to my grandchildren, so I allow them to be my tour guides. At times, that has been my protection from the realities of other inappropriate behavior. When children play games they are passionate about having fun and playing make believe. Being with them is uncomplicated. I love that.
They take me places in their play world that I would otherwise not go. They teach me things about the culture (their family life) that I would not otherwise comprehend. They make comments which enlighten me and sometimes affirm our presence in their life. Often overlooked on Thanksgiving, they are certainly center-stage on birthdays and Christmas.
In family settings, I try now to not give advice unless it is asked for. I don't have to eat a perfect meal or anything else that goes with it. I can be a guest, and I am content in that role. I help when asked, but don't overtake the process. I respect and trust that the host or hostess is doing what they sees necessary. I don't critique the meal. I have seen that done, and I have been the recipient of the criticism. It is not helpful, as timing the meal is difficult enough.
I offer to do the dishes, or at least help with them if it is allowed. If I am told no, I can rest and not feel awkward. I enjoy the ones who are there, and I generally listen more than speak. When I do, I have more to be thankful for, for I can recognize the growth that has taken place in everyone's life, and sort out the rest later.
It seems that people are always in conflict of some sort, in fact it is kind of the new normal. In strained families that do not talk, these may be a time that may evoke emotions that need to be revealed. The setting, however, does not necessarily promote private conversation or resolution. Restrain your expectation, in some families there are dynamics you might be completely unaware of that affects the way others treat you. Leave the heavy issues for another time and place and do your best to be the peacekeeper.
If you are not the favored guest, you become acutely aware of it. This requires maturity on your part to rise above it. I try to ignore unwaranted comments or looks that indicate there has been gossip or misunderstanding, for which I will most likely never be given an opportunity to present your side. That is their family baggage, and you can't change that, no matter how much you would try. If you make it a cause, it makes for one long, tiring event which no one remembers as happy. Time has a way of revealing the truth, be at rest and just focus on what is great about the gathering.
Choose to ignore ungracious comments in most situations, but don't be afraid to state the truth. Let others have the drama, and rest in who you are as a person. Give in, live in the space of peace and love in your heart and stay there as long and as best you can. Forgive quickly. If you got more than you bargained for, grow and move on and become a better person for it. It's your choice.