Thursday, November 29, 2012

Give the gift of "slack"

Being in a Superfamily, we actively deal with at least 3-4 family schedules every holiday not including our own household. First of all, there is my family. That includes my kids, my parents, my sister, brothers, in laws, nieces and nephews. Then there is my husband’s family. He has his children, a brother, two sisters, nieces, nephews and in laws. Then there is my husband’s kids family (his former wife's relatives) which include their grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. On top of that we have 5 kids that are married with families and in-laws of their own.

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 it’s your spouse's sister turn on the other side? Or what happens when your kids want you to see their other parent’s family which of course cannot include your current spouse and their side of the family. So say yes means leaving your spouse and their children behind and spending time with your former family. To say no means disappointing your children.

Welcome to REAL "Stepfamily" life and it is a far cry from what is displayed on the 70’s show The Brady Bunch. There is no Alice to help clean up messes and NOTHING gets solved in 22 minutes plus commercials. It’s enough to leave you in 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.

Every day we face new awkward complexities and the Holidays intensify those complexities. Sacrifice and disappointment are inevitable, but how you deal with it can make the difference.

Our holiday advice for stepfamilies or any complex family:

1. 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 the plans. Work toward compromise but not at each other’s expense.

2. Relax, ignore the stereotypes and 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. Don’t allow people to say what you should do just because it’s what they do. Do not let "other people's normal" pressure you or get you in a state of foolish expectation. Do you.

3. Understand and accept that this is your life now. It will only get more complex from here. Our children will have to visit other family members as well as us, their grandparents etc. Accept where you are so you can plan effectively for where you are headed.

4. Enjoy where you are, wherever you are. One holiday we were split up and my husband was supposed to join me later. He didn’t make it. BUT I could have ruined the holiday for me, my family and my kids if all I did was worry about if my husband was coming or if I constantly called him, bugged him, texted him, wondering where he was or if they were going to make it. Instead, I put my phone in my purse, 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 my husband and his family had a good time together as well. BE where you are.

5. Protect yourself. If one and/or both of you have crazy or insensitive family members that you simply 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. Never ruin or sacrifice your holiday by being someplace more than 60 minutes where you don’t want to be. 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 absurdity. Both of you and your family deserve better, especially during the holidays.

6. Don't give ultimatums. Why not? Because simply put-it’s stupid, as ultimatums usually are. Don't try and force someone else to make a decision. I tried it, and it doesn’t work. You and what you want may not be the priority in every case. Make no demands. You are going to have to spread the love around and share her/him, so deal with it. They had family when you met them and they will have family should you leave. So, instead of being jealous or possessive, be grateful that they have family that love them and that they have the heart capacity to love others. Send them on their way if you can’t work out a viable alternative and go have a great time yourself.

7. Carve out time with just the two of you during the season to reflect on the year and dream for next year. Last year my husband and I did a breakfast on Christmas Eve at a restaurant and it was great to slow down from the hustle and bustle and jusy enjoy being together. That time alone together more than made up for the few hours we missed together on Christmas. As a matter of fact, I am choosing that again this year.

8. You can do the “one hour at each house” thing. But why drag your kids and spouse all over town? None of you are really connecting with anyone because you are on time limit to get to the next stop. Pick a side of the family for thanksgiving, another for Christmas and maybe even another for the New Years. If it works, great, continue to manage it effectively and keep your sanity as the priority.

Let some expectations go. It’s a sure fire way to keep stress down and reconnect with the people that are important to you. Put a different gift under the tree this year..try giving each other some slack this holiday season. When you give the gift of choices, you receive the gift of liberty.