During our Christmas series, The Island of Misfit Toys, my son joined me from the pulpit. Clay, 18, has significant experience as a child of divorce and with multiple step-parents and siblings. With the ever-changing makeup of his family structure–he’s been a youngest, middle and oldest child–I tasked him in Q&A format to speak about blended family holidays. In his candid style, Clay brought out some points I’d never thought of until we sat down to prep the sermon.
True or false. The fallacy of the Two Christmases. Two families = two Christmases = awesome?
CLAY: False. You’re always pulled in two different directions. When you’re at one house, you’re thinking about the other and vice versa–especially if one parent tries to make you feel guilty or talk down about the other parent. I’ve never seen a movie where there’s a successful depiction of a happy blended family Christmas, so that was hard to gauge. When my parents got divorced I thought Christmas would be the same. But, even if you’re with your parents, they are different so Christmas is different. Having Christmas in a blended family–even if everyone is happy and likes each other–is having Christmas with strangers. This is not the family I grew up with.
Blending families is not simple. Sure, there’s a divorce, a marriage and, voila, instant new family. However, while blending is easy, adjusting is hard. Because, in Clay’s words, it takes forever. Kids feel like their “natural” family is being replaced if the blended family tries too hard at being “happy” or “normal.”
While we were prepping the sermon, Clay mentioned that adults who speak on this issue usually speak to adults and kids to kids. You never hear kids speaking to adults and for that I had to applaud. So, here’s Clay’s chance.
What is your advice for blended families–during holidays or whenever?
- Don’t act like everything is okay. It’s not. Deal with it.
- Don’t pretend you know what your kids are going through. Even if you are from a blended family, it’s never the same situation twice.
(At this, I cringed, because I’m totally guilty of this, being from a blended family myself.)
- Impulsive decisions are hard to handle. Blend slowly and with a lot of notice and communication. I think of this like switching a dog’s food. You add a little of the new stuff over time, not all at once.
- We don’t use the label “step” in our house and I think that was a good decision in the long run. It took a while to adjust to, however.
- If there are other siblings in the house, treat them fair. Once you get through the honeymoon phase–everyone being nice and on their best behavior–everyone should be same.
- Step-parents replace a role that’s already been taken, the role of parent. Siblings are easier to adjust to because you can always have more siblings, but it’s weird to have more parents.
- Don’t talk bad about the other parent in front of your kid.
“I’ve always thought of my parents as two halves of me, so [when this happened] I always felt like half of me was being bashed.”
Clay and I connected five keys for blended families during any holiday season.
You can’t ask your kids to forget about “what was” and only live in “what is now.” You can walk in forgiveness everyday and speak kindly and with respect of the other family they are part of. You many only have one family, but they have two.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Encourage peace within your blended family and between the two families. Let the kids warm to the idea and the situation. As Clay so aptly pointed out, just because two people are legally bound doesn’t mean everyone is emotionally bound. Parents who form a family do so by their choice; the children do not have a choice or a say. Tread lightly on their emotions. Parents have to create an environment where comfort and peace can evolve naturally and at its own pace.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Be gentle with affection and discipline at the start. Clay reflected, sometimes older kids are expected to adjust quicker simply because they are older and more mature. However, they have more memories and time spent in the original family, so adjusting is harder and takes longer. Traditions need to be respected. In our home we’ve flexed on some traditions that weren’t in the original family but held firm to others that we created. For example, Clay always had a “real” Christmas tree and we’ve never had a “real” tree. So, as a compromise, I buy scented items that smell like pine and call it good.
[note: Clay’s response to the pine-scented candle: “THE HOUSE SMELLS LIKE A CANDLE, NOT A TREE.” We love each other still.]
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Blended families should honor the place the ex-spouse has within their kids’ lives. Some examples are alternating holidays and reminding them to call the other parent when they are away. Make room for the other parent during important celebrations. Make it comfortable for everyone to be involved. It’s not always going to be comfortable, but you should shoot for inclusive. The key word here is TRY.
I Chronicles 4:9
9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”Jabez’s birth was so painful that his mother named him after the pain “because I bore him with sorrow.”
So that the sorrow may be a continual memorandum to herself, to be thankful to God as long as she lived for supporting her and bringing her through that sorrow, Jabez’s mother recognized honor as important.
Try not to argue in front of the kids. It’s confusing and painful, especially when they do not see the resolution and all they are left with is the memory of the argument. Being on time for “kid exchange” as we call it is a respect issue. Clay’s parents drove three hours to a half-way point and were always on time. Making things fair is respectful. Lessen your kid’s guilt about receiving gifts from the other parent. If they arrive home with a more extravagant gift, show genuine happiness and excitement. Reserve your jealousy, if any, for your private thoughts.
You loved this person once. Find some shred of decency so your child can continue to love them.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.