Keep the Peace: Planning the Stepfamily's Holidays

Get tips on being flexible and making compromises during the holiday season.

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Keep the Peace: Planning the Stepfamily's Holidays

Deck the halls, spin the dreidel, roast the turkey, light the candles; it's holiday time! You've been through the wedding and you thought the worst was over! Now it's Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Passover, Easter (otherwise known as “the trial-by-fire holidays”), and you know the truth: It's not over, and it will never be over. Holidays are one of the most difficult transitions for stepfamilies to deal with. But come now, not so glum, please. There are ways to enjoy yourself and help ensure that the rest of the family has a good time, too. Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

“Unrealistic expectations are the biggest risk,” says Emily Visher, founder of the Stepfamily Association of America. Don't expect that your holidays will be the same in your new stepfamily as they were before.

Expectorating Your Expectations

Let's go back to square one and review the destructive power of expectations. Because holidays are so imbued with ritual (and rituals aren't rituals unless you do them over and over), we all expect certain things to happen during the holidays. But what happens when the rituals change? Whoops! We're still expecting them. Alas, we find ourselves back in the lava pit of disappointment, bubbling and melting away. Ouch.

The longer you are together as a family, the easier the holidays will feel as you develop your own rituals and traditions. But at first, the crunch of expectations and disappointment can make holidays pretty rough. Each of you in your stepfamily has an internal sense of what feels “right” for the holidays, and this sense is built from your past experiences. Every family does things slightly differently, even if they celebrate the same holidays (see Cross-Cultural Stepfamilies).

Winter Wonderland? Not!

The winter holidays, which for most Americans are the big holidays of the year, can be rough. Be aware! Issues that have been brooding under the skin of the family tend to come to a head and erupt during these times. Expectations are high—often way too high. People have unrealistic images of what the holiday season should be. Think about it: All of our cultural images about what the holidays should look like in a family are based on the nuclear family: Mom, Dad, the kids, the dog, flannel pajamas, the fireplace, the smiling faces.


And then there are the memories of how things were. Ah, memories of blissful childhood holidays when Mom and Dad were together and everybody was so happy…. Whoa, reality check! Were they really so great? Things get misty in retrospect. It's true, in some families, holidays are a time when people set aside their problems. But in many others, people get depressed, get drunk, fight, and feel miserable. The holidays are the times of the year when people are most likely to commit suicide. For many families, it's the worst time of the year.

Despite this, kids and adults alike feel nostalgic about the past, even when the past included unhappy family times. Kids want to hold on to their rituals, no matter what they are. After all, rituals are part of who they are.

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