Happy Thanksgiving! Over the last few days, my stepsons' mom, Shannan, and I have been trying to tackle the schedule for Thanksgiving weekend. Thankfully we usually manage a compromise that everyone is happy with for the most part, but it always makes me sad to think about all the family traditions that either no longer exist or are incomplete as a result of divorce. Sure, I still love the holiday season, but it is now clouded with the guilt of knowing that my kids are all probably missing how it was 'before'. If money were no object, I'm sure my guilt would drive me to some pretty extravagant measures to make everything bigger and better in an effort to make them forget what they've lost, but I know in my heart that it wouldn't work. And unfortunately (or thankfully?) money IS an object in this household! I know I am not alone in this struggle from the emails I've gotten from other moms in blended or post-divorce families. Here are some thoughts and ideas (not all my own, many thanks to my friends on Facebook!) on restoring the joy to holidays in a blended family.
Christmas is tricky at best in a blended family. I have been dreading Christmas since August, and yes, I do realize how worldly and non-spiritual that sounds, but it is the truth! On a very limited (more like nonexistent) budget, I am trying to figure out how to make Christmas morning festive and memorable, and still wondering how to get my kids to think about something other than presents! And although this year all 7 kids will be here on Christmas morning, I am already feeling guilty that their other respective parents will be alone (or at least minus the kids) when they wake up! There are many websites that offer tips for step-families and creative holiday ideas, and I will attach some links for those, but I would like to focus on the attitudes that can make our holidays meaningful and memorable. After all, what we give to our families from our hearts is what it is all about!
Live in the present. I don't know about yours, but my kids are very intuitive. Even the little ones can sense when Mommy is stressed, angry, or sad. We know as women that our attitudes set the tone for the entire household, but knowing doesn't always make it easy to apply! When I was going through counseling after my divorce, my counselor Lisa said this to me, "If you are ok, they will be ok." That stuck with me as I navigated the murky waters of building a new life that was very different for all of us. During the holidays, it is easier than ever to dwell on the past and to let guilt or grief settle on us like a cloud. Choosing to live in the moment is one thing I have had to work really hard at, so I understand the difficulty of setting those negative emotions aside in order to focus on the here and now! But the reward is this: Your kids will see that you are "ok" and content to be in your present circumstance, no matter what events brought you here, and they will be "ok" and free to enjoy life in a new way. We cannot erase their pain or their memories, but we can provide a happy today!
Don't try to make everything "like it used to be". That approach will only magnify the differences! With each holiday, create a new tradition that is unique to your new family. Let everyone participate in planning and preparations, and don't be afraid to be a little unconventional! My friend Mary Kay shared this in an email, "Blending 2 families' traditions is really hard - some want white lights, some want colored. Still do Santa in the morning? No - that's not the way the others do it. So the answer had to be create 'new' ones. And make a big deal about it." This year at her house, everyone got new, color-coordinated monogrammed stockings, and each family member is picking out a new ornament to hang on the tree, which they will decorate together. A simple way for everyone to take "ownership" and feel important! My friend Robyn is shifting the focus in her house away from "stuff" by implementing the 3 gift tradition. Baby Jesus got 3 gifts for His birthday, and it is a great way to incorporate the true Christmas story into your festivities and direct the focus back to what God did for us when He sent His Son as a tiny baby. These are not drastic measures, just practical things that real moms are doing to create a new family tradition in the wake of some major life changes.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is perhaps the most important thing we can do, for ourselves, our children, our spouses, our ex-spouses, and anyone else in our lives. "Treat others the way you would want to be treated." How many times do we hear this quoted or say it to our kids? But when it is my schedule that is interrupted or my plans that have to be adapted, how willing am I to live it out? Moms, we have an opportunity to affect change in the most difficult relationships in our lives by choosing to live by this one principle. I am not advocating being a doormat to those who would abuse your good intentions. But I have found that most often, if I choose to treat others with this kind of genuine care and respect, they are more than willing to reciprocate! It works!
Don't try to please EVERYONE. This may sound like a contradiction to the last point, but it is not, and here's why: We can have a gracious attitude toward the people in our lives without catering to every request, demand, and opinion. In fact, it would be impossible to make everyone happy when there are 2, 4, 6, maybe even 8 (if you count grandparents) adults, each with a different idea or schedule! And I know firsthand the burnout and frustration that being a "people-pleaser" can cause. How many tears have been shed over my need for the approval of other people! If we make it our aim to please only God, then I guarantee He will work the rest out not only for our good, but for the good of those around us. He sees our heart, knows our intentions and motives, and if our heart's desire is to please Him, He will bless it!
Give freely the gift of FORGIVENESS. I know in every divorce there is blame enough to go around, and we often feel entitled to our bitterness, but the truth is when we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, it is our kids who pay the price. How easy it is to rob our kids (and ourselves!) of the joy of the holidays by allowing them to glimpse the black hole of unforgiveness toward a parent that they love and cherish. We can give them the gift of seeing real forgiveness at work in our lives by the way we communicate with and speak of others.
We all live in less-than-perfect families, with less-than-perfect people, and we will never get it all "right". My kids don't have a perfect life, a perfect mom, or a perfect home, but they can have a happy life, a contented mom, and a peaceful home. That (along with some video games and toys they don't need) will be my gift to them this year and every year, Lord willing. With a little grace, a LOT of prayer, and some encouragement from friends who are walking this same path, we can help our families not only to survive, but to have a joy-filled holiday season!
Some helpful websites:
http://www.successfulstepfamilies.com/view/92 "Combining Holiday and Family Traditions" Successful Stepfamilies
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/popups/media_player.aspx?MediaId=%7B56B2CFAA-6994-43B3-8484-74D0A62311F1%7D "Thriving in Your Role as a Stepmom 2" Helping Families Thrive (radio program)