Joyous Holidays (Even When the Family is Experiencing Change)
The holidays can be stressful. Add a marriage, divorce, or re-marriage and it can be utter chaos. What can you do to minimize the “ARRRRGH” factor at this time of year, especially when your family is experiencing change?
- Communicate openly, honestly, acceptingly, proactively, and often with your family members. For example, if your re-marriage comes with step-children, your kids may see their new step-siblings as rivals. To minimize this, begin well before the holidays by telling your kids often that you love them, that they are a part of you, that they have a special place in your heart, etc. Also, regularly ask your kids how they are feeling . . . and listen without judgment when they reply. Do not try to tell them that they should not feel the way they feel. Saying that will not change how they feel, but it will make them less likely to share their feelings with you in the future. If your son says he thinks your new step-son will displace him to become your favored son, you may say, “Oh, Scotty, I’m so sorry that you feel afraid of being less loved going forward! My love for you will never change. I am your father, you are my beloved son, and nothing can change that. Yes, I will love your new step-brother, but that will not change the love I feel for you. You have always been and will always be my precious baby boy.” By communicating openly, honestly, acceptingly, proactively, and often with your kids, you can minimize their doubts and fears before the holidays arrive. Once the holidays are upon you, when doubts and fears crop up (and they likely will), your statements of love and reassurance will be more readily accepted by your kids because they will have already heard your multiple attestations of ongoing love and attention.
- Minimize the pace and change during the holiday season. The holiday season can be jam-packed with parties, shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, and myriad other activities that are season-specific. This contributes significantly to the holiday stress level. If you can decline holiday parties that are not important to you and your family, shop online, delegate wrapping and decorating to the nanny, and have your holiday goodies prepared for you by your local bakery, you can minimize the likelihood of stress-related emotionally-charged moments during the holidays. Also, keep your family’s holiday schedule as close to your normal schedule (or your normal holiday schedule) as possible, at least regarding the things that are important to your family members. Does your family love attending a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet every Christmas? If so, then don’t miss it this year. Certainly, some things will need to change as you incorporate your new spouse’s traditions into your holiday. Or, conversely, if you are recently divorced, you will need to divide your kids’ time between their parents’ households, but traditions that are significant for your kids can and should be maintained to the best of your ability. Whether you are experiencing a recent marriage or divorce, you are well advised to minimize the pace and change during this holiday season.
- Spend time in family bonding activities. For example, have dinner together regularly and share your thoughts and feelings over the dinner table.
- Purchase holiday gifts that are proportionate, fair, and equal. For example, if you and your new wife each have one child, you jointly can purchase gifts for the two kids and you each can also purchase one or two gifts just from you, just for your own child (not your step-child). Make sure that the total dollar value of the gifts each child receives is approximately the same as the total dollar value of the gifts received by the other kids in your family.
- Spend time during the holidays focusing on the “reason for the season”. Help your kids and step-kids center their attention outside themselves. After all, this holiday is primarily a celebration of faith. Gifts, parties, and other activities are (or should be) secondary. If your kids and step-kids can see this season as a time to love others, they will be less likely to focus on their own doubts and fears.
By following these tips, you can minimize the “ARRRRGH” factor at this time of year and help your family (whether recently combined or divided) have a joyous holiday season.