Tips for Successfully Blending Families Over the Holidays
Dear April Masini,
My husband and I have been married for a couple of years, but the holidays remain a time of tension for us. He has three teenagers from his previous marriage and I have a young son and a grown daughter from previous marriages, plus we have a new baby of our own. The scene at our house changes from holiday to holiday depending on the custody agreements, so we haven't figured out a good way to get everyone making nice and getting along. They were all raised very differently and butt heads a lot."
I know that our holidays will never be perfect with the diverse cast of characters we have, but what can I do to keep the peace from year to year?
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Mother Hen,
Step-families, or blended families are tricky business because the blending of children who have different custody schedules at mom’s house and dad’s house suddenly have a new step-mother or step-father, and no matter how long they’ve known each other, how long mom and step-dad or dad and step-mom dated, becoming a family under one roof is a transition that does not happen over night. Flexibility and understanding are key, and knowing that love is not always an at-first sight affair when introducing step-siblings and step parents to children, will help ease the bumps.
When birthdays or family traditions arise, the best way to allow for a new family situation — is to ask the child what they want. If it appears that this question creates too much stress on a child — and you’ll know because your child will not want to answer the question or will start to cry — then make the decision with the help of your partner if you have one and/or your ex if you get along. You can celebrate birthdays at both houses. You can celebrate birthdays at one house one year and one house the next year. You can celebrate Thanksgiving at mom’s house and Christmas Eve at dad’s house and reverse it on other years. Mother’s Day should always see the biological children with their own mother, and the same goes for father’s day. Sorry, folks. Biological grandmother has her own children to celebrate with. The children go with the biological mom or the dad on mother’s day or father’s day. It’s a good idea to have these important days – no matter how small you may think they are – written in to a court ordered custody schedule – or added if you haven’t done so already. The custody schedule can prevent drama if everything is spelled out – even down to the hour. Whether or not you like the schedule, it will be clear and enforceable.
Most importantly is to instill a sense that even though things are different, they’re okay, and that your family — although divided or expanded — is going to be okay. Talking and making friends with other families in similar situations will make your children feel more normal, and less like geeks.
And a tip for being a great step mom or great step dad: have your step kids call their bio moms and dads on all of these holidays when they are in your custody. And pick up the phone yourself and wish your step-child’s mother or father a Happy Birthday, Happy Mother’s Day or Merry Christmas. It’s the right thing to do.