Tips to Keep the Holidays Focused on the Children
Learning how to play well with others can be a hard lesson even as an adult - specifically when referring to one's ex.
"Ex-Etiquette for Holidays and other Family Celebrations," is the third book in the Ex-Etiquette series, which is also a syndicated question and answer column under McClatchy Tribune, featured in many newspapers. The book delves into the basics of how to deal with one's ex-spouse, new additions to the family and how to behave when sitting across from each other at the dinner table. "This isn't necessarily only for the holidays," said Jann Blackstone-Ford, one of the two authors. "Really any setting where a split family gets together can be very awkward; it requires new rules."
The Stepfamily Foundation, an organization founded to help families of separated parents, features statistics from U.S. Census Bureau stating that 50 percent of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent's current partner. The non-profit organization, Bonus Families, is based in a small town in Northern California where Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe founded it and its Web site, Bonus Families.com. Both act as a resource for split and blended families.
According to the two women, the term bonus is used instead of step to remove any\ negative connotation. "I hated being called a step-mom," Blackstone-Ford said laughing. "It felt like in fairy tales; we're always the bad guys. I didn't want to be the evil stepmother; I wanted my own happily ever after."
Blackstone-Ford and Jupe coined the term "ex-etiquette" after manners maven Emily Post's original definition of etiquette, as a " a code of behavior based on consideration, kindness and unselfishness." The premise is of ex-etiquette is simple, but of course easier said than done. Rule number one is always put the kids first.
The authors say their methods are designed with kids in mind because if kids were not in the picture most exes wouldn't need to interact. "In the end, if it's about the children you do the best you can because all of a sudden, it's not about you," Blackstone-Ford said.
Blackstone-Ford also uses this method in her profession as a mediator by putting a photo of the couple's child between them to keep the discussion focused even when words get heated. Many of the questions in the book come from their Web site, but specifically touches upon various situations the holiday season brings up such as, buying gifts for an ex and their new family as well as sharing birthdays and celebrating religious events.
Both know the struggles of blended families first hand - Jupe is Blackstone-Ford's partner in the organization and consultant on the book. She is also Jann's husband's ex-wife. The two admit people seemed shocked that they could even bear to be near one another, let alone take the kids trick-or-treating together or spend Christmas in the same house. "People kept asking us what our secret was, but in the beginning it was difficult for us, too," Blackstone-Ford said. "But, it's never a good thing to make a child choose a family.
Blackstone-Ford took her own advice in the beginning and kept her children first priority even if she wasn't happiest with the outcome. She believes part of the reason the organization has gotten so popular is because the ideas are very different from what's normally heard. It's compromise not necessarily chaos. "You want to teach your kids that in real life you have to learn to deal with people you don't get along with," she said.
EX-ETIQUETTE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe adapted the original 10 rules of good ex-etiquette to specifically address the holidays in their book, "Ex-Etiquette for Holidays", a time that could be very difficult if a family is still adjusting. Nevertheless, the same rules can apply and in the end, make the holiday season a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.
1. Put the children first. While holidays may be a family occasion, sometimes you do have to spend it on your own if your spouse has the children. Jann Blackstone-Ford spent it with friends until one day these friends invited her ex-husband and their family. This has become a tradition ever since.
2. Remember the spirit of the special occasion or holiday. You can at least sacrifice a holiday dinner, three hours at most that your child can spend with your ex-husband or wife. It's not about your time or 'their time' or 'my time' it's about both of you benefiting your little one.
3. Never badmouth your ex, extended-family members, the host, or others. It's an event to be enjoyed, but it will always be hard if neither party will communicate even if you avoid each other. In their book, the idea is encompassed in: "You can do your best to make someone else's life miserable, but to do that, you also have to stay in a miserable, victimized state."
4. Get organized well in advance. Getting together can be stressful, but worthwhile in the end, just have reasonable expectations of yourself and others.
5. Don' be spiteful. Blackstone-Ford exercises the idea of "controlling your thoughts and your life." You might not like someone, but that doesn't mean you're two-faced if you're polite. Control what you think of them and you're life will be in control.
6. Don't hold grudges. Same application, specifically when celebrating. Don't bring up past mistakes.
7. Use empathy when problem solving. No matter the scenario that comes up in the hustle and bustle of an event or dinner, relate to one another. You might be surprised.
8. Be honest and straightforward. Guarding your thoughts in any scenario is key, no matter where you are and even if you haven't seen your ex since last Christmas. Talk and realize you can't change the other person.
9. Respect each other's turf, holiday rituals, and family traditions. Compromise whenever possible. Traditions bring a family closer, so as the family changes allow new traditions even if the players change. "…Modify the past tradition, don't abandon it."