Traveling and chauffeuring back and forth between homes, complicated visitation schedules and combining blended family traditions can make it darn near impossible to focus on the true meaning of Christmas in the blended family. In addition to the ‘traditional’ stresses of the holiday season, blended families have to deal with the stress of ex-spouses, multiple sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and children who have to bounce back and forth like ping pong balls usually during Christmas Eve and Christmas day. In my own family most of our time is spent just figuring out and arguing (with my husband’s ex-wife) about the logistics than it is actually enjoying the holiday with each other.
In an ideal world, Christmas in the blended family would consist of bringing the entire family together, on one accord, just for one day. Ex-spouses, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles would embrace each other and our children would see all of their parents together, not just getting along, but celebrating an important holiday together. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect, but in some blended families the above-mentioned might be an optimal solution.
In my case, holidays are very complicated, to say the least. My son’s bio-dad is often times working, out of the country, and his wife, son and our son are left behind. As a result, I don’t mind including his wife and son in our plans. For example, I called to invite them to spend Thanksgiving with us, this year. She also makes every effort to include me in certain activities as well. She threw a big Halloween party and not only invited my son, but me as well. It works for us because there is no tension between us. There are no unresolved feelings. There is no emotional baggage that spills over into our family. On the other side of my blended family (my husband’s ex-wife, her current husband and stepson), however, this would never work. Whenever we’re all in one room the tension is so oppressive that the kids leave debating how much we hate each other, and this is when we’re all on our best behavior. As such, I realize that each family has to do what works for them, keeping in mind that whatever solution you come up with shouldn’t negatively affect the children.
The holiday season should be the one time of the year when children shouldn’t have to feel as if they have to divide their loyalties, and parents, like any other day of the year, should work especially hard to make their children feel at ease during this time of the year. Additionally, parents should avoid dealing with their own emotional issues concerning the holiday. Children will use how the parents handle the blended family stress of the holiday as an example of how they should handle it. Remember, that holiday traditions are often tied into people’s core identities. If your children do have to divide their time, be sure to communicate with them, in advance, what time and for how long, they will be with each parent. Avoid arguing about it and use basic courtesy and thoughtfulness, especially during this time of year. Each parent should keep in mind that the other parent is also going to want their child with them and their family during this special time. As such, both parties should be flexible to make certain that the child has ample time to spend with both families. Arrange a pick up and drop off time that isn’t too far out of the way for either party so that the majority of the time isn’t spent just traveling back and forth.
Presents used to produce an enormous amount of tension between my husband and I. Christmas became a competition of which one of our children would receive more or making sure they received the exact same amount of gifts on Christmas day. As you can imagine, even without us directly telling them, this is what Christmas was about for our children as well. We both had good intentions as we didn’t want either child to feel bad because they didn’t get as much as the other. But, we handled it the wrong way, and were beginning to create some very selfish, spoiled kids in the process. After many discussions we realized that something had to change. The true meaning of Christmas, for us, wasn’t about how many presents our children got, and we didn’t want them to think of Christmas in this way either. We decided that we would just communicate with our children. The truth was that since my ex is usually out of the country during Christmas he sends all of his gifts to my house so that our son can open them up. As such, he doesn’t go over there to open up gifts. But, my stepson does go somewhere else to open up his gifts. In actuality, they probably get around the same amount of gifts, but my son opens them up in one locations, and my stepson opens his up in two locations. As a result, my husband would always try to match what my son got from his biological dad. It was way too stressful!! So one day we just sat the kids down and explained the situation, and they both said that they were aware of the situation (meaning they knew that K went somewhere else to open up gifts and M opened the majority of his gifts at our house). It was so silly how we were acting because we thought the kids would feel a certain way, yet they were much more aware of their reality than we gave them credit for.
Many people also question whether or not it’s appropriate to get the ex-spouses gifts. I say, why not? It’s the one time of year that difference should be put aside in order to focus on the true meaning of the holiday – giving. I always remember my ex and his family at Christmas time. And one year, I even bought my husband’s ex-wife a gift. If you’ve read this blog, you know that was a huge step for me. Often times this is an issue for women rather than men. For me, it boils down to an issue of insecurity. Why should it bother me that we get a gift for my husband’s ex-wife or my ex’s son, etc.? Isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be about? Having said that, I will have to admit that it is difficult to do when you’re in constant conflict with an ex-spouse, be it yours or your current spouse’s.
All in all, the holidays are about spending time together, enjoying good food, creating memorable traditions for the family, and giving back. Things like competitive gift giving, complicated visitation schedules and arguments with ex-spouses shouldn’t interfere with the meaning behind the holiday. If divorced parents would use a little thoughtfulness and common courtesy and remarried couples would communicate with their children and each other, it could help minimize the stress and maximize the enjoyment of the holiday.