Divorce and subsequently remarriage, many changes occur seemingly imperceptible. Many changes seem to go seamless, because the transition was gradual giving everyone time to accept the transition. Yet, there can be a unexpected and deep emotional reaction to a few transitions.
Holidays seem to bring many unexpected and unresolved feelings to the surface. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Passover, and believe it or not, Halloween can be a trigger that dislodges unresolved feelings that were lying dormant. Feelings such as; animosity, mixed loyalties, sadness for what was, and sometimes followed by guilt and shame because holidays are touted far and wide as a happy time.
It is important for blended parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends et al, to be mindful that blended children might need to express their feelings prior to the event and throughout the event.
These 6 tips will help you create any holiday happier and less stressful for your blended family.
Encourage Expressing Feelings: Encourage everyone–children, grandparents, and others share their feelings. Listen sensitively without interrupting or look to fix what they share with you. You might not agree with everything a person says (and you certainly will not be able to accommodate everyone’s preferences), but family members will appreciate your listening to them and taking their needs into account.
Allow time and space for the child whose biological parent is not present to express sadness, regret, or guilt. Sometimes a child will feel disloyal to the absent parent. Acknowledging such emotions helps the child move through these feelings rather than being stuck in them.
Plan Ahead: As the host and/or hostess of the event minimizing holiday stress is the greatest gift to everyone involved. With forethought, mindfulness and creativity your extended family can enjoy pleasant and enriching holiday celebrations. Plan to include each child’s favorite ritual, decoration and/or food items.
Remember your blended family includes biological parents, and stepparents. You might have a close-knit family that includes four sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, who all want to spend time during holidays, with their children.
Biological parents and stepparents need their holiday rituals too. Deciding how to celebrate the holidays needs to include children of each spouse. Include them in the planning in advance will help you bypass problems. It is easier to anticipate the holidays without the stress of last-minute planning.
Make itineraries for the children so they will know what to expect. Assign an older child to be a buddy with a younger child. Boston author and consultant on divorce and families, Margorie Engel, states, “Children might be uptight, because they’re not sure where their base of security is,” “If both parents have remarried, they don’t have a place where they really feel at home.” Knowing the specific plans helps alleviate this stress.
Flexibility Is Key: There is no law that your family has to celebrate the holiday on its official date. There is no law that all members of your blended family need to be together on a particular holiday. It isn’t about being together as a family on a certain day, it is about being together as a family to share special time. Holidays can be celebrated at any time convenient for the family.
Engel, states, “Give yourself permission to color outside the lines.” Furthermore, she advises “Don’t be locked into only Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Be creative.”
After a year or two, you will have new traditions in your blended family. Creating new ways of celebrating encourages the growth of bonds between family members and creates pleasant memories that are not rooted in the past.
Create Your Blended Family Traditions: Traditions help everyone to bond as a family and create memories to cherish over a lifetime. A powerful and empowering way to help a blended family to build strong bonds is the process of creating new holiday traditions. These new traditions that every family member created can be looked forward to every year.
Focus on having fun, even if you need to be a little outrageous. Gloom disperses quickly when someone is silly, breaks into a grin, or makes a funny comment. Especially during the holiday season, blended family members need permission to let the past stay in the past and to enjoy the present.
Reassure the child who will not be with you that she/he will be missed, but that you will be excited to see him/her soon. Give him/her permission to enjoy him/herself with the parent she/he is with. If you have conflicting emotions, confide in a caring adult rather than your child.
Make Sure Your Child Gives As Well As Receives Gifts: Family standards of gift-giving do not need to be a nightmare in stepfamilies. Consider the possibilities: assorted levels of income among Mom’s household, Dad’s household, extended families, and extended stepfamilies; grandparents who have not yet accepted stepchildren; unfamiliar traditions among new in-laws; and gift overload from multiple celebrations. If an adult has hurt feelings, remember it is his/her responsibility to take care of his/her needs.
Sometimes both or either parent unconsciously competes to provide the “best” holiday for their child, which may cause a child to feel pressured into favoring one parent over the other. Being involved in loyalty conflicts is one of the most dangerous aspects of divorce for children. The children can’t win. They feel that they need to hide their love for one parent from the other.
Ideally, parents need to ask children to write a wish list. Then the two parents need to work together to determine what wants and needs, will be provided by each parent or extended family member.
A strong sense of family values will last longer than material gifts. The real solution for happy holidays ultimately lies in each person’s attitude, Engel states. “To some extent, the biological and stepparents control whether it’s a good holiday.”
Recognize and Enjoy Your Blended Family’s Uniqueness. Expect your step-family to be very different from a first-marriage family. A blended family is no better or worse than any other family, it has its unique aspects. Learn to appreciate the advantages of your family and the strengths of each person in it.
Remember to avoid blaming issues on the blended family. The idea of perfect families who celebrate perfect holidays is a myth. All families have missteps, misunderstandings and bruised egos, and it’s through these difficulties that we grow in understanding. Children in blended families are relieved and adjust best when the adults are pleasant to one another. It is very important to them that the adults they love respect each other.
Armed with these tips and adding your own tips and tricks, you will create enjoyable and memorable holidays.
About Dr. Dorothy:
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, Ph.D. Metaphysician, Certified Hypnosis Practitioner, International Best Selling Author and Speaker, is a recognized authority on bridging Science and Human Potential. She facilitates clearing emotional/ mental blocks, fears, and limiting beliefs. You can live the life you desire. She brings awareness to concepts not typically obvious to one’s thoughts and feelings. http://www.drdorothy.net