Eating Thanksgiving meal at Grandma’s house. Opening presents with your children on Christmas morning. Celebrating the New Year with family and friends. Traditions are important to us because they connect us to our family, and the expected custom or ritual provides security in our lives. When traditions are broken or changed, something dies inside of us. Have you ever changed or broken a family tradition? How did you feel about it? Maybe you had no idea just how important that tradition was until you couldn’t or didn’t do it anymore.
Family identity is very much tied to traditions. Stepfamilies can often times find themselves torn between “your” family traditions and “my” family traditions, and trying to figure out new blended family traditions. The fighting to keep the traditions alive often leads to conflict and disconnect. Finding common ground for traditions requires time and a great deal of flexibility, especially for the parents and stepparents.
Holiday traditions put co-parent relationships to the test. If you’re not on good terms with your wasband or waswife you can forget about negotiating time for the kids over the holidays. Holiday experiences open the underlying hidden dynamics of stepfamily life. Parents pressuring their children regarding how much time they will have together and how travel plans are made lead to loyalty conflicts and issues of loss which can easily spoil the joyous season for children. Be compassionate and empathetic for the children’s sadness over traditions lost and memories from previous family holidays. Understand that they are getting used to new traditions, different food, and being with strangers in unfamiliar homes.
Here are 10 practical strategies for combining holiday and blended family traditions for you and your family.
- Be flexible and make sacrifices. Being flexible means you can adjust, change, or sacrifice old traditions during a given year in order to give your stepfamily time to develop new ones. You can’t make everyone happy all the time. Accepting this takes away the pressure to give everyone what they want. Showing a willingness to sacrifice sets the example for your children and or stepchildren. If you won’t, why should they, right?
2.Plan ahead. As a couple, discuss upcoming holiday plans. Determine your wishes and choices and what sacrifices you are willing to make on behalf of the other home. Contact the other home and start negotiating. If you have more than one home to negotiate with, plan early. Remain flexible even if plans are set because circumstance can change.
3. Be creative. Stepfamilies who have children from both adults may often find they are pulled in different directions during the holidays. One creative solution is to allow each parent and children spend the holidays with whichever extended family members they choose. This acknowledges their different family connections and honors family traditions. As a new stepfamily integrates over time, you may be able to combine holiday activities with less resistance.
4. Do what you can do and ACCEPT what you can’t change. As you work on your co-parenting relationship throughout the year, it improves your chances of respectful negotiating during the holidays. But be realistic in that you can not control the other household and you may have to grin and bear it. You may sometimes have to lay it at God’s feet what you cannot change and move on.
5. Practice patience. As you may have already experience in your own stepfamily, some family members won’t adapt quickly to new traditions. Practice giving everyone some “grace-space” to get used to the change. Including yourself.
6. Parent 364. Remember that what really matters is what happens during the other 364 days of the year. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the moment of the holidays.
7. Give permission. Give your kids permission to enjoy the other household and their family members while they are away from you during the holidays. Example. “That’s great you’re spending time with your father and stepmom over Thanksgiving; I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun!” When you do this, you are releasing your child from guilt or worry over how you will be without them during this time.
8. Live and learn. Do you find yourself disappointed each year because your child or stepchild has to be rushed off to the other household in the middle of Christmas day? Neither you or the family really enjoy the day because everyone is watching the clock. Maybe the other parent is discouraged each Christmas as well. Perhaps you and your spouse can propose a change to the other parent and settle on an alternate arrangement that gives each home an undisturbed Christmas holiday while the other home has and undisturbed Thanksgiving holiday. And, maybe you can switch holidays the following year giving each household an undisturbed Thanksgiving one year and undisturbed Christmas the next year.
9. Be compassionate. Be compassionate regarding your child’s preferences during the holidays. And at the same time, teach children that sometimes sacrifices have to be made to make the new stepfamily a priority.
10. Daily rituals. It’s the small, simple acts and behaviors that families do on a daily or regular basis that communicates you care and are committed. Give a hug, stick a note in your child or stepchild lunch box, make Friday night “pizza night” followed by a family movie, go to grandmas’ for Sunday dinner. These rituals keep people connected. Repeated behaviors and acts develop trust and communicate care in steprelationships.
I’d also love to hear about your ideas on combining holiday and blended family traditions. Leave a comment below.