Stepping Toward the Holidays

27 10 2008

There are few times of year as emotionally loaded as the holidays. For many families, what should be a time of laughter and sharing turns into a turf war and popularity contest. For kids stuck in the middle of two households, it can be a time rife with stress as each side battles for its own traditions, leaving the child in the middle to make sense of it all.

Meanwhile, the adults have good intentions. We all want to make sure the kids are learning the spirit of the holidays and building a tradition that helps define the family as a family. But at what cost? Sometimes, the best thing a parent can do is to let go of an old tradition and let something new take its place, something that better fits the new reality of your lives.

When I was a kid, we celebrated Christmas at two houses. At first, my parents split the holiday right down the middle, and my brothers and I were shepherded back and forth between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Even though we scored some serious presents in that short span of time, it was exhausting to spend Christmas Eve at Dad’s house, then drive at 11:00 p.m. or midnight back to Mom’s so we could wake up there to more gifts and different traditions. Luckily after a few years, my parents thought the schedule was too hectic, too. So we stopped celebrating at Dad’s house on Christmas Eve every year and instead celebrated the week before or after.

Then my father asked us all to write Christmas letters to each other that would describe the highs and lows of the previous year and our hopes for the coming one. Whenever we gathered, we would read the letters out loud to each other, over a box of Kleenex to soak up the many tears of pain and laughter we shed as we shared our lives and emotions with each other.

Eventually, by creating a new way of celebrating the holidays that didn’t include the harried drives back and forth, we were able to develop traditions in each of my two households that are completely separate, but which both make me feel I’m home.

So far, my husband and his ex haven’t gotten to that place of letting go. And as you know, stepparents only get to have so much say in things. My stepchildren are driven back and forth just like I was in the early days, so each parent gets to spend a little bit of Christmas with the kids. I whisper into my husband’s ear about how tough it was to do that as a child and how wonderful it was when my parents decided to expand their view of the holidays.

Maybe next year we’ll celebrate on December 21.

If you’re looking to change up your holiday plans or even if your family celebrates exactly the same way every year, here are a few tips to help you survive the holiday season.

Buy a puzzle. Seriously. One of those giant puzzles with 1,000 pieces or more. Spread it out on a coffee table in a room that is separate from where all the festivities are occurring. It provides a quiet place for you to escape to for a while or an activity that everyone can do together.

Get Creative. Sit down with your partner and brainstorm a new family tradition. Perhaps you all go tubing and then gather around a bonfire to drink hot chocolate. Maybe you spend a day at the beach (if you live in the warmer climates) and eat holiday cookies you made yourselves, while sharing the things you’re all thankful for. You might plant a tree in your backyard and take a picture of everyone standing near it each year to see how much you’ve all grown.

Give assignments. Make sure you’re not the only one doing the work to make the holidays special. Sit down beforehand and draw up a list of what needs to be done and by whom, so you don’t become the holiday maid.

Spread the responsibility. It’s not your job to ensure that everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Ask everyone what would make the time special and give them the responsibility to plan an event. For instance, if your husband thinks there should always be strings of popcorn on the tree that have been threaded by all the kids, tell him to make it happen.

Take breaks. I’m a big believer in taking down time to recharge yourself, especially at stressful times. Even if you’ve got a household full of guests, you can still create peaceful moments within the chaos. Sneak off to pet the dog for a few minutes. Shut and lock the bathroom door, close your eyes and breathe deeply for ten or twenty breaths.

Notice the good. We’re all so busy with our daily lives that it’s hard to remember sometimes to pay attention to what’s happening right now. Stop whatever you’re doing right this second and notice your life. What do you love about your life right now? What are you grateful for? What makes you smile? Try this exercise during this whirlwind season so you can savor your life and those you love.

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15 12 2008
Tis the Season! « Becoming A Stepmom

[…] of year that the creativity and flexibility of blended families can really shine. Check out this archived post for some ideas. Then help us all out by answering a few […]

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