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Holidays, Marriage, Parenting

Christmas With a Blended Family

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, it was always the highlight of the whole year. And a lot goes into celebrating Christmas, but it always ends up being worth it. I love the traditions,decorating, baking, gifts, lights and everything that goes into the holiday.

Speaking of lights, I kind of have a problem with Christmas light envy. When the neighbors get more lights, I get more lights. One of the first things my ex-husband said to my current husband when I introduced him was, “Did she tell you about the Christmas lights?” Truthfully, my husband is now the one with the light envy problem.  We get our lights up and then he goes inside and looks out the window at all of the cars slowing down by our house.  He really is the master at going beyond the house lights and creating a Christmas scene in our front yard.

The inside of our house is decorated much like the outside – we have a LOT of decorations including two trees. As the kids have gotten older, it’s more difficult to keep them interested in decorating. The kids don’t necessarily share my love for Christmas either, which I think is weird.  If I get the stepkids’ mom involved, she is pretty helpful and gets the kids involved. I know, most people think I’m crazy for involving her, but it works at our house!

I miss my Christmases with my two kids. I used to spoil them and we had the best Christmases with my extended family. I always got along with my ex-husband and we had a great time putting together Christmas. It was actually one of the few things he really participated in where the kids were concerned.

When we blended our family, our seven kids ranged from 3 to 15 years old. That was a really good Christmas! We probably did it like the model blended family. Everyone was included and felt important, we tried to keep all of the traditions for both families to the extent possible, and all of the kids seemed really happy even though their other parents were both out of state. Of course, it isn’t possible for all traditions to work out, but we did our best and to this day I prepare the disgusting Christmas breakfast burritos that my stepfamily likes!

Christmas Gifts

I was always good about communicating gifts to the other parents so we wouldn’t buy the kids all the same gifts. The other mom felt it was her role to buy the Christmas pajamas and when I would buy them and tell her, she would buy two for each kid. When I told her I got them robes instead, she bought two robes each. Aside from the entertainment of it, I had to just decide to get them whatever I was getting and not worry about it.

It is probably no surprise that it sort of went downhill from there. In our family, we generally invite the other mom when she is in town. While this makes me take a back seat with the stepkids, it enables my husband to have Christmas with his kids. My husband’s oldest daughter had some years where she really didn’t respect her mom and her choices in life. She was frustrated that she was very self-centered at the time and felt she wasn’t acting like a mom. There were some hard Christmases that involved her and her mom yelling profanities at each other. It even got to the point where I told my husband that I didn’t want to invite anyone that was going to scream profanities and yell at each other, which I know sounds ludicrous, but that’s how often it was happening.

There were also Christmases where the kids actually said out loud things like, “Is that it?” when they got one expensive gift, or “you really don’t know me very well, do you”, or “you better not buy me anything churchy or I will leave.” Although those were uncommon occurrences and apologies were received later, it tends to make you lose enthusiasm for buying gifts.  I used to put a lot of effort into buying and wrapping gifts. Now I do searches on Amazon and make my husband help me wrap them quickly.

What Christmas Looked Like This Year

I didn’t send out Christmas cards this year. With the kids being older, it’s difficult to get a family picture. Actually, the only family picture I have right now was from our daughter’s wedding and I realized that even though I don’t like the picture, it is quite representative of my life right now: 1) my oldest daughter isn’t in the picture and 2) my husband’s ex-wife is.

The last couple of years, my own daughter that lives out of state has stopped coming for the holidays.  She said she hates Christmas. One issue is that my stepkids are kind of like an exclusive club. I don’t think they mean to be, but even my husband’s youngest feels left out a lot of the time. They, along with the other mom, are all gamers and it’s really all they talk about. So those of us that aren’t gamers can’t participate in any conversations that they have (not that we want to).  Their entire identities are wrapped around their gaming, and my kids and our youngest are different than the rest of them. I’m hopeful that they will grow out of this someday, but they are well into adulthood and it still hasn’t changed. This is part of what creates a divide in the family. My daughter, although she gets along fine with them, decided not to come last year and isn’t coming this year. Last year I took a trip to her before Christmas to spend time with her. This year after making it clear she didn’t want to come, she said some things that sounded like she didn’t want me to go there either, so I didn’t bring it up.

My son struggles as well when they are all together. Again, he also gets along with them on a one to one basis, but when they are together they aren’t very inclusive. It’s already a lot of effort to convince him and his wife to come with the grandkids for more than a couple of hours. That’s really hard, because at this phase in my life, the most important part for me are the grandkids, not that teenagers and young adults aren’t a lot of fun!

If you have read any of my other posts, you probably know that I have a pretty good relationship with my husband’s ex-wife. We get along well and I genuinely like her.  The problem is more about the family dynamic when she is around.  First, she assumes that she is supposed to be invited to everything that we do as a family and gets her feeling hurt when it doesn’t happen. This makes the kids feel like she always need to be there with us as well and it makes it awkward.  We invite her to our cabin, to join us for holidays and for Sunday dinners. When she is with us, the kids just act differently and tend to ignore my husband and me. We have tried to explain to the kids that we want our own family time with them, but they just worry about their mom having her feelings hurt, so it is a very rare occasion when we have family time without her.

As I’ve talked about in other blog posts, I had to emotionally prepare for Christmas. I really want to have the same enthusiasm that I used to, but the stress of the holidays gets to me. This year, I had to learn 8 to 10 songs to play the organ and piano for the congregation and the church choir, while still running my business, doing continuing education, and shopping for Christmas.  I was also working with our estate planning attorney to get our estate plan updated before we left for a trip overseas and my husband and I weren’t agreeing on some of the issues. It almost sent me right over the edge and did put me in a weak moment of crying and shaking and not handling my plus one (ex-wife) and minus one (my daughter).

We did have a wonderful Christmas! We even had some time on Christmas day without the ex-wife and it was a great family feeling.  I still missed my daughter, but we got some great news: we are getting another grandchild and we are so excited! It is the best Christmas gift I can think of!

I usually offer suggestions at the end of each post.  I think this time I just want to share that we are all human and that we all have our hard days. The holidays will almost always bring that out in us. I hope that you were able to see all of the good and wonderful blessings you have and were able to ignore the triggers that make the holidays difficult.

For suggestions on preparing for the holidays, please read my Thanksgiving post here. If your holidays were stressful, it’s time to now focus on bringing in the new year with new goals and aspirations for your family!

FAQ

What is a blended family?

According to Your Dictionary, “A blended family is defined as a family made of two parents and their children from previous marriages. An example of a blended family is a woman with two children from a previous marriage who marries a man with three children from a previous marriage.”

What are common problems and challenges for blended families?

Common problems for blended families include children not feeling loved or feeling left out, sibling rivalry, children manipulating parents, ex-spouses, dreading holidays, vacations, marital problems, finances and discipline (or lack thereof).

Can blended families be successful?

Although many stepfamilies seem doomed for failure, it is absolutely possible for a blended family to be successful.  While some situations are unhealthy for everyone involved, many families can be saved if there is a desire to work through the problems.

How common are blended families?

Blended families are becoming more common. According to Pew Research 62% of children in the U.S. live in two-parent households and 15% of those are living with parents in a remarriage.

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