This is the seventh article in a series about stepfamilies and the holidays.
Q: How can stepfamilies facilitate bonding to help them have successful holidays?
A: The following information is a publication of the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, April 2007. The subject of the article is Creating Rituals in Stepfamilies. There are some tips offered to facilitate establishing new rituals for stepfamilies. Rituals are family traditions.
First, experts recommend everyone participate and make suggestions. Special attention needs to be paid to those rituals most important to families. Examples of rituals are attending church on Christmas Eve, opening presents Christmas morning and extended family members all meeting at the grandparents' homes Christmas day.
Anytime stepfamilies have overlapping traditions, there are conflicts. If there are two biological families that are rigid and inflexible, trying to compromise is nearly impossible. In those cases, alternating holidays might be best.
Stepfamilies need to ease into doing things together, keeping activities fun and simple. Every biological and stepparent needs to spend one-on-one time with every child and stepchild. The other important need for stepparents is to understand the developmental needs of all the children and how to meet them.
Stepfamilies should continue to hold family meetings to process rituals and get feedback about how everyone feels. Children definitely need to be included and their comments considered. Not everybody will like all the new rituals. Stepfamilies need to be understanding and flexible, and children need to appreciate adults accommodating to their interests.
The Utah State University Extension article reiterates three general types of traditions or rituals. They are classified as connection, community and special occasions. Connection rituals occur daily and are occasions when family members are involved. The focus of these traditions is on building relationships.
Examples of connection rituals are notes in someone's lunchbox, family discussions at dinner times, or bedtime stories or prayers. The more similarities there are between biological and stepfamily rituals, the easier the transitions.
Community rituals are those that help new families and their friends, school teachers, co-workers and neighbors. In other words, these are activities that bond stepfamilies with friends and communities. Fortunately, today children are familiar with stepfamilies or have been in them themselves.
Here are ways to build community rituals: attend stepfamily support groups, participate in sports, participate in church organizations and activities, attend events with groups of friends, organize family gatherings, and participate in local volunteer groups and organizations. In the Hays community, there are many charitable organizations, events and activities in which children can learn to give to others.
The third type of ritual is the one most recognized, and that is holiday and celebration rituals. This is the type that is most apt to cause conflict and friction when families merge into stepfamilies. Consistency and continuity are important for children. Trying to preserve the traditions of biological families while trying to implement new rituals to bond stepfamilies together is extremely difficult. There is only so much time in a day, and adding a lot of additional activities, along with many new relationships in stepfamilies, creates a time crunch.
Time pressures are a significant reason holidays and family celebrations are so stressful for stepfamilies. Thus, establishing stepfamily rituals and traditions before the holidays or special family events is important.
Holiday and celebration traditions include:
* Birthday celebrations.
* Special occasions for gift wrapping, putting up decorations, short trips for seeing holiday decorations or eating out in special places.
* Graduations, weddings and births.
In an article on DivorcedMoms.com titled "4 Tips for Holiday Success in Blended Families," the author suggests the first tip is to lower one's expectations. This tip is directed to women who have to make everything from scratch, entertain everyone, try to please everyone and fulfill expectations that exist mainly in the imagination of women.
The website also recommends cooperation in such areas as competing in gift giving, overspending and discord in budgeting. The biggest problem with the cooperation recommendation is it does not work if just one party cooperates.
Here are some ideas for stepfamily holiday traditions:
* Elf on the Shelf.
* Ornament making party.
* Tree decorating together.
* Making a gingerbread house.
* Creating a stepfamily newsletter.
* Christmas eve traditions.
* Holiday movie night.
* Special holiday dinner.
* Gift wrapping together.
* Adopting an "angel" from a local store.
* Making snacks for the reindeer.
* Countdown calendar.
* Decorating stockings.
* Special Christmas breakfast.
In Elf on the Shelf, parents move the elf to different places in the house, and children have to find it. Countdown calendars can be done. There are other countdown rituals. One is having a train with a favorite piece of candy in each car with the number of days left until the holiday on each car.
* Next week's article will continue with more ways to build successful holidays in new stepfamilies.
Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State
University. Send your questions in care of the department of
sociology and social work.