By Jeannette Lofas, PhD, LCSW
Happy holidays to the stepfamily. Stay warm and stay safe this holiday. Here are 10 tips for stepfamilies this holiday season.
Holidays are stressful for anyone, but this time of year can be particularly difficult for divorced or stepfamilies. Of the 83.5 million households in America, close to 70 percent of them are divorced and/or step families.
1. Just three little words: Plan, Plan, and Plan. Chaos kills the celebration. The couple needs to plan even the smallest of holiday gatherings. Discuss the plan in detail. Map out procedures for arrivals, pick ups expected behaviors, dress, manners, chores, lighting the menorah, seating at dinner and departure times. Go over plans with the other biological parent (ex spouse),
2. Partner: Build couple strength. Remember, the couple comes first. The couple in the house is the “pillar” which holds up the family. If the couple is weak, so is the family structure. No commitment is made to any family members before the couple has agreed. Discussion, compromise, and agreement are crucial. Good partnering skills and couple strength equal well functioning holiday events.
3. Honor each other’s differences: Often, couples have different customs and religions. Talk with the child about the different religious and/or cultural history. It is important that parents explain well the meaning and significance of each person’s point of view and the holiday.
4. For steps there is more movement and less peace: Movement between homes is just part of the divorce and the step situation.
5. Set a precedent now: Good precedent setting now predicts a smooth future. Plan the holiday as if you were the director of a movie. Apply the five W's -- who, what, where, when and why. Take all contingencies into consideration.
6. Ex’s be civil: Holidays are often times for forgiveness and new beginnings, especially in divorced and step families. Ex spouses, be civil, speak and act respectfully to each other for the well being of the children.
7. Time, energy, and money are clearly defined by the couple: The amount spent on gifts can become a bone of contention for the couple. Expected energy and time contributions can be clear
8. "Ritual Arrivals" make things smoother: We urge parents to create a ritual around the arrival of the children. A predictable gathering together, something like milk and cookies, after the children have put their bags away, gives them a "ritual" upon arrival. Talk to them about the activities planned for your time together. "Ritual Arrival" time diminishes the uncertainty of not having been with each other for a while and creates a procedure for visitation.
9. Get close - create a warm atmosphere: Bake pies, potato pancakes and cookies, or have popcorn by the fire. Do NOT let electronics be the only warm glow in the room.
10. Keep your sense of humor and your vision of the spirit of the holiday: We can choose to create what we envision.