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Holidays and the Stepfamily - What the heck Happened??

An increase in stepfamilies has also changed the composition of Canadian families, with various mixes of step-parents, stepchildren, stepsiblings and half siblings. In 2001, there were more than half a million stepfamilies in Canada.

About half of the couples in Stepfamilies were legally married and half were common law.  Among Stepfamilies, 10% were couples with the father's children only,  50% were couples with the mother's children only, and 40% were Blended Families.  In 80% of blended families, couples had at least one child together.

So given that most of the families today are NOT the traditional biological family, the holidiay experience has changed drastically.  No longer are we the "Brady Bunch" where the parents, children, grandparents, etc. come together and genuinely look forward to the holiday event.  Often there is only one parent present, and grandparents can be a totally different story - often they numbers of grandparents increase and sadly to say sometimes grandparents choose to "opt out" of the new Stepfamily.

The traditional holiday table, although filled with all the foods and treats we love, is set with uneasiness and discomfort.  Everyone strives to be "normal" but "normal no longer exists".  Today's Blended Families are the new norm - even though most of them don't know what "normal" might be and don't have the skills necessary to create any semblance of normality in thier new lives.

Adding to the situation is that some members of the stepfamily are not thankful, many dread the holiday interaction and will work very hard to place some distance between them and other family members - sometimes at the cost of being perceived as very "rude".  This can be very disruptive and upsetting when hoidays are often portrayed as "ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY".

Our Children used to comment that when we introduced ourselves, we should have been a law firm.  Our family had THREE last names.  We laugh about it now but it was uncomfortable for many of the family in the early years.

Tips to make the Holidays more Fun:

  1. Plan - holiday plans should be made well in advance so that all the members know where they are supposed to be, with whom, and for how long.  Otherwise they feel that they are missing out.
  2. Arrange the travel plans so that they are convenient for everyone and ensure that schedules can accomodate without someone feeling "obligated" when they'd rather be doing something else.
  3. Where there is a Stepparent - the parents should discuss what is expected - anticipated chores, dress code, etc.  Surprizes are only for Birthday parties!!
  4. Expectations and Roles for the entire family:  Children and grown-ups - clearly outline what the expectations are so that no-one is set up for failure
  5. Play Nice - holidays are not a time to "forget the manners'.  These are highly emotional times and good manners will go a long way to making people feel comfortable
  6. Be Engaged - don't leave family members out of the preparations or the celebrations.  Encourage and support everyone to be involved.  No-one likes to feel like they were "benched" at an important game.
  7. Parent Watch - your role as a parent is not to entertain - The family as a whole has a right to a "holiday event" and just saying no sometimes goes a long way
  8. Recognize the contributions: Say Thank You to the people who have made the arrangements, cooked the meal, cleaned up the house for guests to come and enjoy.  
  9. Don't assume that certain behavour will happen - hope for the best and expect to come up somewhere inbetween - no-one is perfect and holidays are times when perfect NEVER exists.
  10. Have Fun - relax and enjoy your family.  Yes, it's true that you may enjoy some family members more than others, but that does not only apply to a blended family!!

When our family was fairly new we adopted the tradition of making our own Christmas celebration earlier than the traditional Christmas.  With Seven children having to go to other homes, visit other grandparents, etc. there was a strong demand for their time and we didn't want anyone  to "miss out" on their own family events.  Together we planned the celebration (parents and children) and we made our "new family tradition" that has survived the years.  Today they are grown and have their own families, but we still get together to celebrate at a convenient time when there is less demand on their own schedules.

Stepfamilies can be positive places to live and love.

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