Yours, Mine, and Ours: New Traditions for Stepfamilies

December 19th, 2008 by admin

This article comes from the book The Joy of Family Traditions by Jennifer Trainer Thompson.

Christmas can be especially hard for stepchildren. Not only do kids stand to lose the traditions they shared with their biological families, they may be shuffling between two households, neither of which necessarily feels like a safe, secure place they can call home. Throw in a potential income disparity between families, new stepsiblings, and possibly receiving modest gifts themselves while stepbrothers and stepsisters are showered with expensive gadgets from an absent parent-and you’ve got the makings for an emotional minefield. Blended families need new traditions to smooth the way:

  • Make Christmas a season, not a day. If you focus traditions on that single twenty-four-hour period, and your children only see you every other year on Christmas Day, they’ll feel they’re missing something on the years they’re with your ex. Create new traditions that aren’t date specific such as picking out the tree, making wreaths, and shopping together.
  • If you are with stepchildren on Christmas Day, don’t push all your traditions on them at once; maybe this year you shouldn’t visit your mother on Christmas morning-save that for a vacation day later in the week. Start traditions that will make new family members feel special-which may mean foregoing some favorite activities in favor of making time for new ones.
  • Try not to force two celebrations on Christmas Day-”We’ll be home in the morning, at noon you’ll go to your father’s house, then we’ll pick you up at 4 P.M., with a quick stop for eggnog at Grandma Jane’s on the way to Uncle Bill and Aunt Barbara’s for their annual Christmas Day open house, then we’ll end up at your Grandpa Jack’s for supper because I know you wouldn’t want to miss that.”-unless of course you want the children’s enduring holiday memory to be that of sitting in a car, racing against the clock.
  • Be flexible. Be creative. Be generous. Ask them what they want to do to celebrate. Maybe they’d like to go ice skating on Christmas Eve or watch a holiday movie in the afternoon. Choose holiday activities that everyone can do together: skating, sledding, baking cookies. But don’t be afraid to experiment with some separate activities that, while open to all the kids, don’t require everyone to participate.

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2 Responses to “Yours, Mine, and Ours: New Traditions for Stepfamilies”

  1. Ali at Chinaberry Says:

    Hi Jennifer! - Thanks for reading & commenting on our blog. What a pleasant surprise it is to hear from one of our Chinaberry authors. I’m really enjoying looking through your book!

    In your comment you give a great example of why we should take a second look at the traditions that have been handed down through the years. Some we may decide to keep, while others just won’t suit our family anymore.

    As far as “traditional families” go, I think the majority of families these days are actually “non-traditional.” Families of the 21st century are much more complex & often family members even live in different time zones, which can make planning for the holidays quite a chore.

    I’m a single mom of twin girls and one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes the best new traditions come to us “by accident.” It’s like how some inventions came out of something not working in the way it was originally intended. The more flexible & spontaneous I am with our plans, the more apt we are to discover new places, events, recipes, activities, etc. that turn into family traditions.

    I’ve also given myself permission to be my imperfect, Non-Supermom self by being flexible with the date when we celebrate. If one of my kids appears a little “under the weather” or I’m simply too wiped out to enjoy something, then postponing the activity, or even canceling it, is usually better than trying to “force” the happiness. Just last night I had to cancel our plans to attend a holiday party because I just didn’t have it in me to be social—I was exhausted. Well, now the girls & I are off to partake in our family tradition of looking at holiday lights on houses in the area.

  2. Jennifer Trainer Thompson Says:

    Thank you for posting this - the holidays can be so difficult for people with non-traditional families, and my #1 rule about traditions is to abolish those that no longer make sense. I’m reminded of the man who asked his wife why she cut off the end of the ham at Easter every year. “Because my mother did.” So he asked his mother in law, who said, “because MY mother did.” So the man went to the source — the grandmother — and asked her why she cut the end of the ham off at Easter every year. Simple: because it wouldn’t fit in the pan. Get rid of traditions that don’t work, and make new ones!

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