Blended Family Holiday Blues:  3 Tips For When You're Missing Your Kids

Blended Family Holiday Blues: 3 Tips For When You're Missing Your Kids

Even the most carefully crafted parenting plan could never prepare a parent for those feelings of sadness and loss that come along when it's the ex's turn to have the kids on a major holiday.  If you have kids that travel between two homes, I'm sure you can relate - and you may not be looking forward to Christmas morning this year.

The 'Every-Other-Year' Blues

I remember those 'every other years' when it was my ex's turn to have our daughter on Christmas.   The emotional rollercoaster I'd experience leading up to Christmas day was exhausting and overwhelming.  Sure, I was still excited - especially for our two mutual kids who'd be home - but I also had a heavy heart and felt sad that my daughter wouldn't be there.  I wouldn't get to see her face light up in the Christmas morning frenzy.  And, we'd all miss out on creating a treasured family memory.  

I didn't always handle my disappointment well.  I'd mope around feeling sorry for myself (or angry with my ex), then I'd feel guilty about how my sulky funk was affecting the rest of my family - I didn't want to cast a negative light on this special season.  I'd vacillate back and forth - from a melancholy mood to feigned enthusiasm.  And when the big day finally arrived, I was emotionally worn out and unable to fully enjoy it.  The bottom line:   I was missing my daughter.

Living Well in the Tension

After almost 17 years of living in stepfamily dynamics, I'm very aware of one basic truth - there will be tensions in stepfamily life!  Not only relational tension between family members and households, but emotional tensions that we'll experience as well.  We must accept this reality and learn to live well in the tension.  And, we can takes steps toward managing our emotional tensions by being intentional when that difficult 'every other year' holiday is approaching.

3 Tips for Managing Emotional Tensions

Keep your expectations in line.  Behind every disappointment is an unmet expectation.  The reality is that you'll never rid your stepfamily life of disappointments.  But, you can minimize them by unloading unrealistic expectations.  I eventually  realized that I needed to let my big Christmas morning expectations go and replace them with something that was more realistic.  One thing that helped in this process, was for our family to save the opening of our Christmas stockings for later - when my daughter was back in our home.  This gave us all something special to celebrate together and we got to create that treasured memory!

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Practice Self Care.  It's normal for parents to miss their kids while they're gone, and the feelings of sadness and longing can naturally magnify around the holidays.  This is a critical time to take care of yourself.  Rather than wallowing in negativity, do something good for yourself as often as you possibly can.  Splurge on tickets to a special performance or event that you've had your eye on.  Throw a holiday party; laugh with friends and maybe even dance.  Treat yourself to comfort foods, relaxing bubble baths or find something uplifting to read or watch.  This isn't about escaping, it's about giving yourself a little extra TLC throughout this emotionally charged season (and don't feel guilty about it either)!

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve and Process.  Burying or denying negative emotion is never a healthy option.  Instead, choose to go there…and go big!  Set some time aside and allow yourself to just be sad and to grieve.  I know from my own experience, that missing your child hurts - it's painful.  If you can discover healthy ways to process and release some of your pain, you'll find that your heart will lighten a bit.   And, you may even be able to enjoy the holiday season after all! 

Here are some ideas to help you get there:

  • Journal.  Expressing emotions through writing seems to have a cleansing effect on our frame of mind.  For me, it feels as if negativity gets purged out of me and onto the paper.  This is a good way to release anger and resentment too - I used to write letters to my ex that I knew I'd never send to him.  This was an outlet for me to vent all those toxic emotions, even if it was just on paper -  it felt great to let it out and let it go!
  • Cry.  A good cry to physically unleash your emotion can be very healing, and it just feels good sometimes.
  • Verbally Process.  Be willing to talk openly and honestly with your partner, a trusted friend, a counselor or pastor.  It's okay to be vulnerable and to ask for help.   If you know of someone else whose living in stepfamily dynamics, reach out to them for support.  You don't have to suffer through the holidays on your own.
  • Meditate or Pray.  Practice your spiritual way to quiet those troubling emotions and surrender negative thoughts.
  • Embrace an Attitude of Gratitude.   Replace those negative thoughts with gratitude.   It's impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you're focusing on things that you're thankful for.  Big things, small things and everything in between…write them down and focus on these things.  Click here for more help in shifting your focus to gratitude
  • Don't get Stuck.  Once you've taken some time to grieve and process, you can then focus on moving forward toward acceptance.  There are many aspects of stepfamily life that simply can't be changed - your kids will always have parental connections in two separate homes and a parenting plan will dictate when you get to spend time with them.  But the sooner you can accept reality and focus on living well in the tension, the smoother things will go for your stepfamily!  Getting to acceptance and moving forward is a process and you may take two steps forward, then one step back - but that's okay.  Continue to make imperfect progress and be gentle with yourself - this is tough stuff!

If this is an 'every other year' Christmas that you aren't looking forward to, choose to take a different path.  Be intentional and  prepare for those difficult emotions, that will inevitable come along.  Learning to live well in the tension requires us to take some action - we may even need to try something new.  But when we're able to manage our emotions, we'll experience more inner peace and contentment.   And, we won't be robbed of our joy this Holiday Season!     

QUESTION:  What other ways can you prepare for missing your kids around the holidays?  Leave a comment below…

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