Christmas is coming! With it comes Santa, lots of presents, parties and the big Christmas dinner. It all sounds so exciting. But for step-families it can often be a different reality.
I remember Christmas as a child, and it was the best day of the year. The magic of Santa stayed with me until I was about 9, and I was snooping in my mother’s bag, and a few days later the things ended up in the Santa stocking. Uhmmm. But even when I knew, Christmas was still magical for me.
Fast forward a few years, only about ten in fact, and Christmas was suddenly not so much fun because step-family “stuff” had come into play. The preparations for Christmas as a step-family, often fraught with drama and disagreements, took a lot of the magic away until I learnt how to make it work.
Christmas with a Step-Family
In my first marriage I was part of a “yours, mine and ours” family, had very little money, and had 8 kids between my partner and I. Christmas was not too bad though as my grandmother had accepted the step-kids, and their mother was alone and happy to come to our place for the Christmas day festivities. It did feel weird making special treats for the ex-wife, but nevertheless it worked.
The first year after my divorce I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at home by myself. After having had loads of children around me all my adult life it was very weird and difficult to alone at Christmas time. I cried.
A few more years down the track and I was into my second marriage, had a few more children join our family, as well as another ex-wife who was not as easy to accommodate into Christmas festivities. In fact, it often felt like it required the skills of a UN negotiator and a juggler to make anything happen. And each year required a different tactical approach to keep the peace.
A number of years later, our Christmas looked different again. This time we hired a suite in a hotel in the city of Melbourne for Christmas Eve. This was because we were no longer living in Melbourne but most of my children and step-children were. So, we flew down to spend this night with them. We put on a sumptuous Christmas Eve spread, played games and had a lovely evening. The next morning, they all got up and went to their other parents and my husband and our two girls spent Christmas as his sister’s house.
Every year Christmas has required new plans, new negotiations and some creative ideas. We have even hired a big house to hold Christmas day with everyone in our family a week after the official day just so that they could all be present. We have had Christmas a week earlier with some, and then the traditional with others. And so, it goes.
Compromising at Christmas
When we first have a family, we bring with us the traditions from our childhood. Our stockings were pillowcases, our big meal was the middle of the day, and you opened presents after lunch. I thought my traditions were right and special.
My first husband was English and felt that Christmas had to be a roast dinner and plum pudding in the middle of the day. But we lived in Adelaide where the temperatures could be 40C on Christmas day, and this was before we had air conditioning!!! So needless to say, we made some compromises. If the temperature was predicted to be over 30C then we could have a cold lunch. I also discovered an ice-cream dessert that was a real hit, and became a new tradition for our Christmas celebrations.
Food is one thing, place of gathering is often compromise number two.
When your family tree grows into a forest it is no longer about how to fit in seeing each of the couple’s parents. Now there could be 4 sets of parents, and maybe even 8 sets of grandparents. Seeing them all on ONE day, is likely just not possible and not good for anyone to try and coordinate, let alone to put a child through.
Navigating gathering places needs to be fair – to the parents, but primarily the children involved. Yes it can be very lonely and sad to not have your kids with you for Christmas, but there are other ways to celebrate Christmas that you can make your own.
How to have a merry Christmas as a step-family
Here’s some of the key lessons I’ve learnt along the way to turn a drama-filled Christmas season into one that’s a little more merry and bright.
Put the children first.
This is absolutely critical in my opinion. Let the child/ren be the centre of every decision that’s made in relation to organising Christmas day, not your own wishes.
What do they actually want to do? How do they want Christmas to be? How can you keep Christmas magical for the children involved, biological and step?
Compromise is critical.
It is impossible for everyone to get exactly what they want. Put your emotions to the side, and have an open conversation to determine the most convenient and enjoyable way for each person in the step-family to spend Christmas. It may not be the ideal situation for all, but compromise it critical to keeping the peace at Christmas. I’ve found that in compromising we’ve created new, fun Christmas traditions for our family and children.
This is a key word in all step-parenting issues, but also one of the hardest to action. Sometimes you wont get what you want, sometimes you will. Being flexible in your approach and requests will result in calm conversations that actually resolve with a solution that everyone can be happy with. Don’t forget to keep the child/ren as the focus of decisions, not what you want.
Make new traditions for your new family.
There are lots of ideas that can be easily incorporated to make Christmas special for you and every member of your step-family.
Don’t forget, it’s absolutely fine for Christmas to be spread over a few days, or even a few weeks. Perhaps your family tradition is big Christmas Eve celebration so that all of the step-kids can visit their other parent on Christmas Day.
Focus on Love & Inclusion.
The most important thing about Christmas is love and bringing people together. Remember every parent and step-parent is trying to do their best. Act out of love, not anger when approaching difficult conversations. Create opportunities for your families to come together, or for the other parents/grandparents to spend quality time with the kids.
Presents can be a difficult issue if you have family that recognise some of the children but not others. Talk to your family about your concerns calmly, and open up the conversation to come up with new traditions so that everyone is included.
Christmas is meant to be magical and an enjoyable day for families, so I encourage you to find ways to share joy and create fun for your family in the holiday season. Even when things aren’t going your way.
Get out for the day with the kids, cook something new, get crafty, watch a Christmas movie together, spend time helping with a Christmas drive, wrap gifts together, gather for community events… Take some time out to make fun memories together as a step-family.
Create A New Tradition
Adaptability is a great adult skill that being in a step-family will teach everyone. No matter what your previous traditions it’s time is to look at what can happen, and what can’t, now that you’re celebrating Christmas as a step-family.
Consider what are the most important elements of Christmas to you, and which parts are most important to your partner, your kids, the grandparents, and the other parent/grandparents involved. How can those special parts stay and work together?