Blending Healthy Families: Happy Blended Holidays
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
What better way to celebrate recording my 10th episode by talking about blended families around the holidays.
Only your 10th episode, you say? Well let me recap a little about my journey to this point. Then we’ll get to the good stuff.
Summer 2020, I felt lost and stuck. I got a business coach who challenged me to dig deeper into who I was. Apparently, I was a mother, because alongside building my business, I grew a human. And while I was growing that human, I discovered that blended families are really hard. Harder than I originally thought - or maybe it was because I had no control of my emotions and so everything I went through as a stepmom got amplified. So I decided there must be others out there who feel the same way I do and I could bring them some peace of mind that they’re not alone.
I started writing and conceptualizing Blending Healthy Families when I was 4 months pregnant and wanted all 10 episodes recorded by the time baby came in June. Well, life happened - blended family life - and I only got 6 recorded. There were often times I felt I wanted to give up. That nobody really cared anyway.
But over the last 9 episodes, I’ve gotten stepmoms, friends, stepchildren and even my own kids to ask questions about the podcast, say they can relate or take something away from it. So, I’m going to keep trucking along and hope that others will continue to find this podcast as a place of safety for whatever it is they’re going through.
Okay, so now the juicy stuff: How to survive the holidays as a blended family.
This is such a loaded podcast because there are three different avenues we can go down:
What traditions we bring to the relationship.
Often feeling like the other woman at your in laws.
Who is Santa now?
So when we talk about what traditions we bring to a relationship, this can be really difficult. There are so many different traditions - yours from childhood, your spouses from childhood, any from a previous relationship on either side. That’s a lot of traditions you have to fit into one day.
So how will we figure it out? Just like any marriage or coming together of traditions, you talk about it. You lay it all out on the table of exactly what traditions you have and what ones you’re bringing and which ones you’re okay to leave behind.
It was a shock to me the first year we were dating and my husband said he needed to buy gifts for his nieces and nephews, as well as his kids buying gifts for each other. That was not something I had grown up doing, so it was very strange that we had to buy so many gifts. We also put up his fake Christmas tree for exactly one year before I told him how important it was for us to go cut one down.
And then there was Jingle. Jingle is our shelf elf. It was a tradition my stepkid's mom started. And something that was asked to come into our house, even though it wasn’t a tradition my husband or I really wanted to do. It was a tradition that was thrust upon us and we had to talk about if we were going to integrate that idea into our house. Ultimately, we thought it would be in the best interest of the children to have Jingle fly across from house to house. But my gosh that was a lot of work. I’m thankful Jingle was quarantined at the North Pole last year because I’m not sure I would’ve been able to juggle that with everything else. I hope he got covid… 🤨
So, you have the "yours" tradition, the "mine" tradition, the "hers" tradition...so how can we create the ours tradition?
Well, again, you talk about it. What is important to you? And how can you accomplish that?
Let’s use the Christmas Tree example. It’s super important for me to have a real tree, decorate and have dad hold up the kid to put the star on top. And we can accomplish that by using our time at Thanksgiving to cut and decorate the tree and make it a special time for all of us. We also started an ours tradition by creating a family ornament each year.
Finally, remember the kids are part of the tradition slip and they are holding fast to as much of when Mom and Dad were together. When you introduce something new, they may resist and avoid or they might welcome the change. Just be patient and come to the children as a united front and with an open mind.
You've tackled the kids, now what about the in-laws? I’m very fortunate to have married into a great family. While we have our share of trials, they are respectful and love having the kids around. But it didn’t always feel like they wanted me around…
In your unique blended family relationship, the ex could have been loved or hated. They could have brought dishes or decorations that now don’t come. The ex-house could have been the hosting site for these festivities. In my situation, the ex was around since my husband was in college. So for the majority of his adult life, it was her that he brought to gatherings. My first few holidays were really rough feeling like “the other woman” or not really knowing where I fit in.
You see, I was learning what their rhythms, traditions and interactions looked like. All while trying to enjoy myself. If you’ve ever driven in the dark, rain up a mountainside, that was what it felt like.
So how did I overcome it? Therapy. Just kidding, kind of.
My therapist and I worked hard to build my confidence as a person. To not take what my in-laws say so personally. And we worked hard to communicate in our relationship about where I needed to place the boundary for my own sanity. Together, my husband and I were able to plan when we were staying at my in-laws, what food and gifts we were bringing to gatherings, and how we would approach his ex if it didn’t fit into the schedule.
Once you’ve managed to get the idea of what’s happening outwardly around the holiday, you have to look into your house and see where there are gaps. My husband struggled letting go of being Santa. The kids were used to waking up on Christmas morning with both parents and these lavish gifts. A tradition my husband was part of for about 7 years, but was really because of their mom. So when the kids now got two Christmases, he went all out because that's what he was used to. Even though he couldn’t really afford it and it was a new and strange event for him. During his first single Christmas, guess what he got them...a dog. Yes, Parker was a result of divorced dad guilt around Christmas time. If you take anything away from this, please note that this is NOT a great coping mechanism and dogs are a lot of work.
The following year, I came fully into the picture to celebrate with the kids and we talked through what made sense and what didn’t. At that point, all three kids still believed in Santa, so we had our shelf elf Jingle help deliver the presents early. We talked through different ways we’d gift to the kids. Want, need, do, read and wear. We tried to stick to categories. We also tried to work through what they actually really did need in our new life - like laundry baskets, new bed sheets, etc. It took the burden of having to buy things away and allowed the kids to have what they really needed in our house, while also getting things they really liked!
Finally - and arguably the most important - we had to talk about finances. If you’re anything like me, coming from no children, to buying for 3 children at Christmas time, that’s a pretty hefty receipt hitting your bank account. So, my husband and I started evaluating how much we wanted to spend per person, per gift, etc and started saving throughout the year so when the credit card bill came in December, we were able to pay it off in full and not go into debt trying to play “Which parent is the richest Santa”. Finances are a strain on all marriages, but sorting out where your money is going for someone else’s children is just a different kind of anxiety.
So there you have it - many nuances to the blended family at holiday time. Please reach out if you need support in this time, want to talk through your unique situation, or just overall care to share your experience.
I've gotta go with an easy, fun holiday bite: Brie Cranberry Bites
I took this recipe and made them 4 different ways
Rosemary and walnuts
No rosemary or walnuts
They were a HUGE hit at this year's Friendsgiving and I have plans to make them at Christmas.