Tens-of-thousands of Australians are currently filled with dread, contemplating the social minefield known as the Xmas Holidays. They are among the 1-in-5 Australians who are part of a stepfamily. For many of them, the interaction that comes with this season is an emotional battle with their past, their identity and their future.
Peak organisation STEPFAMILIES AUSTRALIA www.stepfamily.org.au has released a ‘Stepfamily Survival Guide for the Holidays’, as well as offering useful new apps to help people communicate on their own terms.
“More than a million of us are in stepfamilies, and they can be a truly wonderful experience,” notes Stepfamilies Australia CEO Karen Field.
“But blended doesn’t always mean mended, and emotions can be particularly raw at this time of year – especially when dealing with new and old parents and partners and siblings, not to mention different cultures, religions and traditions.”
Guide to Stepping Up to a Less Stressful Christmas Season
It is the season of giving – so ‘give’ a little and be realistic about your expectations. Welcome the season of Christmas compromise by accepting that it not always possible to please everyone, including yourself. You may have to divide up your holidays or ‘your time’ with the children. It doesn’t all have to be on the one day, suggest options and be open to later in the week or even in the New Year, it’s the getting together not the day that counts
Spending time rather than spending money is more important – It is a self-evident statement but at this time of year can be easily forgotten. Presents are good but children do want happy, fun and calm times with their parents and their families – Remember children’s experience of this time and their summer holidays is the very thing they commit to memory and recall as adults. Make sure they are good memories and make the most of the time together.
Honour the ‘old’ and Create the ‘new’. Keep hold of some of the traditions or ways, particularly those that some family members hold important to them, but also start to create new traditions as stepfamily. See it is as a good opportunity to ‘cherry-pick’ the best of your combined and collective family histories and experiences.
Offer time, support and understanding, particularly for stepchildren and stepsiblings, acknowledging at first that they have no shared family histories. Don’t pressure kids to feel or act in certain ways. Make the time special for all whatever it might look like.
Perfect families don’t exist. Despite manufactured, media images of perfect families – no family (stepfamily or otherwise) is immune from holiday conflicts, divided loyalties, competition. So try to relax and enjoy what you can – All things pass – including the good and the bad – knowing this can help to be more in the moment or future-focused.
Long-distance parenting can be hard, particularly at this time of year. Make sure you plan ahead and have something positive for yourself to do on the day. You may not be able to be there with your children but plan your arrangements early and use technology to keep communication open and positive. Kids these days are happy to use phones, texts or email. It is not the same, but it is the next best thing and you will have something to share when you next see one another.
Using family-based apps such as MyMob www.mymob.com allows family members to communicate – share photos, messages and information like you might do across the family table but in a safe, online application. Get your kids to show how to use technology to help better communicate.
Know that it is normal for the early days and indeed years of stepfamily life to be tough; wrangling expectations, arrangements, schedules, with clashing traditions and other people’s expectations. If it is getting all too hard or a little bit of stress is becoming a lot of distress – It is important to seek help or get some advice early – it can be the most positive thing you can do for yourself and your children.