Blending Christmas Traditions and Schedules

by Karen Ehman

"My brain space is gone, not to mention my time!" Trina exclaimed.

I had taken a break from running holiday errands to call my friend Trina and ask how her holidays were going. She'd moved to another town five years ago after her husband divorced her. Now happily remarried, she and her new hubby — along with their combined six children — were anticipating their first Christmas together.

"Four holiday concerts, five parties, extended family get-togethers, shopping for six kids and the new in-laws, trying to work around the kids' other parents' schedules . . . I'm exhausted just thinking about it."

After our conversation, I said a quiet prayer for my friend. Having grown up in a blended family, I recognized the overwhelming jumble of holiday activity that Trina needed to cope with. Yet it was clear that she wanted more than to just survive the season. My friend had a deep desire to turn this first Christmas into a memorable bonding experience for her new family.

So often Christmastime in our culture evokes the imagery of a Norman Rockwell painting: families nestled near a cozy fireplace, wide-eyed children sipping hot chocolate and listening to their parents tell stories. So tranquil and unhurried; so perfect!

For the blended family, those picture-perfect holidays can be hard to implement. Not only are they facing the commercial temptations of a secular culture, a schedule full of commitments and the sometimes sticky dealings with the kids' other parents, but they're also trying to merge into a cohesive and cooperative family unit. How can parents simplify their holidays, forge fond memories for their kids and experience the peace and joy of Christmas?

Blended-family parents can take control of the holidays with these tips:

Hold a preseason family meeting. Your aim should be to find the traditions your family wants to celebrate and the ones they could live without. The same goes for holiday foods. No need for Mom to make fruitcake if no one wants it. Encourage everyone to share openly and honestly. Then divvy up the duties so that everyone has a holiday task.

Synchronize your schedules. Early on, examine the proposed activities of each child. Which activities are mandatory? Are there some that could be skipped? As you're doing this, also take into account the wishes of the kids' other parents and try to find the middle ground as you split the kids' time between homes and make plans to attend their various functions. Strive for harmony — doing all you can to achieve it, regardless of anyone else's behavior.

Be intentional to include your stepchild. Being a "step" anything isn't easy. Purpose to go the extra mile to make him feel welcome in your family during the holidays. Then be a sleuth to discover a treasured activity or longed-for gift your stepchild might thoroughly enjoy. Make it happen, even if the waters are sometimes rough between you two.

Pick pieces from the past. Be sensitive to traditions that children want to carry over from their biological families. As a stepparent, make it your goal to oblige and not be offended if a stepchild wants to carry on a custom from his or her "old" family. Going the extra mile shows love to your stepchild in a tangible way.

Discover new traditions as a blended family. Attend a holiday concert or live nativity. Go see a movie and make popcorn balls at home afterward. Create something new that will become your signature holiday tradition.

Celebrate the (new) season. Whatever the mix of traditions, it is imperative to accept what is now your new "normal." Having all the kiddos opening presents in their pajamas on Christmas morning at your place may no longer be possible. Rather than mope about it, embrace it! Perhaps on those days when you are alone as a couple, you can bless others. Serve breakfast at a homeless shelter. Visit a nursing home. Host a brunch for those in your church or neighborhood who will be alone at the holidays.

With a little planning and a lot of grace, your holiday season can be a time to bless, not stress!

Karen Ehman is the author of The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized.

This article first appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "A Christmas for Everyone." Copyright © 2010 Karen Ehman.


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