I recently married a man who has three children. I don’t have any kids of my own. With the holidays coming, I’m confused about how to handle all the different holiday activities. Should we try to do some things with their mom, or keep things separate? Can I introduce them to some of my traditions, or do I have to give those up and just adopt theirs? I want to do what’s best, but I don’t want to feel resentful.
Seeking Holiday Happiness
So many other blended families are wrestling with these same issues! There is no right and wrong here, and I want to make sure everyone feels honored and respected, including you!
If your husband and his ex-wife get along well and you feel comfortable mingling with her at a family New Year’s party, then feel free to celebrate together. When adults of blended families model kindness, forgiveness and good manners, it can be a wonderful gift to give the kids. If the adults are capable of getting along, but it causes great distress to the kids to have everyone together, I recommend respecting the kids’ needs and choosing not to celebrate together. You can find a less intense activity (a neighborhood party where you overlap for 20 minutes, a cousin’s soccer game) to begin helping the kids feel comfortable with all of the adults together. And of course, if there is great animosity with his ex-wife, there is no need to force a shared celebration. Even if the kids beg for everyone to be together, it is healthier to explain to them that it won’t work out that way this year than to risk a blow-up or tension filled evening with the ex. You and your husband can ask the kids what they would like, and explore their hopes and fears around the holiday activities to best plan how to handle certain situations. The kids are not in charge, but they should have a voice so you can all plan accordingly.
As for traditions, I recommend joining in on some of the kids’ established traditions with your husband. They may want one or two with him alone, and having boundaries around different subsets in the family can be very healthy. In years to come, you and the kids may develop traditions that don’t include dad. I also recommend you and your husband start some holiday traditions for the two of you as a couple. Introduce him to some traditions from your background, as well as exploring some from his. I recommend you and your husband invite the kids to join you in at least one new tradition, but if they balk at the idea, let them off the hook. Forcing blended family holiday fun rarely goes well. Again, you can force a family outing at a less intense time if you want to start creating a family bond with the five of you. I would pick something fun to invite them to, like making your grandma’s cookies together, or driving through a holiday lights exhibit. I love the idea of creating new traditions for the new family dynamic, but keep in mind kids sometimes haven’t adjusted to things as quickly as the adults, and they often hold ideas about loyalty and betrayal of parents, so be aware that they may need more time to feel okay enjoying new traditions with you.
I also recommend you let your husband take the lead on most of the conversations with the kids. You should be present for a lot of them and have a voice in the discussions, but kids tend to appreciate it when step-parents honor the established bond and authority of their birth parent. This balance may change as time goes on and your relationships develop within the family system. As you work hard to honor the kids, I want you to remember that your traditions and ideas have a place and I want you and your husband to work hard to honor yourselves and each other in this process, too.
I wish you and your new family a wonderful holiday season,
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC and she is the President-Elect of the PA Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.