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Continued: Guiding a blended family through the holidays

  • Article by: HEIDI STEVENS , Chicago Tribune
  • Last update: November 30, 2013 - 4:47 PM

“Write a new history of traditions,” Farber says. “Don’t try to re-create the first marriage. That one didn’t work.

“Help them incorporate their old lives while they accept the new life,” he continues. “One kid goes to a soccer game, while one kid goes to a piano recital, but we all hike together on Saturdays.”

Fresh traditions are imperative, Deal says, to cement the blended family. “Fostering new family rituals is a principle for building a healthy stepfamily. You’re building new rituals, which over time helps create a sense of family identity.”

Leave plenty of room for emotions — some happy, some not so happy. “All of this has to be tempered by the fact that we’re not forcing love and we’re not demanding affection,” Deal says. “When children feel pressure from a parent figure to love one another and feel affection for one another like biological siblings, it tends to create more resistance.

“You can ask them to go and support their stepbrother at his holiday concert, but do so with the expectation that they might not love being there. And that’s OK.”

You can do your best to enforce civil behavior, Farber says, but the rest has to come from their hearts.

“Just because the parent decided to marry someone else doesn’t mean the children have to be best friends,” he says. “They have to be respectful and they have to follow the same rules of the household. But they don’t have to be buddies.”

Above all, give every member plenty of space to feel whatever it is they’re feeling.

“Even if the new marriage is infinitely happier than the last one, the kids have suffered a loss of their first family,” Scarf says. “You can’t force everyone to have a wonderful time. Be ready for big, loaded, intense feelings and, as the parents, take the attitude of, ‘I’m learning about you. Thank you for teaching me.’ ”

It’s critical to present a united front with your new spouse when you approach the children about who’s attending what, says family therapist and author Ron Deal, director of familylifeblended.com.

“All of the negotiating starts with the couple, behind closed doors, long before anything is discussed with any children,” Deal says. “ ‘Hey, which of these three things should we all go to?’ ”

Be honest and clear about your own desires and priorities so you and your spouse have the best chance at staying on the same page.

“Explain your needs: ‘My bias would be we all go to my grandfather’s birthday party. It’s his 90th, and it means a lot to me,’ ” Deal says. “That helps the spouse see the meaning and the depth and gives them the chance to accommodate that.”

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