Stepfamilies face several challenges that first families do not encounter. The holidays can be a time when feelings of loss, differing expectations, and parental loyalty binds can all become heightened.
However, the holidays can also be used to create traditions that promote cohesion and strength within a stepfamily.
Each family has a unique culture with certain rules and traditions in which members participate. Members of stepfamilies each come into the stepfamily with certain expectations and beliefs about holiday meals, gifts, and time with family. If we are not aware of these differences, they can wreak havoc and misunderstandings within a newly formed stepfamily. When stepfamilies are formed, it is important to understand these differences and try to work with them.
Stepfamilies need to be intentional about creating their own traditions.
The holidays can be a great time to create new family traditions that recognize and honor family cultural differences. Here a few steps to guiding that change:
- Create new traditions as a family unit. As a family, discuss holiday expectations. Try your best to listen and understand what is important to other family members without judgement or unsolicited advice.
- Expect loyalty issues to surface. Even if your stepchild welcomed you with open arms, the holidays can heighten feelings of disloyalty to their natural parent. As a stepparent, recognize this as a normal part of stepfamily life and don’t take it personally. Reassure your stepchild that your role as a stepparent does not replace their father or mother.
- Pick your battles. In stepfamilies, there are often difficult decisions that need to be made when it comes to splitting time. Take time to evaluate what is most valuable to you and your family. One common conflict to stepfamilies is the decision between holding celebration on a specific date or family togetherness.
- Be flexible and adaptable. This theme runs through all of the above elements, but it’s important enough to explicitly mention. You will have times when things will not go as expected. Allow yourself and your family to adapt as needed to get through the moment.
Jackie Dunagan, LAMFT
jdunagan @ GROWcounseling.com