STEPFAMILY CHRISTMAS | Holidays | Blog | Better Marriages | Educating Couples - Building Relationships


by Carri Taylor

This Season can bring a collision of memories, thoughts, and emotions. High expectations that are met bring joy and when not met, disappointment. In a first marriage there is a blending of two family systems’ holiday rituals. That can create some tension as the new couple wants to please each other as well as their families of origin. Then as children begin arriving, it’s their opportunity to create their own rituals and history, incorporating the previous and establishing the new.
In contrast, when a stepcouple approaches the holidays they are bringing forward existing rituals and history from multiple family systems. Plus, these can be reminders of the loss of previous families. This is true especially for the children. The foundation they counted on has been broken and their homes split. Now there can be pressure and competition from divorced parents for the time and attention of the children – especially during the holidays.
Grandparents in this situation that were formerly part of the rituals can be eliminated if the divorced couple is still “at war” with one another and using the children as “ammunition.” This obviously hurts not only the grandparents but the grandchildren as well. The children are left wondering, “….where did they go?”
Then there is another dilemma. The stepcouple may expect step-grandparents to treat their step-grandchildren the same as the bio-grandchildren. This can be unrealistic since these are brand new relationships in the beginning stage of development. Given the opportunity these relationships can be strengthened. There are mature adults that will reach out to their step-grandchildren even though the emotional attachments have not been made. This can be very helpful in establishing the new stepfamily.
On the other hand, there are step-grandparents that don’t recognize the step-grandchildren at all. This is natural and the stepcouple may be in the position of explaining this to their children. All in all, stepfamilies can be very confusing for the first several years, or even more. If the stepcouple has not been educated on the differences between first and subsequent marriages, the wrong expectations can delay and disrupt stepfamily “blending.”
So…what’s to be done? We encourage stepcouples to look at their lives through the eyes of their children. When we’ve found our “second love” and we are seeing life as offering new possibilities and fulfillment, research says that the children are looking at all the change as a loss. They are wondering where they belong, where “home” is, and who belongs to whom.
Listening skills are imperative. Allowing the children to share their perspective of what’s happening (without interruption and discounting their point of view) is imperative. When we really hear them (without attempting to argue or change their mind) we become a “safe place.” The biggest complaint kids have regarding their parents is: they don’t listen!
It’s natural for a new stepcouple to want this new marriage to heal all the wounds and make everyone “happy.” If we shut down our children’s pain, they will find a way to express it and that will usually be in acting it out. Some may wait three to seven years to let their pain be known. These are known as “sleeper kids” according to the research. We’ve seen this happen in families close to us.
I remember the first Christmas after I married Gordon, my 14 year old daughter came to me and said, “I hate Christmas!” Now, that was a shock because previously we’d been “Christmas Freaks!” So I monitored my response and simply asked, “Tell me about that.” She responded by explaining the pressure she felt from me, her Dad, Gordon, and the various grandparents – all wanting her to be somewhere on their schedule. Then she said, “No one cares where I want to be!” So I responded with, “Well, let me be the first. Where would you like to be?”
Over the years we’ve had various experiences during the Holidays. We’ve learned to stay flexible and honor the desires of our children. In doing so, we were able to come up with our stepfamily rituals and history. However, with the expansion of our stepfamily through marriages of our children, adding grandchildren, and additional relationships, we stay flexible.
Inclusivity is our goal. With many people competing for a place in this complex system, we like to share this poem, “Outwitted,” by Edwin Markham.
     He drew a circle and shut me out
     Rebel, heretic, a thing to flout.
     But love and I had wit to win.
     We drew a circle and took him in.