The carols are playing, the decorations are up and strings of lights are strung over houses with care. It all seems rather normal, but for repartnered families having a first (or tenth!) Christmas together, it can feel pretty surreal. We share Christmas with my stepson’s mother.
One year he spends Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning with us and heads to his mother’s for the majority of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Vice versa the following year.
After 12 years and two other children, I still can’t decide which is more difficult. Having the joy of Christmas Eve with all of the spine-tingling Santa expectation and early morning waking to presents only to be followed by the letdown of him leaving for the rest of the day.
His absence a niggling presence in all that we do the rest of the day. Or the alternative of waking up to Christmas morning without him and having the long (feels-like-forever) wait until he gets home to let our family’s ‘real’ celebrations begin. The reality is that all of us – me, my husband, our little ones, the ex and her other little one – bar my stepson would choose not to share Christmas if we didn’t have to.
My stepson being the optimist and Libran that he is however is quite happy to share the day. It’s double the celebration and fun in his rose-coloured glasses view of the world. Plus, although he doesn’t actually articulate it, there is no missing it is so very important to him to spend the day with all of his siblings, his parents and his traditions – even if they don’t all happen at the same time or in the same place.
No matter what your age or role, if you find yourself having a stepfamily Christmas this year, here are a few things you can do:
• Embrace the fact that having a different Christmas doesn’t mean it is any better or worse than the ones before – or anyone else’s for that matter. It’s just different and really when you think about it – different is good!
• Celebrate the traditions that are important to you. You don’t have to give up your special childhood traditions just because you are dating or married to someone with kids, you repartnered or your parent has repartnered. The others in your family – whether your new partner, your stepchildren, your parent or your parent’s new partner – can decide whether they join in. If not, respect their decision but don’t let it stop you.
• Start some new traditions with your stepfamily. Something none of you have done previously. We go to a Christmas tree farm and let the kids pick and cut down a fresh tree each year. This was something we started the first Christmas my husband, stepson and I spent together and is now a must-do each year for all of us.
• Grieve a little. It’s sad when my stepson goes to his other house or isn’t there when we wake up on Christmas morning. And, it’s okay to say that in our home. A few extra cuddles, the kids putting a special toy or treat aside to play with him when he returns and taking a quiet moment can all help. Of course, if all else fails a bit of egg nog can never go astray!
Trisha Ladogna, 41, is co-creator of the blog www.steppingthrough.com.au helping repartnered couples with kids create a stepfamily and life they love. Trisha has extensive experience working with children and families in both the private and public sectors in Australia. Originally from the United States, Trisha has created a home and family in Australia. Her story involves divorce, repartnering and midlife mothering.