Let's be honest, the words "step children and Christmas" can make some people fill with dread, combining two families at any time of year can be trouble least of all at Christmas.
Here are a few points I have used with clients lately.
Get planning early.
Normally, step children and parents alike stick to a schedule and everyone knows where and when they will be meeting next.
However Christmas throws a spanner in the works…So,
Work out in advance who is going where, don’t leave it til the last minute, and make sure everyone is clear on who is dropping who off.
Don’t leave it all till the big day.
Let your children meet your step children earlier on in the year and take the pressure off of the big day.
Create your own traditions with your step-children.
Belonging – is a relative short word, that can have an enormous impact upon a group of people. Possibly do away with “old traditions” at least whilst your step children are present and forge new traditions to bind a new seal around the new families bond.
Many problems for step-parents around the holidays arise from a feeling of not belonging in the family unit you’ve been thrown into, and although it can be tempting to follow the rituals already in place, this only serves to reinforce the comparisons between you and their absent mum or dad: “
Try and find a tradition that becomes your new family way of doing things. For example, consider decorating the tree when all the children are there - even those that may only spend some time with you.
Treat all children equally.
Children shouldn’t be put in a position where they feel different to the other children around them. This is unfair and unkind to say the least and will undoubtedly have a negative impact going forwards.
You cant dictate what others do such as (ex-partners, grandparents, uncles aunts, step families). But you can control your actions and reactions.
Monitor resentments from the childs perspecitive. Quite often it is the littlest of things (in our adult opionion) that cause the biggest of dramas. Where as a child may see things differantly. Not getting "your favourite coloured sweet" in a childs eyes, who is feeling vulnerable may be the difference between a hysterical mood swing or a content, happy child.
Skip the VIP treatment.
No one should get the VIP treatment, step children included.
Treat them like part of the family and make them feel welcome but don’t over-do it. Treating your stepchildren like VIPs could upset your biological children, who could feel side-lined. The danger is that you are setting up a hierarchy that can be quite destructive in the family. It could also seem insincere if you move too fast.”
Stepfamilies are by their nature complex, so there will be lots of challenges “Work out what’s important for you and your partner and do your best to make sure everyone gets to do something that they want - if not everything!”
Make time for you and your partner.
Although your new relationship might not feel like the priority when you have squabbling children and ex-partners to deal with, it is important to recharge your batteries.
“Time set aside for just you and your partner, away from the chaos - even if it’s just a lunchtime snatched couple of hours or even a few minutes for a hug,”
Make time to listen.
Although it might feel like your step-children want nothing to do with you, don’t ignore them: “Listen to your stepchild and see Christmas from their perspective. If they say anything upsetting, don’t try to defend your position - rather value and respect their honesty. Christmas can bring up all sorts of feelings for them too. They maybe struggling so be empathetic and always look through the child’s eyes.”
Take “Time Out”.
Take a few moments out of the family environment to recharge your batteries, physically and emotionally.
Your cant “Pour from an empty jug”.
Know your limits
Having a alcoholic drink or two may calm the nerves, but understanding that Christmas can be a time of raised tensions and emotions, to avoid any dramas, keep a tab on 1) where your emotions are sitting and 2) how much you have drunk, and act and reduce accordingly.
Save the arguments for later.
If something needs to be said, say it later and out of ear shot of all the children.
“Keeping the peace” should be more important than “being right,” allow difference to go without comment.
Let your children see you as a secure and safe couple that “Talk over” their differences and create a new family environment that everyone can feel safe in and proud of.
Don’t get swept up in the festive fantasy.
Don’t buy in to the social media lie, every family argues over Christmas, people fall out, not everyone gets 100% of what they want – That’s real life unfortunately.
Try to aim for everyone getting a little of what they want at various times and keep a “rational expectation” and make sure you use “simple terms” that a child can understand, especially children that aren’t used to your language and body language.
Let go of expectations
Christmas means so many things to so many different people, letting go of our expectations leaves us free to experience Christmas in the “hear and now” and helps us to reduce disappointment.
Try to enjoy the holiday or atleast a day or two.
Try not let your situation spoil this lovely time of year and precious memories with loved ones.
Have a wonderful Christmas!