With the holidays in full swing, the stores are full of commercialized brands, holiday cheer, and Christmas décor. From near and far, people press the pause button on their fast paced lives with plans to enjoy good food, decorated trees, shopping lists, passed down traditions and most of all, time with family. Though many experience the holidays as a joyful time of year, there’s a growing population who struggle with a very different experience. For the blended family, the holidays can bring a heightened level of uncertainty, discord, frustration, and even drudgery. With the unconventional becoming the norm, the holidays can be a true challenge for blended families who include children of previous marriages or relationships for one or both parents. Many admit that the coming together that’s required often feels like being in a blender, blades and all. With few Brady Bunch experiences people feel stretched as they work together under what can be very strenuous circumstances and relational dynamics. And, both the adults and children can attest to these already apparent challenges escalating even higher during the holiday season. If peace and amicability are at the top of your list this holiday season, the following tips may serve to be very helpful to you this time of year.
Tip 1 – Don’t compete, dare to cooperate. What children desire at every level is a sense of consistency that speaks to their safety, security, and sense of belonging. When parents or new significant others vest in competing with each other, the children experience distress as they watch adult egos and insecurities at work. Not only does it show an inability to model cooperation but it often makes them feel like they got the short end of the stick at a time of year when working together as a family is on full rotation in the media and everywhere they turn. Blended or not, letting your kids know that the adults are working together to ensure a good holiday experience with love, respect, and all the fixings is very important. Beyond what you buy, what they appreciate most is your ability to put any present differences aside in a mature decision to cooperate.
Tip 2 – Equity is key. When a breakup occurs, kids often make themselves at fault for the demise of the relationship. When one parent moves on to a new relationship and/or family, it’s their job to show all the children involved that their love remains unchanged. Though it’s not necessary to do the exact same thing for each child during the holidays or on a regular basis, its important that they see the equity and similar value in what you do for each sibling. Love is in the details and its up to you to make equitable decisions that show your mutual investment in each child. As you experience transitions where you no longer live in the same house, it will naturally take more work for you to keep tabs on what your children value as they grow. However, they will attribute your love to how well you show equity across your children from a previous relationship and that of your new family. When you’ve taken the time to explore what makes each of them feel blessed, its up to you to work with your new mate to negotiate what ever is necessary to keep the emotional and practical needs of all your children as major priority.
Tip 3 – Own your leadership responsibility and manage yourself. It’s not up to the kids to manage adult conflict during the holidays. It’s up to the adults to decrease the opportunity for conflict. It’s up to you to go above and beyond in managing your present situation by first managing yourself. When you blame the other person, your children lose. When you look at what you can change and what you can do, they win. It’s up to you to set the standard of inclusivity where the word “new” does not speak to the new people in your life, but speaks to the children from the previous dynamic, your new significant other, and the present children from that dynamic. Though the manifestation of this ideal is a major challenge for many, the vision starts with the visionary – YOU! Your children expect if you’ve decided to move on, you’ve also decided that being a vested parent is non negotiable. That steadfast resolve, will help everyone choose the high road when it comes to who sits at the holiday table, who gets the kids for the holidays, and all the other triggers that can promote division during the holidays.
Tip 4 – Put your family differences and judgments aside. When a breakup occurs some take sides, get blamed, stop talking, and even get proverbially thrown off the island. The extended family is a major part of your kids life so its up to you to put your differences aside so they can experience their day-to-day and the holidays without a looming sense of betrayal, rage, and disgust from unresolved issues between the adults. Forgive and release painful resentments because you desire a healthier dynamic for your children. Remember, kids can feel when people are only tolerating one another and your desire is not for them to internalize rejection. Instead you want them to feel a true sense of attachment and acceptance.
Tip 5 – Keep the negative commentary to yourself. With who gets what holiday and whose paying for what as staple conversations during the holidays, choose to have the appropriate boundary of not sharing negative, disparaging, or disrespectful thoughts with or around your children. When emotions run high and feelings of fairness seem to be scarce, we can forget our children feel bad about themselves when they know you perceive the other parent in a negative light. In some cases they can internalize that you’re rejecting a part of them, the part that resembles or reminds you of the parent in question. Your ability to see the good in their relatives will translate and often be interpreted as you seeing the good in them. It’s your job to remember, there was a time when you had some level of relationship with this person and making disparaging comments is just a sure fire way to help put a damper on the holidays. Not to mention, those same comments can be the ones your kids remember and hold in their hearts for years to come.
Tip 6 – Have realistic expectations. A strong blended family takes consistent and continuous work. The holidays alone will not be enough to bring everyone together. Instead, a step-by-step approach that includes good boundaries, being emotionally available for a relationship with each child, and being determined to put them first will give every opportunity to build as you go. It’s also necessary to accept the reality that most blended families represent a sense of loss for the children involved, and that alone can make the holidays quite challenging. This will often require the use of patience, empathy, and understanding on your part to help your kids cope, heal, and grow. In other words, choose to not take things personally and give them permission to feel. Give yourself permission to have realistic expectations versus overnight ones. And, use the holidays as one more opportunity to prioritize what will make your kids feel most comfortable and secure without making it about what you need from them to feel less uncomfortable.
Tip 7 – Affirm them as much as you can. As simple as it may seem, the holidays are full of family triggers as they should be. So, take the time to affirm for your kids that they are your family and share how they make the holidays meaningful to and for you. Yes, they are your kids, but it’s not in your best interest to think they know how you feel about them. Use your words to express it and your actions to prove it. The more they hear you express your love and experience actions that align with that intention, the more you single handedly serve to help minimize any grief they may about you choosing to not be in a committed relationship with their parent. Affirm that you will be there for the holidays and beyond. Affirm that nothing can or will ever change their position in your heart and that alone will be worth its weight in gold.
Dr. Nicole LaBeach is a success strategist who has changed the lives of all who dared to strive for their personal best. She represents a new generation of life, relationship, and executive coaches. Dr. Nicole is the CEO of Volition Enterprises Inc., a premier personal and professional development firm. Please visit her website: www.askdrnicole.com.