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Oregon Family Magazine

One Part New Normal And Two Parts Blended Family

11/01/2013 ● By Sandy Kauten
The holidays may present special challenges for blended families, especially for newly blended families. I divorced 13 years ago and remarried 7 years ago. Through trial and error I have learned a few things about what works and doesn’t work as the mom of a blended family. As a marriage and family sociologist, I also facilitate co-parenting education groups for parents in blended families.  

Marriage and family sociologists estimate at least 1300 new blended families are form every day!  They believe over 64% of families are blended families at some point. That means, blended families are the new normal!

Holiday Helps

Let Go of Expectations

My husband invited our daughters to his parents’ Christmas Eve dinner but did not push them to go. They were older and had their own traditions established with me as their biological parent prior to the new marriage. Our girls chose to go to dinner with his parents but did not want to say for the gift giving extravaganza since they really didn’t know all the extended family members. Tweens and teens may need to take their time embracing an extended family.

There is not a perfect holiday family activity that will make everyone suddenly feel closer. There is not a perfect holiday meal. There is no perfect gift that will heal divorce. There are only opportunities to connect and connection can be defined in a variety of ways. Children may choose to connect or they may not, depending on where they are in the process of accepting and feeling a part of the blended family. Wherever they are in the process is valid. 

Many experts believe it takes approximately five years to blend a step family states David L. Brasher, BCSW and family therapist. 

Be Open and Flexible

“My mom doesn’t make the turkey that way.” A brave step parent might respond by saying something like this, “Tell me how your mom does it. I might want to try it like that sometime.”  If the child says, “Daddy’s Christmas tree has the ornaments I made when I was little.” A wise step parent might say something like this, “That must be really special to have those special ornaments on the tree. Will you help me make an ornament for our tree?  Biological parents might support the blended family dynamics by sharing with the child, “Not everyone does things the same way and we can try a new way.” Learning to live with different people and different styles is a positive skill that may help kids of blended families for years to come in their interpersonal and professional lives.

Keep It Simple

Keeping activities simple may help diffuse tension and help new family members get to know each other without pressure. The following list might be helpful in starting new family traditions.

-          Watch a holiday DVD and string popcorn for the tree.

-          Go to a holiday movie in a theatre together.

-          Go Christmas caroling around your neighborhood, laugh with each other, let kids be silly

-          Go to church, synagogue or mosque together.

-          Volunteer together at the charity or non-profit of your choice.

-          Bake holiday cookies together.

-          Make New Year cards for military service personnel.

-          Trim the Christmas tree together as a family

Family is about being loved and accepted for who you are, no matter how family is defined.

There are many helpful resources for blending families.,,,

Support Available

Divorce care groups, co-parenting education support groups and stepparent support groups can help parents discuss these all blended family issues but especially holiday related topics this time of year. Many churches and some non-profits agencies offer such groups and services. Parents and stepparents always have the option of working with a therapist

Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a parenting journalist and sociologist. She facilitates co-parenting education classes with blended family members.  Laura and her husband, Medardo have blended their family with two daughters.