5 Tips for a Holly-Jolly Blended Family Holiday
It's the season of searching for that perfect gift for your loved ones, and hoping for that gift you've been holding out for. This year, our kids are excited about electronics and art supplies — and I'm thrilled with the new pair of slippers I got to pick out early!
But what else could we be focused on as our blended families count down to the big day?
Recently I was looking through an old scrapbook and I was reminded of one difficult Christmas day. We had all the right gifts carefully wrapped and under the tree, but peace and joy were scarce that morning.
That whole year had been stress filled as my daughter, Annika was consistently making poor choices that led to serious consequences. It felt like we were losing her. She acted distant, rude and dismissive to everyone in the family. I wanted to find ways to connect, but could hardly stand to be around her at that time.
What I really wanted was to enjoy our celebration, but I was on eggshells. I was just waiting for her to make a comment or cop an attitude that would derail everything. I was hyper-focused on her behavior and what I expected from her.
I needed to change my focus.
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Shifting the Focus
As Mike and I coach step-couples, we notice how often the holiday season stirs up worry and stress. Worried couples predict how their children or step-children will behave poorly and how that is going to make them feel. They might worry about how other family members will judge them or what kind of conflict will erupt in the middle of what is supposed to be a joyful celebration.
Often their description is followed by a wish-list of all the things they want to experience from their children:
- A positive attitude
- Respectful communication
- Kindness toward step-parents or step-siblings
- Engagement in the celebration
The question we ask these couples is simple, yet profound. I want to ask you that question too:
"What would it look like to focus more on what you want for your child rather than what you want from your child?"
I say this is "profound" because it's not easy. One definition of "profound" is: containing far-reaching ideas or essential wisdom and experience that usually require serious thought to be fully appreciated.
Shifting the focus of from to for requires some serious thought and some extra energy. That can be difficult in a hectic holiday season. We can tell you from experience that it is worth the effort. Focusing on what you want for your child will increase your empathy, your gratitude and your generosity.
5 - "For's"
Here's five ways to focus on your "for's":
- Focus on what each child really needs in their current stage. Kid's in stepfamilies are often stuck in emotional binds that influence their behavior and attitudes. What binds are your kids facing this season and how can you help loose them? They might need some one on one time with mom or dad to reassure them that everything will be ok. That might be better than any gift they find under the tree.
- Fill their "emotional tank". Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages of Children reminds us that Gifts are not the only way kids experience love. Maybe a note with encouraging words or snuggling up together with some cocoa and a movie or playing a game will "fill them up" as the big day gets closer.
- Be open and ask direct questions. If your kids are old enough, share what you really want for them. Let them know you want them to have fun, be relaxed and really enjoy the celebration. Then ask for their feedback on what would help them do that. If they say they want you to "send their step-parent packing" - don't let that derail you. Say something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way…I'm not going to do that, but what else will make this year fun for you?" Hang in there and don't give up!
- Build the anticipation. Involve your kids in the plans. Give them their own tasks and an opportunity to serve someone else in the family. This can give them a sense of belonging and purpose (even if they seem to approach it half-heartedly). Let them know "I need your help…" as opposed to just assigning them responsibilities.
- Manage your own expectations and "attitude of gratitude". The four ideas above aren't necessarily simple. The conversations may not go exactly the way you want them to and your kids may not respond to your liking. But remember that you're focusing on what you want for them — not from them. Keep your expectations in line so you can avoid unnecessary disappointment and remind yourself of all the things you're grateful for this season!
That scrapbook I was looking at might have stirred up different memories if I had been able to stay focused on what I wanted for Annika rather than staying stuck on what I wanted from her.
Take some time to examine your focus as everyone in your stepfamily counts down to your celebration!
QUESTION: What's one thing you want FOR your kid(s) this holiday season?