Each Christmas we sing the peaceful words of the old familiar carol: "Silent night, holy night. All is calm; all is bright …"
If you have a blended family like my husband and me, you might be saying, "Are you crazy? There is nothing silent, calm, or bright about my holidays!" The family gathering schedule is chaos, traditions change from house to house, feelings get hurt, and emotions get out of control.
Here are some things we've heard in the past and what you might hear from your stepkids over the holidays:
"My stepdad told me we can't open one gift on Christmas Eve. That was our tradition when my mom and dad were still married." —Stepson, age 7
"What do you mean I can't go to Amy's house for New Year's Eve? I do every year!! You're not my mom!" —Stepdaughter, age 15
If your family has similar experiences, I've put together five ideas to help keep your holy nights calm and bright throughout the entire holiday season:
1. Remember the reason for the season. Keeping peace on earth starts with you. As Christians, it's our responsibility to model Christ to our stepchildren and ex-spouses, especially those who are not walking with the Lord. Romans 14:19 says, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (NIV).
The holidays aren't ultimately intended to create the perfect family gathering with all the right atmosphere and trimmings. These special days are a celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who has brought salvation, grace, love, and joy. Are we demonstrating the love of God in our stepfamily? Are we expressing the joy of the Lord? Remember to center your holidays on the right celebration.
2. Honor traditions that your stepkids bring and consider new ones. For our family, decorating our first Christmas tree was brutal. The debate about how to hang tinsel and where to place the ornaments fueled the fire of "I don't like change!" And what could have been a fun family time turned into a mush of hurt feelings and temper tantrums.
We learned that a new family means doing things a new way. That involves flexibility and open minds. It's okay to keep some old traditions, but it may be time to create some new ones, too. We asked each of our kids to suggest something they'd like to create as a new tradition. As long as it was legal and not immoral, we agreed.
One new tradition sounds pretty simple, but had a lot of impact. We bought matching ornaments for the kids each year and added their names and the year. As each has married, we have carefully packed up their ornaments and presented to them for their first Christmas tree. There are lots of great memories attached to those ornaments.
As the kids have gotten older, we have added a new tradition of Thanksgiving Day golf. The boys (since we have more of them) leave the house with my husband, Gil, by 8 a.m. Living in the Northwest, you never know what kind of weather will greet you on that morning. Last year, it was more like ice golfing. We came back with a video of 28-year-old Kyle ice skating in the sand trap as he tried to maneuver his way out. Feet sliding under him, his feeble attempt to escape the trap made us all laugh! As we reminisce around the dinner table each year, that tradition is always brought up.
3. Reduce pressure of holiday schedules. So much strife is created by the timing of family get-togethers, but if you look at things a little differently, you can stretch your holiday time and even enjoy it. (As we always say, "Remember, blessed are the flexible, for they won't snap.")
Consider that your celebration doesn't need to be on the day of the holiday. Instead, reserve another date close to the holiday for your holiday festivities. Having an "open house" day may work best. Invite your kids and stepkids to come when they are able and stay as long as they'd like.
This format will bring your kids great relief from having to run from house to house. And for you, that means you get more stress-free time with them.
4. Don't hold grudges. Many families trade off each year where kids will be for the major holidays, which can disappoint and hurt feelings. But don't spend your energy on holding grudges over scheduling chaos. Instead, put your energy into loving them, and enjoy the time you have with them.
If emotions run crazy, chances are they are just trying to make all of their parents happy by showing up when asked. The more understanding you have, the more pleasant the holiday will be and the more your kids will look forward to spending time in your home.
5. Don't forget about your marriage. Take time to check in with your spouse. Sometimes my husband and I will ask one another, "How's your heart?" Between gift buying, school concerts, dinner parties, scheduling with your ex, budgeting for presents, and getting the oil changed in your car, you can miss each other's hearts. It's during stressful times that the hurt can show up the most, so be sensitive and take time to listen. Showing a united, calm marriage will benefit everyone, including your kids.
This time of year, it's easy to get caught up in the emotions of "how we used to do it." When these emotional knots weighed down our family, it helped us to be open-minded and open-handed. We would ask each other and ask God, "What is best for our family?"
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Keeping peace through the holidays starts with you and your spouse.
Keeping peace through the holidays starts with you and your spouse. Take a deep breath and have a peaceful holiday, and as you focus on the real reason for the season, let your joy for the Lord be contagious.
Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Stuart. Used with permission.
Looking for help or inspiration this Christmas? FamilyLife offers several resources to help your family focus on Christ during your Christmas celebration. The Ever Thine Home® Christmas collection includes ornaments and other decorations help you honor Christ and proclaim your faith. The 12 Names of Christmas™ ornaments are designed to help you teach your children about Jesus is and why He came to live among us. And in When Christmas Came, Barbara Rainey reveals the substance of Christmas in poignant prose and vivid watercolors.