Traditions Aren’t Just for Holidays

20140430_120015Every family has their own traditions, especially on the holidays. Hot chocolate on Christmas eve, the Memorial Day wiffle ball tournament, even knowing who gets the wishbone at Thanksgiving dinner….these are all special and cherished moments.  But you shouldn’t just reserve traditions only for the holidays.Traditions can also be daily moments that bring your family closer together.

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Even with our hectic schedules we always make our time spent together as a family a priority and dinner is a great way to make that happen. Do we spend every night gathered around a dining room table? No, but we enjoy our favorite shows together and still have a great time. We also have a goodnight ritual with the kids, which consists only of talking about our favorite part of the day while cuddling together. So simple, yet so incredibly special.

Traditions don’t have to be a big production, and they can be flexible. As Parker and Anika get older, our nightly talks may become a little different and that’s ok. Especially with blended families, flexibility about traditions helps everyone feel a part of the family. The goal is to just spend time together, and you don’t need the excuse of a holiday to make that happen.

Adjusting to Life in a Blended Family

Probably one of the more notable challenges of living in a blended family is adjusting to the various lifestyles and attitudes each of us bring to the newly formed group. The kids were old enough, when their biological mother left, to remember some differences between her style (everything from clothing to discipline to attitude) and mine. Dave had been a single dad for almost two years and was very independent about everything.  His kids had been, from my perspective, somewhat coddled in the inevitable guilt that follows divorce.

While our differences were probably what made our relationship and marriage so much more successful than the first marriages we each had ended, it also challenged us (and continues to challenge us occasionally, even as the kids are now adults) to some degree particularly with how to handle child-rearing and parenting issues.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

 

Avoiding the Holiday Custody Tug of War

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I was in the store the other day and they’re already clearancing costumes and preparing to put out Christmas trees and ornaments. It’s September, but if you’re a blended family, that can simply mean the stress season is about to begin. The holidays are all about spending time with family and continuing traditions. However, just because the holidays remain the same each year does not mean that the family does. It can be incredibly stressful for everyone involved deciding when, where, and how holiday festivities are going to take place, especially after divorce. It can be a very difficult time for kids in blended families, and a balance must be struck. The last thing you want for your kids is for them to feel like they are being cut up and passed around like the Christmas ham.

We all want the perfect holiday for our family but you must keep in mind that the ex-spouse most likely feels the same way. Fighting is not productive and all it will do is frustrate your kids and sour their memories of the holidays. It is imperative that all of the adults involved set aside their wants and needs and find out what it is that your kids wants out of their holiday. It is ok to let your kids know your desire to spend some time with them, but you can also show them that you understand their need to spend time with other people they love. As hard as it may be to share parts of your family, your support will make matters easier for everyone involved.

Just because the family is not the same entity as it was does not mean the traditions are not still important to your kids. Let them celebrate in a way that makes them happy, because your children’s happiness is what is most important. Uneasy feelings might surface if it was a tradition that reflects a family that is no longer together, but there is no harm in it. It may be something your kids find comfort in, and your support could mean more to them than you could ever possibly know.

Once you have mapped out what your kids want for the holidays it is time to begin the negotiations with the ex-spouse to make those accommodations work. It is your job as the adults to keep clear and unbiased opinions of the situation. If the ex-spouse is unwilling to compromise you must continue to do whatever you can to make it an enjoyable holiday. Threatening custody rights is not going to make the matters any better. Communicate with your kids to assure them that you are doing everything in your power concerning their best interests. Hopefully everyone can work together to come up with a game plan that satisfies the holiday needs of all who are involved.

Being a stepparent during the holidays is not an easy feat either. Now you have multiple families vying for the children’s attention and as a stepparent you need to be flexible and understanding. Also keep in mind that family is not tied together with DNA. Each child, no matter who’s they are specifically, should be treated equally.

The holidays are not always easy. If you want the best holiday for your family that you can possibly give, you need to be willing to compromise.

4 Steps to Resolving Issues in a Blended Family

by Shadra Bruce

Building a successful blended family can be a very difficult process for everyone involved.  I often suggest that stepparents need to talk to their spouses – that open communication is the best path to resolution – as often as possible.  However, when you are talking to your spouse about his or her children, some approaches work better than others do.

In talking to biological parents who have remarried, one of the most difficult problems they have is when their spouse has a problem with their child and, rather than focus on the problem, attempt to make it personal.  You love your spouse.  He loves you, but he loves his children, too, so when you attack them, he will defend them.

Stepchildren young and old are coping with a new situation involving a parent, and may not necessarily be on their best behavior, but taking their behavior personally can be very damaging to your marriage and your ability to have an eventual relationship with the child.  When there are problems, you need to approach your spouse with an open heart and an open mind.  These tips will help you navigate conversations about the kids:

  1. No matter how angry you are about something that has happened, don’t speak in absolutes: your stepchild is not “always” bad or will “never” behave.  When you speak of your stepchild this way, your spouse will become defensive and not listen to the real issue.
  2. Understand that children, right or wrong, will try to soothe their insecurities in any way they can, especially if they have experienced a volatile divorce, death, or separation from the other parent.  They will see you as a threat.  This is normal behavior on their part.
  3. When you talk to your spouse about an issue with your stepchild, focus on the issue, not the child.  Speak about how it affects you: “When Johnny tells me he doesn’t have to do what I say, and you don’t correct him, it undermines my authority and makes me feel like I am not part of the family” works better than, “You let Johnny get away with murder all the time!”
  4. Pick a time to talk to your spouse when you are not angry or upset.  Think about what you want to say first.  Make sure you know why you are upset, because sometimes we stepparents are still working through our own insecurities and see the kids as a threat, too – and that’s something we need to resolve within ourselves.

You and your spouse can work through many of the issues you have with building your new family structure, but it takes time, patience, and love.

Have you read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle? Read more or request a review copy.

Disciplining As A Team

Probably one of the more notable challenges of raising kids is adjusting to the various lifestyles and attitudes each member of the parenting team (a married couple, a divorced couple, stepparents) bring to the table. My step kids were old enough, when their biological mother left, to remember some differences between her style (everything from clothing to discipline to attitude) and mine, and their father had been a single dad for almost two years and was very independent about everything.  The kids had been, from my perspective, somewhat coddled in the inevitable guilt that follows divorce.

While our differences were probably what made our relationship and marriage so much more successful than the first marriages we each had ended, it also challenged (and continues to challenge us occasionally) us to some degree – particularly with how to handle child-rearing issues. What is funny is that some of the frustrations I had with my stepkids when they were young Dave now has with our kids as they go through the same phases. (Yes, that makes me laugh a little).

We make every effort to stay consistent with discipline, not only because there is less commotion, over-reaction, and overall frustration (hence less household tension) but also because we want to become architects at keeping the focus on the issues. This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

Blending Traditions

The holidays are coming, sooner than later at this point.  We start thinking about Christmas shopping around the time the fireworks stop exploding. It’s the only way to budget with five kids. Holidays can be a wonderful time of year, but for blended families, they can also be a time of stress and confusion for step children.  It’s difficult to hold on to everyone’s special traditions while still building new ones with the new family unit, but it is definitely important to try.

When I was growing up, my family always opened presents on Christmas Eve.  It started with my great-grandmother when she was a child and continued down through the generations.  Each year, the kids would anxiously wait until it was dark enough to go out looking for Santa with an older relative.  Each year they searched for Santa’s sleigh or in later generations, Rudolph’s red nose lighting up the sky.  By the time they came home from searching, Santa had made his stop at the house and the festivities would begin. We never did stockings or left cookies out for Santa before going to bed.

When I first began dating Dave, his kids had been raised with the more typical Christmas morning fun. They put out cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer, and they hung stockings on the mantle.  Because it was important to us that the kids have as much of their childhood remain intact as possible, I learned about their traditions and joined in the fun.

At the same time, I did not want to give up everything from my childhood traditions, and we knew we would face challenges when our additional children were born.  We kept the early Christmas morning fun and stockings, but added a nighttime drive the night before, looking at Christmas lights and keeping our eyes open in case we were able to catch Santa out and about.

Dave and his kids had always picked out a live tree every year that they decorated with a decade’s worth of Hallmark collected ornaments; I always put up a white tree filled with precious Victorian style ornaments.  Rather than worry about whose tradition would be protected, we moved the furniture around and did both trees.

Over time, the holidays became ours.  Some were shared with other family; sometimes we were all alone in a strange city and had just the seven of us.  Once, Derek was home only until the day before Christmas – on a special transport from Iraq – so we adjusted everything to celebrate with him before he returned to the war.

These days, we start prepping for the holidays early.  We now put up four trees, with everyone helping.  In the last couple of years, we also have strayed away from the traditional holiday meal and have lasagna and garlic bread, and the whole family goes to a movie together.  This year, we’ll be celebrating the holidays in a new house and a different town; it may also be the first year we celebrate without Derek, who is stationed in Japan.

As our kids get older, get married, and have children, I imagine that our traditions will again require incorporating another family’s ideas of the holiday.  We’ve learned, though, that starting new traditions together only strengthens our bond, and we greet new ideas with enthusiasm and welcome.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

Happy Father’s Day!

Almost every man has the ability to be a father, but it takes a very special man to fill the role of stepdad. Stepdads are in a child’s life because they want to be. They have no legal or financial obligation. Stepdads, often times, provide more support, love, encouragement, and guidance than the biological parent.

From the very beginning my husband always referred to the children as “our” kids. That small phrase has always meant more to me than words can ever begin to describe. When two people share such a strong beautiful love it makes it easy for it to overflow to include the children involved. I realize that I am one of the luckiest women in the world to have the never ending, true love of my husband but the people that it truly benefits are my children.

My husband, their step dad, has been such an awesome model of acceptance and love. He provides a remarkable example of what it means to be a man and husband and what it really means to be a family. Having Doug in our lives has made such a difference for the children and the way they approach life. They are more confident, adjusted, and secure. There is a peace about them that was not there before we became a family.

We are always talking about how being a mom is the most difficult job there is. While this is certainly true, I would have to say that being a step dad is right up there at the top of the list. My husband has been one of the most loving and supportive people to ever come into the children’s lives.

Father’s Day is just one day out of the year to show all of the dads in our lives how much they are loved an appreciated. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the great dads, stepdads, grandpas, and any man that fills the ever important shoes of the role of a father to any child. It is one of the most important things you will ever do!

No Half Ways

Our mom’s parents divorced when she was 11 years old.  Her mom remarried a few years later, and my mom and her three brothers were joined less than a year later by a new baby sister.  Theirs was not always an easy adjustment, having a step dad and a new sister who seemed (by virtue of the fact that she was much younger than her siblings) to get a lot of attention.

Sometimes, if my mom’s brothers were angry with their baby sister or hurt by a perceived imbalance between the treatment she was getting from their mom and the treatment they were getting, they would rub it in to her that she was only a “half” sister.  It was cruel and hurtful, and of course the boys knew that, but at the time, they were still feeling the affects of their lives being uprooted by the divorce and subsequent remarriage of their mom.  My aunt was a natural target, albeit an unfair one.

My aunt and I are only five years apart in age, so I was around for most of her childhood.  I remember the sadness she would feel whenever she felt only “half” connected to her siblings.  Even though she was the one with both parents there, it was painful for her to be singled out the way she was, and I never forgot that.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

 

Blending Families So Kids Aren’t Casualties

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, our blended families may not always blend the way we’d like them to.  It is extremely difficult to take so many varied personalities and throw them together – sometimes for only a few days at a time – and expect them to click perfectly, but you can make a difference by always treating the children with respect, never expecting more from them than they are capable of giving, and by not using them as pawns in an emotional adult game of manipulation.

While adult stepchildren are a different matter altogether, minor children need to be handled – literally – with kid gloves.  Biological parents should communicate with their children about impending changes in their lives, future stepparents should be introduced slowly and cautiously. Stepparents should be exceedingly patient, not forcing acceptance before the children are ready.  Keep your expectations minimal.

In the beginning, we were all strangers living in the same house.  We shared meals, went to movies together, and had one thing in common: we all loved him. Would it be enough?  Would this one man who brought us all together be the glue that turned us from strangers living as roommates to a family?

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

 

Assigning Chores in a Blended Family

I’ve had several people ask me how we handle chores in our house given the fact that we have a blended family.  To be honest, that was probably the first place where I stepped in as future step mom and put my foot down (gently, in a private conversation with my husband).

Dave divorced his children’s mother and had been left with the kids full time when his ex-wife chose not to take her 50/50 custody or see the kids regularly.  He felt horribly guilty – he chose to end a miserable, unfulfilling marriage, something he saw as a selfish act.  It made him feel as though he were completely responsible for ensuring his children’s happiness at all times.

Over the first year, what that translated into was Dave becoming a slave to his children’s demands. He poured their cereal in the morning; they ate, walked away, he cleaned up.  He cleaned their rooms, made their beds, folded and put away all the laundry…when I arrived on the scene I knew it was headed to an unhealthy place.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy..