Step-families face additional stresses at the holidays, even for blended families that aren’t traveling with kids. Whether you’re on the road or at home, the holidays can trigger memories of the past, both positive and negative. These tips can help blended families deal with the emotions triggered by the holidays.
Talk about the Pain
Children sometimes have trouble expressing their emotions. Little ones may act out because they are not able to express their feelings. For younger children, it’s helpful for parents to talk to them and explain that: “I know things are different this year, and everything’s a bit unfamiliar. Your mom and I still love you very much. The holidays will be different, and we aren’t married anymore, but you are still loved.” Older kids and teenagers may be able to discuss their feelings. They may ask if mom and dad can celebrate the holidays together. This is particularly true if the parents have not remarried. It can be very confusing for the kids, who are left with the impression that mom and dad could reunite one day. Don’t celebrate together unless both parents have remarried and you are able to have a happy, civil holiday together.
Ex-Spouses Get Emotional Too
Your ex-spouse may also be sensitive around the holidays. Small events, such as changing the visitation schedule by a couple of hours may set your ex-spouse into a tizzy. Take a deep breath, and don’t get defensive. Remember that everyone has heightened emotions around the holidays. Try to communicate by text or email, instead of picking up the phone to hear an ex-spouse yelling on the line.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Everything will not work out perfectly. The kids may transition to your home late, the turkey may not cook completely, or your ex-spouse may even sabotage your holiday meal by stuffing the kids with sweets right before dropping them off at your house. It’s OK. Really. Just try to relax. Life isn’t normally perfect, so don’t expect your holidays to be completely perfect either.
It Gets Easier
As the years pass, it will become easier and easier for your blended family to celebrate the holidays together. Children will learn what’s expected of them, memorize the rotation (Am I at mom or dad’s house the week before Christmas?) and become accustomed to celebrating with their stepsiblings and stepparents.
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Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education.