For anyone who doesn’t know, my family is a blended family. My husband and I didn’t get married until our daughters were ten. We started dating when they were three, and we met on the day my stepdaughter was born. (He was rushing out of the apartment building to go to the hospital, while I was walking in with my three-month-old in my arms. God was watching over us on that day.)
The holidays can kind of blow for kids in blended families because the holidays tend to lead to arguments about who’s going to spend time where and when.
My husband and I have been going through this for ten years now. And we’ve learned a lot about making the holidays run smoothly for our blended family.
So you know where we’re coming from, both of our daughters live with us most of the time. My daughter no longer has a relationship with her father. My stepdaughter visits her mom on the weekends, and every other week in the summer.
I’m not a therapist or a family counselor. I’m not saying that what I’m suggesting is going to work for every family. But this is what we’ve done that’s worked for us, for some pretty rocky times.
Know your own mind first
Before you start talking to others about what you want to do during the holidays, you need to understand your own mind and your own priorities. You need to know now, before the talking starts, what you really want to do with your family.
Something that is very important to me is opening crackers with my kids on Christmas Eve. I need both kids at home for that. I also insist that I get these Christmas bears from Kay Jewelers every year. (The money from the sales of these bears go to St. Judes. It’s not Christmas unless I get these damn things, and my kids will get them from me every year until I die.) I also insist that we watch the first Simpson’s Episode, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, and Muppets Christmas Carol. These things are nonnegotiable for me.
For my husband, having Santa be a part of Christmas was big. I, until we got together, hadn’t intended on introducing my daughter to Santa. I had my reasons. But for the husband, Santa was an essential part of Christmas that trumped my reasons to leave him out. Checking out the Nordic Tracker website on Christmas Eve is also important to him, as is baking Christmas cookies.
When we start making plans for the holidays, we know that these are the events that are important to us. These are the things that we are not ready to compromise over. And it’s good to know that up front.
Consult with your child and in-house family
When it was just me and my older daughter, I had a very ‘us against the world’ mentality. When the husband moved in with my younger daughter, and we decided that this was going to be a long-term thing, then an in it for the long haul thing, my mentality didn’t change. It just now included two more people.
I care about my kids and husband’s feelings over everyone else. I don’t care if I upset my mom because my husband can’t handle visiting for Christmas. I don’t care if we hurt my father in law’s feelings because my daughter isn’t ready to hug him yet. I don’t care if we piss off the other family members because my kids have had too many events and need a day at home. (They’re introverts, like me.)
So before we make plans outside of the house, we talk to each other about what we want to get out of the holidays. While we don’t let the kids call all the shots, and we’d never encourage our kids to badmouth the other parent, we give them a chance to be heard.
Talk openly and kindly with the rest of your child’s family
We’re on very good terms with my younger daughter’s mom. We work together because we’ve always made a point, to be honest with each other, and compromise. That’s where knowing what you want first comes in handy.
But we can’t have these discussions if we’re still hung up on past relationships.
And I get that it’s hard. When my daughter’s father was in her life, it was harder. (I’m going to bitch for a minute, sorry.) He barely made an effort to see her the rest of the year. He was physically and emotionally abusive when we were together. So, it was hard to talk calmly to him and make compromises over Christmas.
But I did it. I might have enlisted his mom to help a couple times, but I did it. (He’d at the time not shown any signs of abusing her, for the record.) And I’ll tell you why I did it. It’s not my daughter’s fault that her dad was a bad boyfriend to me, and she wanted to spend some Christmas time with her daddy. Sometimes being part of a blended family means looking at someone who cheated on you, and asking them what time on Christmas day they want to come pick up the baby. You’ve got to be a big person to do that, but I did it. And I’m sometimes a petty, petty soul.
Think outside the calendar
When my husband and I got together, he taught me a valuable lesson about the holidays. I want to share this lesson with you today.
Holidays can be whatever day we want them to be.
For instance, every year for the past ten, my family has gone out for breakfast on Christmas Eve. For the first few years, it was just the four of us. Then we invited my ex’s mother. Then we invited my mother in law.
This year I have to work Christmas Eve morning. So we’re doing our breakfast on the 23rd. I’m dealing kind of.
If you need to celebrate on a different day, do it. No one’s going to crash open your door on boxing day if you’re opening gifts, I promise. Your candy canes don’t expire (Ever.) Your Christmas movies will be just as good.
Remember, you’re doing this for your child
The holidays need to be good for you. But for the most part, they’re about your kids. And that’s what you need to remember. Like I said earlier, my daughter doesn’t deserve to be in the middle of a screaming match. My kids don’t need to hear about it when they get a gift from the other parent that we don’t approve of. (Though it can live at their house.) All of the pain, the anger, the hurt feelings of past love lost has absolutely no place in this situation. Any parents your kids have that don’t live with you are still their parents. And you have something in common with them; you love your kids more than anyone else ever possibly could.
All of this can be very hard if the other party isn’t acting like an adult. If you’re running into trouble, call in a family mediator or get a therapist involved. I’ve had to do that in the past, and it helped.
No matter what, do what you can to make your kids holidays good. You don’t want them carrying hurt feelings and guilt with them. You want them to love and be loved by everyone in their family, whether you love everyone involved or not.
(Disclaimer! This post is intended for blended families in which no abuse is happening. If you feel that your child is in danger when visiting their other parent then please get the authorities involved.)