Don and Kathy Coryell
Creative Connections Ministry
Whether you are a single parent or in the process of blending two families, this season may find you counting your problems instead of your blessings, and grieving over Christmas past instead of celebrating Christmas present. The good news is, there is hope! Here are some helpful ideas and suggestions to minimize the chaos and maximize the Christ in your Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
1. Let go of unrealistic expectations. Let go of the idea that it has to be the way it has always been. Don't expect everyone to be happy. The holidays may be a time of grief due to the loss of a spouse or absence of a parent, through death or divorce. Allow each family member to grieve their way. Help your "new" family to grow together in grace, through your circumstances. Keep your children's best interests at heart and keep the focus on Jesus, the reason we celebrate. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick But desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (Prov 13:12 NASB).
2. Be flexible. Try to peacefully negotiate a schedule that works for everyone, as much as possible. Although Christmas is traditionally celebrated on December 25, be flexible enough to celebrate on another day if it will contribute to a more peaceful season. Remember the goal is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He wasn't born on December 25. If it is difficult to talk with your ex-spouse, then honor the agreement that is in place. "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9 NASB).
3. Be creative. If you find yourself spending a holiday alone, spend it with the Lord. It was my first Thanksgiving alone. I was faced with a choice-to be miserable and cry all day or to make it a blessing. After the kids left with their Dad (and I cried a little), I got out my CD player and sang Christmas and worship music while I baked goodies for the kids. Singing praises helped me to be cheerful when they returned, which helped alleviate the children's worry and guilt about leaving Mom home alone. "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24 NIV).
4. Be proactive. Don't wait until you've hung all the Christmas lights to find out that your stepson always had that job and wanted to do it himself. To defend your home against Thanksgiving and Christmas Chaos, use an offensive strategy-the family meeting. Sit down together and have a holiday planning meeting, including reviewing custody schedules, planning meals (each person contributes one favorite dish to the menu), gift-giving (draw names if desirable), activities and decorating. Be sure each family member is involved and everyone abides by ground rules (i.e., must show respect to each family member). "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out" (Proverbs 17:14 NASB).
5. Do something old, something new. Traditions represent where we came from and bring us a sense of stability and security, which is especially important after suffering the loss of a spouse or parent through death or divorce. Honor the biological connections in your stepfamily by allowing some of the former traditions to continue. Build new memories and traditions to create experiences that will grow your stepfamily. "Old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV).
6. Co-operate with your co-parenting team to achieve harmony. Minimize the conflict with your ex-spouse to provide stability for your children. It is never too late to begin building a healthy, successful co-parenting team. Start by confessing your lack of cooperation and ask for forgiveness. Share this article with your ex-spouse. Learn to separate your marital issues from your parenting issues. Think of your former spouse as your business partner in the life-long business of parenting your children. Do not criticize your former spouse or the "other household". Every time you do, you are piercing your child's heart. Your former spouse is part of your child's flesh. Your criticism is tearing the flesh of your child and results in long-term emotional distress. You cannot control your ex-spouse but you can exercise self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If you have a difficult ex-spouse and are unable to communicate effectively, try setting healthy boundaries by informing him/her that you will communicate only in writing or by email and only on parenting issues (unless there is an emergency). If you are in a remarriage, this is especially important to honor your new spouse. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18 NIV).
7. Encourage cards and gifts but do not force the relationship between the stepparent and stepchild. The goal is to strike a balance between honoring the child's loyalty to the biological parent and teaching him how to honor stepparents as well. Teach the child to respect the stepparent, as you would any other adult authority. Allow children to talk about their feelings. You may help younger children make a card with their handprints for their stepparent. For adolescents and teenagers, encourage a card or gift, but leave the choice to them. Forcing them to buy a card or gift may cause distress, anger and further alienation from the stepparent. It is common for a child to feel that if he is being good to his stepmom he is being disloyal to his biological mom. Stepparents, your stepchild may not give you a card or gift, especially early in the remarriage. Acknowledge their loss and loyalty issues. Whatever you give, give out of love and a pure heart and leave the outcome to the Lord. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17 NIV).
8. Encourage your child to buy a card or gift for your former spouse, with a cheerful attitude. "Have you bought a card for your mother yet?" "Would you like me to take you shopping for your father's gift?" This is an excellent way to model for your child how to be a cheerful giver and honor her father and mother. The child has permission to love both biological parents and doesn't feel she has to choose between them. It is also preparation for the child's future marriage. "Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:6-8 NASB).
9. Talk about how to approach "new" relatives before they come to visit. What do the kids call them? It is difficult enough for an adult to know how to address a new in-law. For children, the family member may be a stranger to them and they are taught not to talk to, hug or touch strangers. It is important not to force children to hug or kiss relatives they do not know or have little contact with. It could be confusing for them. Communication ahead of time is crucial. The most important thing to remember is that the relationship is more important than the title. For instance, don't expect your child to call his stepgrandparents "Grandma" or Grandpa", if they have never met. The child may be confused and the grandparents may have different desires. Communication between parents, grandparents and children is essential. Each biological parent takes responsibility for talking to his/her children and parents. Relax, allow relationships to grow on their own and do not put expectations on anyone. "Love is patient…"(1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV).
10. Communicate early about the financial expectations at Christmas. If you are in a remarriage, agree on a Christmas budget and spend the same amount on all your children, step and biological, to avoid jealousy.
My first year as a single parent, I sat down and showed the kids our household budget. I wanted them to see that I could not afford to give them the Christmas we were used to. I assured them that my level of giving was not a measure of my love for them. We focused on the real meaning of Christmas with an Advent wreath, reading the Christmas story from Luke and delivering gifts to families for the Angel Tree Ministry. We baked, made homemade ornaments and did Christmas activities together.
In conclusion, there is no "right way" to do the holidays. Each family, be it single parent or stepfamily, like all of God's creation, is unique. You will discover your family's traditions as it takes its own shape and identity over time. Don't allow holiday issues to spoil your Thanksgiving or Christmas. That would be like the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. They wanted to honor man's traditions instead of God's on His Holy Day. Keep your focus on the reason for the celebrations, not on which day or how you celebrate. Choose your battles, communicate and plan early, be flexible and be creative. Most of all, enjoy the blessings! We Wish You a Blessed Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas!
Christmas Ideas and Suggestions
· Children give a different wish list to each biological parent, to avoid duplication.
· Do not buy a gift together with the ex-spouse. It sets up false expectations for the children and is not healthy for the remarriage.
· Do not try to 'buy the favor" of your stepchildren. This creates jealousy and puts a wedge between stepsiblings
· Do not compete with your ex- spouse by trying to buy a "better" gift or spend more money
· Shop at thrift stores, make handmade gifts-sewing, baking, writing, woodcrafting, scrapbooks or photos
· Establish a Christmas savings account using automatic deposits from your paycheck year-round
Used with permission. Copyright © 2006 Don and Kathy Coryell, Creative Connections Ministry. All rights reserved.