There is a movie out now called "Four Christmases". The premise of the movie is that there is a couple that has parents that are divorced and they collectively are a part of four "step" families. The goal was to always be "busy" during the holidays so they wouldn't have to wade through trying to see everyone, every holiday. This year, the vacation getaway plans get canceled and they have to make an effort to be everything to everybody that's important to them. I haven't seen the movie but we can relate. Being in a Superfamily, we actively deal with at least 3-4 families every holiday not including our own household. First of all, there is my family. That includes mama and em', daddy, my sisters, brothers, in laws, nieces and nephews. Then there is John's family, he has a brother, two sisters, nieces, nephews and in laws. Then there is John's kids family (his former wife's relatives) which include their grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. Then John's oldest son has his own family which includes his children and wife.
So you figure it out...who do you go see first? Who do you say no too? What happens when it is your turn to host on "your side" of the family but your spouse's sister turn on the other side. Or a scenario could be-your kids are pulling you to see their mother's family which of course cannot include your current spouse and her side of the family. So, to take them means leaving them and their children behind and spending time with your former family, when you really have a new set of in-laws that you need to get to know. UGH, all you really want is to get back into bed with your husband or wife, eat a TV dinner and some popcorn and forget everyone else. Its enough to bring you to heap of frustrated tears, if you allow it. You stretch yourself so thin and in the end without fail someone is left disappointed-usually you. Trust us, real "stepfamily" life is a far cry from the what was displayed on the Brady Bunch. There is no Alice to help clean up messes and NOTHING gets solved in 22 minutes plus commercials.
For example, Thanksgiving this year was over my brother's house (on my side of the family). John's side did not have any concrete plans. He decided to go to his son's house to take his children to visit and visit with my family later. To which I said NO. Really, I did. I said that because I don't want him running all over the place trying to make everyone happy. I said if you are going to be with your son, just be there and I will see you later. Me and my kids would be fine, we would miss the other side of the Superfamily but we would still have a great time with mama and em' and catch them back at the house. Unfortunately for John, his plans did not go as orchestrated and he ended up over his son's house for the entire holiday. He felt bad about not being with me (as well he should have, because I am the bomb:-). But I was fine, I missed sharing a new memory with him, but we had an absolute blast, much too much food and hated to leave. My family was already are talking about the next time we will all get together. Everyone that was suppose to be there was there. That's how God does things.
But if it were in the reverse, Honestly, I would probably have felt just like John. Feeling.... just like my super cape had a hole in it and I fell instead of "flew". He and I worked through what he was feeling and I reiterated why I did all I could to relieve any expectations or pressures in that area. I never want him to feel like that again. However, we are complex and everyday we face new awkward complexities. Sacrifice and disappointment are inevitable, but how you deal with it can make the difference. We're learning.........
Our holiday advice for stepfamilies:
- PLAN ahead. Do not wait until the week of, or day of and think that you can manage a complex family situation-it won't work. Communicate your plan ahead of time and listen to (and consider) your spouse's suggestion about your plans.
- Learn to say NO. Sometimes to your kids, sometimes to your family, sometimes to your job, church, neighborhood or club. You cannot do everything, get over it and let other people know they need to get over it too.
- Understand and accept that this is your life now. It will only get more complex from here. Wait until our children begin to marry and have children of their own. They will have to visit other family members as well as us, mama and em' etc.. Accept where you are so you can plan effectively for where you are headed.
- Enjoy where you are, wherever you are. I would have possibly ruined Thanksgiving for me, my family and my kids if all I did was worry about if John was coming or if I constantly called him, bugged him, wondering where he was or if they were going to make it. Instead, I put my phone in my purse, ate two plates, made punch, ate dessert with my nephew, played a hilarious charade game with the whole family and let the chips fall where they may. I assume that John and his family had a good time together as well.
- Protect yourself. If one and/or both of you has crazy or insensitive family members that you don't want to be around (and everybody has them :-), set up a signal or a time limit ahead of time as to how long they can stay or how long you will be there. Also, never ruin or sacrifice your holiday by being someplace more than 30 minutes where you are likely to be dishonored, ignored or inundated with an abundance of memories, paraphenalia or consistant reminders of your spouse's former married life. Unless you have the tenacity of a bull and you know your spouse will protect your heart from people who don't understand or don't know any better, its a set up for heartbreak. Don't do it. Stop by if you must, keep the car running, be polite, wave from the door, send a pie, but don't subject yourself to any foolishness both of you and your family deserve better.
- Don't give ultimatums. Why not? Because its stupid, as ultimatums usually are. I tried a psuedo ultimatum with John unwittingly once and I lost. I will never, ever do that again. Don't try and force someone else to make a decision. You present the issue and share with them the decision that you have to make that's best for you and drop it. In this case-no demands, you are going to have to spread the love around and share her/him, so suck it up. They had family when you met them and they will have family when you leave. So, instead of being jealous, mean , standoffish or possessive, be grateful that they have family that love them and that they have the heart capacity to love others and still have a special love for you and your kids. Send them on their way and have a great time yourself.
- Carve out time with just the two of you during the season to reflect on the year and dream for next year. Last year John and I did a breakfast on Christmas Eve at a restuarant and it was great to slow down from the hustle and bustle and enjoy him. Try it...