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A Blended Family Christmas

Five- year-old old Katie was not sure where she fit in her new family. Her biological mother and father had divorced 2 years earlier, and now each was married to other people. Katie not only had a stepfather and stepmother, she also had stepsiblings and step grandparents.

This scenario is repeated countless times around the world. The challenges of living in blended families are numerous and vary widely. Some of these challenges are predictable and managed relatively easily. Many of these challenges are unforeseen, can arise unexpectedly and become very hurtful.

By definition, blended families must learn how to share. It’s necessary to share time, sometimes, financial resources, sometimes, living space as well as toys, games and relatives.

Children in blended families often struggle with identity issues. Initially, they may not be sure where they belong or to whom they belong. They frequently have far more questions than answers.

As traditional family holidays approach, it is essential that parents and stepparents be especially tuned in to the most consistent needs of all the children within the family system.

For example, there are certain needs that are common to all children. All children, in every culture and society, thrive when they know that they are valued, loved, and important. They need to know where they fit and belong in their families. When they are not certain of these things, they can become insecure and anxious, and they can begin to doubt their own value as human beings.

One of the most basic responsibilities of parents (in all families) is to make sure that our children are nurtured in every sense of the word. One of our preeminent parental responsibilities is to do everything possible to ensure that our children feel emotionally safe.

All children need a sense of structure and predictability in their lives. It is extremely helpful when they can understand what is coming next, who they are going to be with this weekend, what are they going to be doing, and who is going to be a part of their lives. Children in need as much” sameness” as parents can provide for them, but even in the midst of change, it is very reassuring for them to know what is going to happen next.

Traditional family holidays can be stressful for everyone, children and adults alike. Things are different around the holidays. Schedules change. We are exposed to more people than usual—different people than usual. Some of these people are new people in the lives of the children.  Some of these people, we may not have seen in a long time. Some of these people, we may not particularly enjoy being around. If adults are stressed and sometimes confused during the holidays, how much more does that apply to our children, and how much more does that apply to children in blended families?

Here is a brief list of some of the important family considerations as we approach holidays in a blended family:

1.  Communication

All parents involved in blended families must make a concerted effort to communicate with each other, to share with each other (and with the children) what is going to happen and what our expectations are. This is especially true during the holidays. Even if there is tension and awkwardness between the adults, we must carefully consider the feelings and needs of our children and do everything possible to make sure they know what is going on.

2.  Time

All children need time. Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was once told, “You are the only person I know who could get away with spending 3 minutes of network television time filling up an aquarium.”

Fred Rogers understood that children need time. It is especially true during the holidays. We all need time to rest, to unwind and play. Children need time with us, and children need for us to go slowly so that they are not left behind or unnecessarily stressed.

3.  Reassurance, Reminders, Routines

All families need traditions, especially blended families. Much of what we do around the holidays involves “rituals.” In blended families, it is very important to establish new routines and rituals. As these are explained to children, they typically are very open and accepting. Often, children are more flexible and adjustable to new routines than are the adults.

In addition, children consistently need reassurances that they are important, loved, valued, and an essential part of the family system.

4.  Gifts

Gifts can frequently become a source of awkwardness and hurt feelings. One essential rule of thumb about gift giving is that each child at each gathering receive a similar number of gifts valued at a similar level. It is up to the parents and other adults to make sure that no child feels left out or “less than” any of the other children present.

Blended families face some challenges that are not always present for other families.  However, for all the “Katies” of the world, blended families can also offer wonderful blessings and opportunities.  They can feel loved by and be nurtured by more people than ever, and they can develop a sense of value, worth and identity that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

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