Oh December, the month of Christmas cookies, egg nog, mistletoe, conflicting schedules with your Partner’s Ex, unhappy Step-Kids, fah-la-la’s, and… wait. What?
As lovely as many aspects of December are, the holidays are a stressful time for Step-Families.
Trying to balance time between ***BM (Bio-Mom) & BD (Bio-dad), SM (Step-mom) & SD (Step-Dad)’s families can seem next to impossible to work out.
***Please scroll down to the bottom of this post for a list of Acronyms that pertain to StepFamilies. I will be using these regularly in my posts.
Remember that Christmas doesn’t have to be on December 25th
What did I just say?
No really, it works. For the last few years our family’s Christmas schedule has worked well. We’ve always celebrated Christmas the week before because my Partner’s sister lives in the States and her job makes it difficult to travel over Christmas.
So my SD5 (Step-Daughter, Age 5) gets to have Christmas with us, and then “real” Christmas with her BM.
Many Step-Families have different terms in their agreements that make peaceful holidays SEEM next to impossible. Those agreements can include switching Christmas every year, or even splitting the day.
Find a way that works and creates the least amount of stress for everyone. (While still following the terms of your agreement.)
There is ALWAYS a way.
If you decide to change the day you celebrate, the first year may feel strange, and a bit sad. Once it becomes a tradition though, you will feel the lack of stress, and it will go from feeling strange to feeling wonderful. You may even go back to looking forward to Christmas.
Remember that small things can make a huge difference.
An example of how I made my SD feel like she gets the full effect of Christmas in our household is figuring out what day she would need to start her Christmas Calendar if she’s at our house EOW (every other week).
So this year she started her Calendar in November. It doesn’t matter that the days she’s opening don’t match the days on the real Calendar. It’s easy to see by the missing chocolates/opened pouches where you’ve left off!
If you choose not to do this, a Calendar is either left with tons of chocolates by the time Christmas hits, or you’re allowing your child way too many treats in a day, and taking away the anticipation of opening just one chocolate a day.
(If your Calendar is left with tons of chocolates, it is a reminder of how much time the child has been away from your house in December)
By starting the calendar in November, it goes back to being something to look forward to, and getting to start it before their friends is just a bonus.
Remember to look after yourself
Other than figuring out Christmas schedules, holidays can bring up many stuffed emotions, which can lead to things like family reflection. Sometimes that’s overwhelming on its own. Lost loved ones, and other family stresses can weigh heavily on everyone’s shoulders, and sometimes it can seem like too much.
Don’t get me wrong – December is an amazing time to be thankful for everything you have now, but it’s also a time of intense pressure for a family.
Whether you’re struggling a bit now, or have in the past, with the grey skies and shorter days, Winter can lead people to experiencing a bout of depression.
If you’re prone to seasonal depression, keep in mind what your needs are.
It is extremely important to not forget yourself.
You want to end this year on a good note, and start the new year on the right foot.
Remember the family you chose this December.
I personally have never liked the saying “You Can’t Choose Your Family.” I guess that’s because that’s exactly what my father did, and I was not included.
I understand what is meant by that saying though, if you take it literally – you can’t choose who is biologically linked to you for life, then that’s true.
But you can choose, and you do choose consistently who your family is.
What relationships you put the most love and dedication into, who you allow yourself to be open and vulnerable with, you can choose all of those things.
You can choose who you ALLOW to be your family.
To me, who you are most comfortable with is definitely family. The exception of that is when you choose to be a Step-Parent. Choosing to be a Step-Parent does not feel comfortable, but does make you family. It takes time. Like I just said, people choose who they open up to, and you may be ready to open up with your SKs, and they just aren’t yet.
Don’t close yourself off.
Whenever I’m starting to feel closed off, I remember how it felt to have my father close himself off to me, forever. I remember the feeling of not being chosen, I remember the rejection.
I do not remember these things to dwell, but to learn from it.
The next time you feel tempted to close off from your SKs, try to remember a major rejection you’ve felt. Make yourself an internal promise that your SKs or BKs will NEVER feel that from you.
Remember to empathize
I know it’s next to impossible sometimes, but whenever your SKs are being defiant to you, or whenever the stresses of the holidays are getting to you, remember that because of the divorce, your SKs feel rejection.
Your SKs are dealing with trust issues, with their parents and with the concept of a Step-Family.
They are dealing with adult issues that they don’t understand, and won’t fully understand until they’re adults themselves – maybe even parents themselves.
Remember that all you have control over is how you act, and how you’re remembered.
Your SKs will remember how you act toward them.
They will remember that you either stuck by them or rejected them when they simply needed to know that the ground was solid enough to stomp on. That if they tried with all their might, the foundation wouldn’t crumble.
Yes, maybe your SKs act like all you do is annoy them, and you constantly feel like you’re the bad guy, but you have no idea how mixed up their emotions are. You don’t know what’s said in the other household, and you don’t have control over it. You can close yourself off to focusing on one household, but they don’t have that luxury.
When your SKs think back – if you consistently fight FOR them, not with them, and love them like a Parent, one day they will realize it.
And SKs – if you’re reading this – if your Stepparent doesn’t seem to want much to do with you, talk to them. Or talk to your Parent and ask for what you’d like. Your Stepparent may be wanting to include you, but doesn’t know how to approach you about it. Just like learning what it means to be a Stepchild, learning what it means to Step-Parent really is a hard thing to navigate sometimes.
So, now that I’ve spoken all about the holidays,
What 4 things can you do to make this A December to Remember?
- Be REALLY mindful of your attitude.
- Even though you may feel completely justified in being a bit snappy, your attitude is one thing you can control about the holidays.
- Be the person who reminds everyone what the holidays are all about.
- Try to remember that your SKs or BKs are still adjusting to celebrating in 2 households.
- They might get more easily annoyed or frustrated, because both households are trying to create memories with them that involve the same things. As great as 2 Christmases are – it sometimes doubles the pressure on kids.
- Why not ask them what they feel like doing that day – even if you have plans. Get the kids involved with the plans, any little way you can. Everyone wants to have their opinion respected.
- Communicate with your partner.
- Tell your Step-Family that this year you want to change the household vibe to ‘as positive and stress-free as possible’. Come up with an action plan TOGETHER that you can easily follow.
- This ‘action plan’ doesn’t have to be intense – an example is if one of you are hitting your breaking point, spell the other out. No questions asked.
- Do whatever you can to make sure the main voice in the household is a positive one. The kids are bound to adjust, even if it takes them a while.
- Even if it’s just a few bonding moments you get this year that you weren’t able to get last year, that’s something.
- Come up with ways everyone can get involved, as much or as little as they want to.
- If one of your SK’s favourite things to do is decorate the tree, let them buy a new ornament. Let them do that job themselves.
- If one of your SKs loves your butter tarts, suggest making them together.
- Some SKs don’t want anything to do with Christmas, or you. Ask them if they can think of something you could do for them or with them this Christmas that would make them happier.
- You may not get a great reaction – in fact it could be quite rude, but they’ll remember you asked. If you respond to their negative reaction with “Well, my offer still stands. If you don’t think of anything though, I’ll ask you again next year.” With a smile on your face, they may come around.
- Make sure if they do come up with an idea and you do it together, you aren’t posting it all over social media.
- If your SKs are hesitant, but give in and spend time with you, it needs to be a completely private bonding time between the two (or more) of you. Make your SKs realize that you making an effort toward your relationship has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s not about others opinions OF YOU, but rather that your effort is solely about THEM, and your relationship to them.
I hope these 4 tips help you out. I know the holidays can stir up emotions like no other time, but try to remember these tips. I’m sure that things will start to shift even the tiniest bit from last year.
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***In my blog post I’m beginning to use prefixes when referring to certain family members and schedules. Here is a simple cheat sheet:
Thanks for reading, have a happy day. 🙂