Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Stepfamily Success At Christmas

Yes, yes I know, it's been ages since I last made a post. Life has just been too busy for words but with Christmas around the corner I felt that it was time that I finally took to the keyboard again to bring a little bit of festive cheer and a become a timely reminder for you that this wonderful yet crazy season doesn't have to be any more hectic or disconcerting than tends to be normal in most stepfamilies. So just sit back and enjoy!

“Okay, so what is it YOU want to do?”  Ella furiously shouts at Pete. “This is the way we’ve always done it. Just because your ‘darling daughter’ is going to grace us with her presence this Christmas surely doesn’t mean that we need to turn everything upside down?”
“But you know how important this is to me”, Pete yells back, his voice choked with emotion. You’ve been saying yourself all these years how great it’ll be when Olivia will finally spend a Christmas with us”.
“Yes, but I didn’t know that she doesn’t eat turkey, doesn’t want to wait until after breakfast to open her presents or that you’ll have to play taxi for her all day long! What about us? What about what we want? I just want Christmas to be like it’s always been. It isn’t fair! Just because you daughter has finally decided to spend Christmas with us everything needs to change? No way!” Ella shouts as she dissolves into tears of helpless frustration.

Pete, red-faced and shaking with emotion, tells me about the battle he and Ella had fought just a few days ago. With a quaver to his voice he concludes his story saying: “If I’d known how it was going to be I’d never have remarried.”

Christmas, a time of cherished traditions, fond childhood memories and often rather rigid expectations can be an extremely difficult time for blended families. The necessity of accommodating the wishes and/or demands of ex-spouses, multiple sets of grandparents, current partners and any number of children can be like riding an emotional rollercoaster, not to mention turning into a logistical nightmare. If this is where you are at, let me encourage you with suggestions that will help make Christmas a more peaceful and enjoyable experience:

Keep it simple: Have the Christmases of your past been elaborate affairs? Well, that’s wonderful ….but be sure that this one isn’t. You’ll only feel upset if your efforts aren’t duly appreciated, if one child or another needs to leave before you’ve had a chance to bring out the Christmas pudding, or if any of your other cherished Christmas traditions are rudely interrupted, being challenged or altogether refused. The simpler you’ll keep it, the less potential for disaster.

Have a plan: The more people you have in your world whose wishes you need to accommodate the more important it becomes to have a plan, which by the way, ought to be worked out well in advance. Creating a road map about who needs to be where and at what time will act as a great stress reducer and will also make planning for your own Christmas Do a lot less challenging.

Create something new: Christmas to most people doesn’t feel like Christmas if it doesn’t follow its traditional path. Accommodating the wishes, desires and traditions of two sets of families, however, requires a new approach. The best way to retain at least some form of normality is to incorporate a bit of each family’s tradition. Mind you, this doesn’t only require a fair bit of creativity but also significant willingness to let go of ‘the old’ so that you can embrace the new.

Don’t compete: In blended families the temptation to compete can be great. But let me assure you that your Christmas tree doesn’t have to be bigger, your presents don’t have to be more expensive and you don’t have to outdo the children’s other parent in order for your stepchildren to feel happy or comfy in your home. In fact, less is often more in such a situation. If there is no competition there will be much less stress, which in turn will enhance your stepchildren’s ability to just enjoy your family for what it is.

Avoid trying to be all things to all people: No matter how much effort you may put into it, you will never be able to be all things to all people. Expecting perfection from yourself or from others, is doomed to failure and is a sure recipe for Christmas disaster and distress. Accept in advance that things won’t be perfect and that you won’t get everything right. The greater your level of acceptance, the more relaxed you and everyone else will be this Christmas.

Adjustment takes time. Be sure to remind yourself, whenever you feel disgruntled about the Christmas challenges you could have gladly done without, that adjusting to change isn’t easy for anyone and that blending two families requires working with a brand-new recipe. 5 tonnes of creativity, 10 cups of selflessness, 15 bags of flexibility, 18 kilos of compromise and 20 truckloads of patience should go a long way towards ensuring that this year’s Christmas will be a happy and memorable one.

(c) Sonja Ridden 2010

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