“How did I get here?” I thought one cold Thanksgiving morning. I was in the cold deserted parking lot of a Doctor’s office in town, where my husband and I were meeting his ex-wife’s mother to pick up my five year old stepson. As I exchanged a quick Thanksgiving hug with my husband’s ex-Mother in Law, I thought “Sometimes my life is so weird.” Yes, in a Stepfamily, there is a special weirdness that only the holidays can bring.
The “Holiday Tug of War” is something that even a traditional family experiences. Who’s house are you going to for Christmas Eve? Who’s house are you going to for Christmas morning? What about Christmas afternoon? Thanksgiving? etc etc etc. When you begin dealing with step families, instead of the traditional two-party tug of war, you grow a third limb of family that wants time with your children. Again, I realize that I am VERY lucky. My husband’s ex has passed away, but we’ve still got a great relationship with her parents. This helps avoid much of the drama a normal stepmom would experience during the Holiday season. For example, I have a friend who became a stepmother and found herself spending her first Christmas as a newlywed with her husband at the ex-wife’s house, with her new stepchildren and the Ex’s family. Yikes!
We may not have that amount of drama, but like every family there is still some craziness. Over the years that we’ve been married, we’ve figured out some ways to make it easier on everyone. I’m not a parenting guru or expert. These are just some guidelines that help our family enjoy the holidays a little more.
1. Take your time.
I have Thanksgiving Day. On Thanksgiving Day, we stay home and eat dinner as a family. On Thanksgiving Day, we don’t go to my parents’ house; we don’t go to his parents’ house. During that week we go and “do Thanksgiving” with our parents at various times, and my stepson goes to see his biological grandparents. But Thanksgiving Day is MINE. And I guard it ferociously. It’s the day to hold my husband and son tight and be grateful for the winding road that brought us together.
We are so lucky to live so closely to all three families that want to be a part of my son’s life. However, it takes some scheduling to make sure that everyone has their special time with him and us. And sometimes that’s hard. As a mom, I want to spend the holidays with my child. However, I also realize it’s important for him to spend time with his biological mother’s family. As a result, he spends Christmas Eve day with them. The first year it was really depressing, but since then my husband and I have tried to make new traditions, just for us. We spend the day wrapping presents, finishing up shopping together, and then going on a special Christmas Eve Dinner Date. Afterwards we pick our son up and take him home to get ready for Santa. We can let him spend Christmas Eve day with them, as long as he wakes up at our house on Christmas morning!
3. Set limits.
This is something I’m still working on. As I’m sure you know, one of the best parts of the holidays is watching the kids open presents and seeing their excitement. But when you start multiplying families, the number of presents starts growing exponentially. On Christmas, our son gets to open presents FOUR TIMES. #1 at his biological grandparent’s house, #2 at our house (which we try to limit to just one big present), #3 at my in laws’ house, and #4 at my parents’ house. That is a whole lot of present opening, and as the only grandchild on the receiving end of three families the potential for a spoiled child is very high. We encourage the grandparents to think of practical things like clothes, money for college, etc. But honestly, those aren’t really that much fun to open on Christmas morning! So he does get some fun things. I’ve found it helps to keep some of those new “fun things” at the grandparent’s house. It keeps our house from being so cluttered and he has something to play with when he visits.
4. Be flexible and make it work.
In all families, the unexpected happens. Stress happens. Life happens. Just roll with it. Like me, you may find yourself a deserted parking lot on a Thanksgiving morning, waiting for the child hand-off. Or maybe you may have some other weirdness that the holiday brings that’s unique to your family. I find that if I can look past the bumps in the road and focus on the good stuff (the quality time spent with my family) the weird stuff doesn’t seem so bad.
I hope you and your family have a very happy, stress free holiday filled with all of the love that makes the weird stuff worthwhile!