Christi had never decorated Christmas cookies on her own before, only with her mom. But her parents had divorced. Now she wanted to surprise her stepmom and new sisters with cookies, but as a 6-year-old, Christi wasn't very good in the kitchen. She slopped colored frosting here and there — and ended up with a mess. Christi threw down her butter knife and cried.
Continuing previously cherished traditions in a newly blended family is difficult. And holidays can illuminate the differences in the ways family members have celebrated in the past. Emotions may run high, but you can do several things to minimize these challenges:
Keep the most important traditions
Can you include one special tradition for each member of your blended family? This allows the new family to care for every individual. Your family has lost some members and gained others — along with their skills and talents. Without Mom's baking expertise at Dad's house, for example, you may need to go to Grandma's to bake cookies. There will be adjustments, but many traditions can continue.
Maintain some routines.
There is often a great sense of loss in not being able to have exactly what you had before. A biological parent can spend time alone with his or her children to minimize this pain. Maybe watch a favorite movie together — just the biological family — or spend time with grandparents. Encourage your family to respect this, assuring them there will still be activities that include everyone.
Appreciate the other family.
It's uncommon for a blended family to include the ex's new family. During the holidays, this separation can be especially awkward for the children. What if your new family made a gift for "the other family"? As long as disagreements can be set aside, the two families might even do an activity or a meal together. This could be a beautiful way to show compassion and acceptance.
Create a new tradition.
Find something new to create or do together. As a new family, you can decide together what's most important to you. This tradition could even involve hospitality or service. Caring for people who have no family can help blended families be grateful for what they do have.
Dr. Heather M. Browne is a faith-based psychotherapist.