By Linda Natali
All together now: "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Or as we like to sing in the blended family, "It's the most DIFFICULT time of the year."
You've got your bio-parents, step-parents, your in-laws, your out-laws, kids, step-kids, and half-sibs, the original grandparents, the step-grandparents, and that isn't even counting the aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. There are more players in this production than even the brilliant director-turned-octo-dad, Mel Gibson, would want to tackle.
The holidays can be difficult under normal circumstances, but when you throw in the expectations, emotions, and stress of a blended family, you've got your hands full trying to make it a winter wonderland.
If you don't have the bling and staff that Mel Gibson, Will Smith, A-Rod, Britney Spears, or even the Gosselin family has to underwrite a fabulous holiday spread, read on for some tips that just might make it a bit easier to get the whole "fam-damily" around the tree.
Walk a mile in everyone's shoes. Realize that everyone has their own expectation of what the holidays should bring. Step-families are just that because they have experienced some type of loss in their history, whether by death or divorce.
Many times kids in blended families wish that things were the way they used to be. They may feel sad and be grieving the loss of the original family. They may not want to celebrate the holidays three or four different times at three or four different locations EVERY year.
On the flip side, relatives such as grandparents yearn to have their grandkids with them for the holidays. Bio-parents and step-parents alike usually have a desire to make it the best holiday ever for their kids. Everyone is coming from a different perspective and it helps if you can keep that in mind and be sensitive to all involved.
Compromise, communicate and commit for the sake of your kids. Holidays are hectic with busy schedules for everyone. Sissy may have a performance at school the same day and time that your step-son has a basketball tournament across town. Children and adults get sick. Plans have to be canceled or changed.
It's in the best interest of your children if you can keep the lines of communication open with your ex - share all the information you have concerning scheduling and be flexible. Don't leave the scheduling to the children.
Work it out with your ex, knowing that schedules give kids a sense of stability. It may be difficult but during these planning sessions, try to show your former spouse some appreciation for the care that he gives your children. This type of attitude and commitment to civility - especially during this season of merriment - bodes well for your kids. They shouldn't have to bear the heavy burden of quarreling parents.
Stop one-upmanship. Dad bought your little Johnny an iPod, Xbox 360 and season tickets to the Los Angeles Lakers. How are you going to top that - and do you even want to? No, you don't.
Have a conversation with your ex prior to the holidays and agree on a spending limit and a reasonable gift list. If your ex won't go along with that do not get caught up in the competition. Sit with your kids and explain to them that different people have different incomes and different values, which allows for different gift giving. The holidays aren't about how much you get but about the memories that you make together. Sounds corny and if they are young they won't get it until they are older, but you will have planted the seed and they'll eventually figure it out.
Create traditions with a twist. Face the fact that the holidays aren't ever going to be what they were, but they can still be memorable and merry. In time they can even be great.
It takes the passage of time for everyone to adjust to their new place within a blended family - a family that some members are suddenly and sometimes unwillingly thrust into. This transition can be made a little easier by involving the children in deciding which old traditions to keep and which new ones to create.
You can celebrate the week before Christmas if it makes it easier to have all the extended family together. Everyone can enjoy a nice long block of time together with no pressure. Stop insisting that everyone celebrate on the 25th and then having to drive for three hours later in the day to get your kids to your ex's.
The family can start a tradition of having a theme holiday such as "The Nightmare Before Christmas". You can enjoy a private chuckle knowing that no one knows better than you how true this theme is. Go ice skating and have hot chocolate afterward, chop down your own tree, make your own ornaments, wrap presents together. Let everyone brainstorm and choose the ideas that reflect your family.
Avoid busting the bank. It is tempting to put your money where your heart is and overspend during this time of year. Resist. Blended families are larger than traditional families. There are a lot of people to buy for. Draw names instead of overdrawing your checking account. In January you'll be glad you did.
One possible solution is to have all family members put their name in a hat on Thanksgiving Day and everyone draw one name. Set a reasonable dollar amount for the gifts to be purchased. Then let everyone put some time and thought into getting a gift that is special to the person that they drew. An alternative to the name drawing is a white elephant gift exchange. Good memories and a lot of laughter will transpire.
Think even Steven. Buy all the children in your blended family gifts of the same quality and in the same price range. Don't buy duplicates. Everyone wants to feel like some thought and effort was put into the purchasing of their gift. Sissy doesn't want to get a Barbie doll just because Step-Sissy wanted one. Don't cheap out on your step-kids either. They will notice and resentment will fester.
Kids from blended families tend to get a lot of gifts during the holidays anyway just because of the sheer number of relatives involved. Make your gifts meaningful. Take the time to listen to your kids and really hear what they are hoping to get. Then if it is something that isn't crazy expensive and you can make it happen for them, do.
Suck it up. Adults need to be adults during the holidays. It is hard enough for children to have to leave one parent or the other during the holidays depending on whether it is an odd or even year. You shoulder the brunt of that. Don't make your kids feel guilty when they leave to spend the holiday with your ex. Encourage them to have fun! Put on a happy face. Fake it till you make it!
They deserve a happy, guilt-free holiday and you can help facilitate that by setting aside your differences with your ex during the holidays. It will make for a better holiday for you too, and you won't have to worry about getting a lump of coal in your stocking.
Tips and Warnings
- Don't expect complete success the first year, or even the second year.
- Help your children buy gifts for your ex. It's the right thing to do.
- Buy gifts for step-kids to give to everyone in the family that your bio-kids buy for.
- Tame the holiday frenzy by spending some downtime together as a family.
- Vent to your best friend, spouse, or pastor, but never your kids regarding how frustrating the holidays can be when you're in a blended family.
- Be aware that your ex may not want to use your strategies to have pleasant holiday.
What are your favorite holiday family traditions? Let us know!
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