Holidays, Parenting

Family Time During Stressful Times

So, today I had a panic attack. I was thinking about the entire family getting together at our cabin for Memorial Day weekend. As I was trying to finish up at the office and planning everything that I needed to pack that day, I could feel the pressure in my head increasing, coupled with nausea. It was a familiar feeling that made me stop and pray that I would get through it. I honestly don’t get them very often, but like everyone else lately, COVID-19 has taken its toll on my ability to handle everything as well as I used to.

THE COVID MONTHS LEADING UP TO MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

I have a daughter that lives in another state. It has been a really long time since I have seen her and I won’t be able to see her any time soon due to COVID. As news was being released about the first cases, I was feeling the symptoms of the flu after being around my sick grandkids. It lasted weeks and by the third week everyone in my state was under shelter in place and experiencing earthquakes. It was like I was in a movie and I hate to admit, (because I can handle anything and everything) that I hit some lows that I didn’t even know I was capable of. I had not been that sick in a long time and my doctor, Teledoc, and the COVID hotline all thought it was Influenza A and not COVID. That turned in to pneumonia and I went on antibiotics, then pulled a rib from coughing so much, and there were days I was ready to die. I was a lot of fun to be around!

For a long time, we didn’t even see any of my stepkids that didn’t already live with us.  We started Sunday dinners with them again on Mothers Day and then for Memorial Day weekend we planned a weekend at our cabin with everyone invited. The night before we left, the stress started to escalate as I thought of what happens when all of the family is together. Since my son has been married, his wife doesn’t really let them join the family when we do weekends at the cabin, so the “family weekends” are really stepfamily weekends where I am the only outsider.

I’ve learned that when we get together it is important for me to take on a certain role of being the family time facilitator. I shop, cook, and clean. That’s not the hard part. I’ve never understood why it is that when everyone is together they sometimes gang up on me and at times, my husband.

To top things off, the mother of my stepchildren is coming to the cabin with us. Don’t get me wrong. If it were just her and me, we would have a splendid time.  There is something about her being there with all of the kids that makes me feel like things could take a downturn at any moment. It has more to do with how the kids are toward me when she is around.  They all have abandonment issues from when she left them for eight years and moved to another state. She has tried to make up for lost time since she moved back and things have gotten better over time, but it seems like this history has caused the kids to act out against me for her attention and support in the past.

If you have read some of my other posts, you know that I have a pretty good relationship with each person in our family, but when they are all together, I have to be very careful what I say, how I say everything, whether I have a certain look on my face, and I never, ever, ask anyone to help with anything.  I know this sounds pessimistic, but really there is a plan in place at all times for surviving these family get togethers.

The rest of the time, I’m pretty sure that the kids know that they can always rely on me for anything. It doesn’t mean I will enable them to do anything that they shouldn’t, but when they are in need, they know I will come through. They also trust my advice. I have the business mind, I’m not overly sensitive and can look at things from a reasonable perspective. I have a lot of experience in financial matters and I’ve learned from a lot of my own mistakes so that I’m able to see their perspective on a lot of things. Well, you wouldn’t know it when they are all together, especially with their mom. Most of the time, they won’t even acquiesce to simple requests.  It’s ironic to me that even though their mom hasn’t necessarily come through for them when they need her, they treat her better, help her with things, give her gifts, etc.

Last night, I walked by our home office about twenty times and kept telling my husband how much I love him. He finally said, “Why are you saying that! Are you obsessing about this weekend already?!”

So after my panic attack earlier today, I’m now on my way to the cabin and thinking about these things that could happen after everyone shows up. My friends that are stepmoms tell me they can totally relate and that their stepfamily get togethers are typically dreaded. When I’m preparing for stepfamily weekends I sometimes go back and read some of my other posts like Blended Family Vacations to remind myself of the guidance I have given to others for getting through these hard family situations, even during crazy times like we are all experiencing with a pandemic! We just never know what will happen!

MY FRIEND’S STEPFAMILY

Since everyone’s family is a little different and has different dynamics, I want to talk about some of those differences. How we handle stepfamily time will vary depending on our circumstances. I raised my five stepkids when they ranged from toddler to teen until they moved out (we still have the youngest at home). In my friend’s case (let’s call her Molly), she only had her stepkids on weekends or during family vacations. This made it more difficult for her to establish relationships with them. Molly and her husband were married at the same time as my husband and me. They had a child together and they would plan their vacations and invite her stepkids along, but she didn’t feel like they treated her or her daughter well. She would have anxiety when they planned trips, and she worried that her daughter would be left out. Slowly her husband began to notice these dynamics as well, so they stopped inviting all of the kids at the same time. Now, they do plenty of vacations with their daughter and periodically, they will invite one or two of her stepkids (now adults) along. It has made their vacations more enjoyable, they continue to have more quality time with each of the stepkids, and they don’t worry about how everyone gets along when they are all together.

HOW DID MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND TURN OUT?

So after a panic attack and a lot of anxiety over the stepfamily weekend (complete with the ex-wife joining us – see my post on The Other Mom: Co-parenting with Step-parents), I’m happy to report that the weekend was fine! Everyone got along, I didn’t feel mistreated, and people assisted with cooking and cleaning. The kids’ mom was pleasant, helpful, and easy to be with (she usually is). Maybe it was due to everyone having more of a desire to spend time as a family after COVID. My takeaway is that sometimes we get ourselves worked up over things that have happened in the past, but if we stress about it, we may actually create all of those things that we fear. Stop, pray and ask for guidance, prepare yourself, don’t have high expectations, and see how it turns out! If it’s a complete disaster, you can always decide to only invite 1 or 2 other kids along at a time for bonding and strengthening the relationship so you don’t feel so outnumbered.

I wish you the best times with your family!  Maybe the blessing that comes from COVID is that everyone appreciates each other a little more. Stay safe, healthy, and positive!

FAQ

What is 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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