Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Does Christmas Mean For A Stepmum?


As I was ferreting around my attic for our trusty old Christmas decorations, diving into dusty boxes in order to unearth the baubles and tinsel that I had carefully packed away last January I wondered whether I really wanted to go through all the trouble of putting up our Christmas tree….yet again. That may seem a strange consideration to some of you, but when you've done it for as long as I have, you too might get a little weary of this annual process. This year, like every other, I find myself on my own as I  struggle with the tree's unwieldy branches, the strings of light that never blink when I test them out, but miraculously begin to do just that (which I absolutely hate!!) as soon as I've strung them on the tree; the intricate gold chains that are hopelessly tangled and will take hours to pick apart….oh, blast!!!!

The boys are grown up now and I am extremely busy. And to top it all off, today I’m tired, cranky and as always, pressed for time. So, why bother? Good question!!  Answer (after some consideration):

* I do it because some years ago my husband, in his wisdom, suggested that Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without it all. And considering the fact that many years ago I had to absolutely insist on instituting ANY traditions in our home (which he had no interest in at the time whilst I knew that this would be important for our children (2 of whom were my stepchildren) I should pat myself on the back for ‘a job well done’.

* I do it because the truth is that Christmas really wouldn’t be Christmas without all our traditions. And so I continue on decorating our home, putting up our tree and baking the Austrian cookies that present me with such a challenge every year because Austrian Christmas cookies don’t like Aussie Christmas temperatures…and come to think of it neither do I, especially when in the kitchen.

Anyhow, to stop rambling, as I was digging around my attic for the familiar Christmas treasures I began to think about the different meaning Christmas might have for different people and it occurred to me that many stepparents would relate to the following acronym:

C - CHAOS
H - HOSTILITY
R - RESENTMENT
I -  IRRITATION
S - STRESS
T - TENSION
M - MISERY
A - ANNOYANCE
S - SADNESS

This was certainly true for my first few Christmases after becoming a stepmother. In fact, I cried buckets of tears for the first 6 or 7 years. And from my dealings with blended families I know that this is equally true for many other stepmums. But I ask you, does anyone like feeling this way???? I don’t think so. Let me give you some ideas that can help you change the above meaning of Christmas to the following one:

C - CALM
H – HOPE
R – REACHING OUT
I – INSPIRATION
S – STILLNESS
T – TOLERANCE
M – MEMORIES
A – ACCEPTANCE
S – SERENITY

FROM CHAOS TO CALM:

CHAOS, as we all know, is a state of confusion, turmoil and disarray. Christmas may cause an internal as well as an external state of chaos if we are unprepared for the variety of challenges that we may have to face at this time of year, and which can turn Christmas into a nightmare. Just to name a few such challenges:  Perhaps our well-laid Christmas plans are rattled by a biological parent’s last minute changes…. or by children who decide that they’d rather be with their other parent than….. or by the ex calling every five minutes to see how the kids are doing…. or by the fact that ‘daddy dearest’ spends all our savings on presents for the kids - presents that we cannot afford…. or by the expectations that our stepchildren need to be in 5 places at once on Christmas day…. or that we’ve tried so hard to please everyone and no-one seems to be happy… or that we are all worn out and totally exhausted by the strain and stress of it all.

CALM, the opposite of chaos, can best be achieved by having a plan...a contingency plan and...yet another contingency plan. Being thus prepared can be a sanity saver at Christmas. What a lovely feeling if we can just shrug our shoulders when the partner’s ex throws unexpected changes at us, when we can grin at his or her puzzlement at our nonchalant response to whatever challenges come our way. Here are a few handy hints to achieve this desirable state:

* Don’t fall into the trap of having fixed ideas about the way Christmas SHOULD BE.

* Be flexible before, especially during and even after the big C Day.

* Make Christmas a special time for your step/children, even if that should mean it won’t be what you would like it to be or what YOU may be used to.

* Any time you notice tension creeping into your shoulders, breathe deeply 2,3,4,5 times (just don’t hyperventilate!!!)

* Hang loose!

FROM HOSTILITY TO HOPE:

HOSTILITY Christmas, traditionally a time of family connectedness, can unfortunately also be the very time that reminds our partners, our exes, the children and perhaps even us of Christmases past. These memories may resurface a sense of guilt, grief and loss which can easily turn into hostility. As this increases the likelihood of  spoiling a day that should ideally be spent in an atmosphere of peace, happiness and joy, we should guard against this at all costs. If you have the misfortune of having to deal with a hostile ex-partner or hostile step/children, recognize that their hostility is rooted in deep feelings of hurt and find it in your heart to be as gracious as possible on this occasion.

HOPE can be a good antidote for hostility:

Hope helps us remember that all things change and even the most deeply-felt emotions will diminish over time. Hope gives us the strength to leave the past behind and focus on the challenges of the present whilst also keeping an eye on the future. 
Hope helps us to overlook things that aren’t worth fighting or suffering for. 
Hope enables us to hold on to our ideals, our visions and plans for a successful stepfamily life marked by peace and joy. 
Hope can help us let hostile comments pass, overlook insensitivities and be generous with our affection, even when we find ourselves face-to-face with the resentment of others. 

I'll be exploring the remainder of the acronym over the next couple of weeks. So, please be sure to revisit this blog, or better still subscribe to it so that the next instalment, once published, will simply appear in your inbox. 

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