A Panel Discusses the Complexities of Stepfamilies and Holidays
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The holidays can be a challenge for blended families. Ron Deal moderates a panel discussing the complexity of holidays with stepfamilies.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Christmas is coming and so are the expectations, whether you’re in an intact family or a blended family. We need to be ready. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. We’re going to get a chance today to eavesdrop today on a conversation that, for a lot of families, this issue, this is week—I mean, this is the issue; right?—blended families trying to navigate the holidays: “Who is where?—when?”
Ann: It’s hard enough in an intact family.
Ann: I think the complications of a blended could even be harder.
Dave: I remember—I was in a blended family—Christmas was/I sort of hated it; because I would have Christmas morning with my mom, who I lived with; then, I’d have to get on a plane, usually by about noon—
Bob: —on Christmas Day.
Dave: —and fly to Florida, where my dad and stepmom were, and do Christmas with palm trees.
Ann: And then your mom was alone a lot of times.
Dave: Yes, my mom—I left her by herself—yes; it’s a unique, different deal.
Bob: Ron Deal, who works, here at FamilyLife®, gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended® and has the FamilyLife Blended podcast that many of our listeners listen to regularly. He talked, not long ago, to a couple of blended family authors/people who have lived this and are helping others. Then, he got a studio audience together and interacted. We’re going to dive in and hear some of this interaction that takes place between all of these folks and help blended families get ready for what’s coming up this week.
Before we do that, we’re in the last ten days of 2020, which many of us are going, “Woo hoo!” [Laughter]
Ann: Yes! We’re excited; let’s get into 2021!
Dave: Do you think 2021 is going to be different?
Bob: I don’t know. What I do know is that these last ten days are going to be significant for us, here at FamilyLife. We’re asking listeners: “Help us take advantage of a matching gift that is available to us and consider as generous a yearend contribution as you can possibly give to this ministry.”
Dave: In a sense, we’re asking for a Christmas gift. It’s a yearend opportunity. I know for ministries, like FamilyLife, this is huge to have you join us as a partner/to say, “You know what? I benefitted from this ministry. I’ve received help; I’ve received hope, and I’m going to give back. I want to help other people get what I’ve gotten.”
I invite you: “Join us. We need you; we really do—2020 has been one of those years—and we need you to step up. We’re asking you to step up and be a blessing to others as we have been a blessing to you.”
Ann: I think we would all agree that one of the foundational things our country needs right now are healthy families, because we mark the world and make a difference. Make a difference with us; help us to reach people, and heal families, and give them hope.
Bob: When you give today, we’re going to send you a couple of thank-you gifts. We’re going to send you a copy of my book, Love Like You Mean It; a flash drive that’s got more than 100 of the best FamilyLife Today programs of the last 28 years; and when you give today, your donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar. We’ve just recently had an increase in the matching gift total that’s available to us. We’re hoping to take advantage of what is now a $2.7 million-matching gift total.
To take advantage of that, go to FamilyLifeToday.com—make an online donation—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Thank you, in advance, for what you’re able to do. Let me wish you an early merry Christmas. We hope you and your family have a great Christmas season.
If you are a blended family, we hope you get some encouragement today from the conversation we’re going to hear as Ron Deal talks with Laura Petherbridge and Judi Parziale, talking about expectations during the Christmas season. Once he has interacted with them, there are people in the studio audience that will interact over what they’ve heard, talking about expectations for blended families during the Christmas season.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Laura: The first few Christmases, as a stepmom, I couldn’t deal with the tension/the expectations. I would get angry when my stepsons weren’t happy with their gifts, or they didn’t think they got enough from their father—that was very frustrating. My early stepfamily Christmases, I had too great of an expectation/too much of a Norman Rockwell view in my head of what Christmas was going to be.
As we progressed, as a stepfamily, I learned to lower my expectations; I learned to keep focused on what was important. I learned what my stepsons loved about Christmas, and what they didn’t love about Christmas. I learned, as a stepfamily unit, not to make the priority making sure that you have the kids on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. If that caused too much stress for them, it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth making Christmas morning something to fight over.
I learned, in a stepfamily, that Christmas is often what you make it. If you set the expectations for the kids to be thrilled about everything, you may end up disappointed. I learned, in a stepfamily, that you are often not going to be able to take the stepkids to church like you thought you would. I learned that my example of Christ was doing more to help them see Christmas for what it should be than preaching to them about what Christmas should be.
Ron: That was author, Laura Petherbridge, from Episode 15, our episode on “The Childless Stepmom.” What are your reactions to some of her thoughts?
Shannon: I like how she learned to lower her expectations of what Christmas should be. The tradition in our home is that this is the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, so it’s not about you. In fact, we don’t go overboard with all of the gifts. If Jesus only received three gifts, you’re not getting any more. [Laughter]
Ron: —and it’s not going to be gold, frankincense, and myrrh; right?
Shannon: Right; so you get no more than Jesus. We try to go overboard for birthdays, but for His birth?—it’s not about you. If we teach them that day is not about you, then when you don’t get your way, you’re not bent out of shape; because guess what?—it’s not about you.
Candace: I need to get there. [Laughter] I need to get there because the pressure has always been—and this pressure comes from myself; I do it—I apply pressure on myself, and my husband, our parents—on making sure all four children feel the same, equal across the line. First Christmas, I can remember counting gifts.
Kim: I can second that. [Laughter] I lay them out on the floor, and I’m counting them out.
Ron: It’s unanimous at the table.
Candace: Okay; good. I’m not alone.
Ron: What was that about for you, counting gifts? What was the need in you?
Candace: I didn’t want anyone to feel “step.” I didn’t even want them to pay attention to that or feel that. That was pressure I put on myself. If you notice, kids will open one gift and they’re done, for awhile. We’re kind of shoving more towards them, but they’re not even paying attention to that.
Jeff: Ron, I was thinking, “Holidays are not a competition.” Let’s say the other home—you know, they: “Go big, or go home.”
Ron: Yes; they almost make it a competition?
Jeff: Yes; the kids come over, after they’ve already been there. You’re more responsible; and you want to teach more the value of what Christmas is all about, like Laura’s talking about. They’re talking about how they made the big haul. I think sometimes you can feel empty, like you didn’t measure up to what they’re getting over there. That’s not a good thought to have. You need to come up with and be satisfied and content with what you’re doing in your home, and be happy with that; because they will sense that. If you teach them the right thing about Christmas, and what it really is, that’s a lot more than anything they would get, gift-wise.
I think, as Candace was talking—of that pressure—because you don’t want a child to think, “Oooh. He’s only got…” Our kids have counted presents: “He’s got ten over there, and we’ve only got four. [Agreement among others] They don’t know that four costs as much/more than those ten.” [Agreement among others] I think we really lose focus on what it’s all about. It’s easy to do. No, it’s not a competition.
Ron: I think this is so catchy; because controlling the environment is really about, as Candace well-said, controlling the heart of a child. You want them to feel welcomed, and a part, and nobody step—but everybody belongs—so you try to control the climate and the environment such that they will feel that.
Well, when there’s other homes—and other parents and other players in the game—you don’t get to control all those things. You can drive yourself a little bit crazy if you think that all of the externals are going to dictate the internal of the child. Keeping the reason for the season at the forefront/staying focused on that—you heard Laura say it—“Focus on what’s important; lower your expectations about some of the things.”
And being that example of Christ to them—you can be loving—it doesn’t take any gift to show a child they’re valuable. If ultimately that’s what you’re trying to show them, you can show them: you can show them by your time, and your energy, and your excitement. Yes, they may have questions: “I have a stepbrother, who got five gifts; and I got two.” [Parent’s reply might be]: “Well, they went to another home, but you didn’t. That’s the way it works, and we understand that he has another home.”
By the way, I’ve heard that so many times over the years—kids going, “I want another home, so I can get more gifts.” [Laughter]
Kim: That was me, growing up; that was me growing up. I remember telling my parents—my older brother came home with this video console, and these shoes, and all this stuff—and I’m younger. I tell my mom—it’s like, “I want a stepdaddy.” [Laughter] She’s like, “That’s not how it works, darling.” [Laughter]
Ron: What do you do, as a parent, in that moment?
Shannon: You explain the truth of the reality. At least, for me, it’s another opportunity for me to redirect them to Christ: “Remember: it’s not about you.”
Ron: Yes, that’s good. I do think the question embedded in that comment—“They got five and I only got two,”—is: “Am I as valuable?” You can always speak to that.
Woman: Right; you know, Ron, for me, I think it wasn’t so much about given the value of the gifts; but my son’s dad did not stay in his life during those growing years. He did watch his stepsiblings go back and forth. It wasn’t about the number of gifts or the quality of the gifts, but it was about: “Were they more valued because they had all of these individuals giving them time?” I was burdened in my heart about him—he was just in our home; he didn’t have another home to go to; I felt that burden for him.
Ron: You do the best you can, and you explain. You show them their value, and then I think you keep moving on.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a conversation with Ron Deal and some moms and dads, who are part of a blended family, talking about the complexity and the emotion that surrounds the holiday season when you’re in a blended family.
Ann: I think it’s a great thing that they’re talking about expectations. We all need to talk about that before Christmas, because so often we’re let down.
Dave: And the complexities—we all know how tough family can be at holidays and at Christmas. I don’t think we have any idea the complexities when you add in blended and differ—I mean, it’s such a needed topic to talk about.
Bob: Yes; what we’re listening to is a part of an extended conversation that was featured on Ron Deal’s podcast, FamilyLife Blended. The entire conversation is available for download. I’d encourage you: “Download it; listen to it; think about it; pray about it; get ready for what’s coming this week.”
In the podcast, Ron shares a story from Judi Parziale, talking about how they hadn’t thought through expectations for the holiday season as a blended family; and how that came back to bite them. Listen to this.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Judi: Our first Christmas was a disaster, because we had never discussed our expectations or really how our customs might fit together. As a result of those unspoken expectations, we were both assuming things would happen the way we’d hoped for; and it didn’t. It created some really hurt feelings.
I think it’s really important to talk about how you celebrate Thanksgiving/how your family celebrates Christmas: “What are meaningful things for you?” “What do you like to do? What do your kids like to do?” Have a conversation, because you want to honor each family that’s coming together. You also want to develop some new traditions together. As you develop more of those traditions together with holidays, that will be helpful in blending your family and making things memorable for everyone.
Ron: That was Judi Parziale. She and her husband Jeff were our guests on Episode 20, talking about couples who are about to blend. I heard different parts there. Guys, react to this; I heard her say: “It was a disaster,” “We learned we had to talk,” “We had to try to plan,” “We had to honor traditions, and we had to find new ones.”
Candace: Key word: expectations. That conversation is very important—blended family/period—especially around the holidays. It’s not the time to be, “Oh, I’m fine with whatever you decide; because then you find out, “Oh, I’m not fine with everything that you’ve decided”; then it can be a disastrous holiday.
Yes, I think the expectations and that discussion—and pretty much laying out: “This is something that we’ve done that I really can’t let go,” “This is something I’ve done that we really can’t let go,”—we decide, not which one is more important, but: “Which one do we want to make our new tradition, and how we can change that, and what works for our household?”
Jeff: Sometimes, when we put together something—or say I have a conference—what do we do afterwards? We sit and evaluate what worked and what didn’t. It may be a good idea that you have a “team family” meeting, and we talk, including the kids. We ask, “What worked with this holiday? What did you like about it? What could we have done differently?” Get their input instead of coming up, or assuming, what didn’t work; but get everybody’s input so, next year, you can plan differently and maybe do something different.
Kim: —a holiday travelogue?
Ron: How does that work?
Kim: I think it’s just what Jeff said; sit around a table and talk about, “What did Christmas” or “What did Thanksgiving”…birthdays”—“what did that look like, for you, before we came together?” “What did that look like for the parents in the home, when they were growing up?” And then talk about: “What do we want now? What is important that you want to bring into this new family that you had in your previous family? What things do we want to merge together and create as our own new tradition?”
Jeff: A travelogue was one of our most successful things, and it really wasn’t about the holidays. It was, as much, learning about each other; we sat around the table and did it. At first, our kids were like, “Hey; what’s this?” But when we did it, man, you talk about opening up and finding out things about/that they didn’t know about us; it was pretty cool.
Candace: That’s good.
Ron: That is good.
Shannon: I don’t think couples in blended families realize that this is a point of contention for couples from a first marriage. My husband and I are a first-marriage blended family. Because we are both from central Arkansas, and our families are still here, we don’t necessarily have to fight about: “Where are we going to go for the holidays? Are we going to go to your mom’s?” We can kind of do both; that’s the beauty of living so close to family.
But we also didn’t have those really good conversations about: “Hey! Did you talk to his mom?” “Hey, did you talk to her mom?” As the stepmom, and the potential smart stepmom I’m trying to be, I always try to initiate those conversations. You have to realize that you married someone, who may be a planner/who may not be a planner. “Guess who’s the planner,—[Laughter]—and guess who’s not the planner in my situation.” A lot of times, conversations didn’t get done like I wanted. That’s where the stepping back and allowing whatever chaos to transpire transpires, so that this hard lesson could be learned by my—
Ron: —loving husband.
Shannon: —loving husband; yes. [Laughter]
Kim: Shannon, I think that’s a really good point. We really need to look at the marital relationship when this issue comes to the forefront, not just in the parenting side. When Jeff and I got married, I didn’t realize that he had a romantic idea every year. He would go out at midnight the night before and buy stocking stuffers; that was his thing for the family.
Well, I’m the planner, so what did I do?—I had them all bought before Christmas Eve hit! [Groans] I stole one of his romantic plans. I don’t know if he grieved that, but I grieved that for him when I found out that I had stole his thunder.
Jeff: That’s when the best deals are—on Christmas Eve. [Laughter]
Kim: That is true; that is true.
Candace: I really—even going back to the comment I just made about how we had the discussion—in thinking about your travelogue—that will be implemented in our household. [Laughter] That discussion that we had was about us; it wasn’t about our children. I didn’t even think about that until right now. Now, that I’m thinking, when you were speaking—like, “Is it too late?”—no; I think that’s something you can continue to do every holiday/every birthday. Yes; it will be happening in the Colclough household.
Ron: You can read about the travelogue in my book, The Smart Stepfamily. By the way, the bigger narrative there is that, as a family—as you continue to dialogue about the past, and present, and what worked and what didn’t work, and “How we’re going to move forward,” you’re taking further steps in defining how you’re going to be family with one another. This is part of the process of becoming family. The travelogue is not just about information; it’s about that bigger story of us figuring out us.
Bob: Again, we’ve been listening to an excerpt from an extended interaction that was part of the FamilyLife Blended podcast that Ron Deal hosts, talking about expectations during the holiday season. Ron told me this is one of the most downloaded podcasts in his series that he’s done, because the holidays are tricky for blended families.
Dave: People want help, and they really do want hope. It can get to the point, where you give up on the holidays—and that’s an intact family, without the complexities—I mean, honestly, we’ve all been there—it’s like: “This isn’t even worth the hassle.” It’s a whole other world; that’s why this is such a needed podcast.
Ann: I think this is a great podcast to share with friends right now; because we’re all going to need this, especially blended.
Bob: I would say for everybody—just stop and calibrate the next week; stop and say—“What do we want to make sure, by the time the week is over, what do we make sure we’ve accomplished?” and “What can we let go of so we stay focused on the main thing?”
Ann: And pray; begin praying for your family time too. It’s really important to make Jesus is a part of this season.
Bob: If you have not gone through Ron’s book The Smart Stepfamily, it’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d also mention Ron’s new book that he wrote with Dr. Gary Chapman called Building Love Together in Blended Families. Both of these are really must-reads for anyone, who is in a blended family. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; find out more about these resources. You can order them from us on our website; again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order these books—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, for those of you who are doing last-minute Christmas shopping, as some of us are this week, I hope you’ll also consider a yearend gift to FamilyLife. We mentioned earlier today that we’ve had friends of the ministry, who have made available to us a matching gift that we are hoping to take full advantage of. In fact, in the last week, that matching gift has expanded; there is now $2.7 million in that matching-gift fund. For us to take advantage of what’s in the fund, we need FamilyLife Today listeners to be as generous as you can possibly be.
Your donation, whatever it is, will release the equal amount from the matching-gift fund; so your donation is matched, dollar for dollar. We’ll send you a couple of thank-you gifts for Christmas—well, you won’t get them in time for Christmas—but you get the idea. We’ll send you a copy of my book, Love Like You Mean It, and we’ll send you a flash drive that includes more than 100 of the best FamilyLife Today podcasts and radio programs from the past 28 years. Both of these resources are our thank-you gift when you make a donation today. Again, you can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a yearend donation.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’ve got a special early Christmas present for you—an in-house concert and conversation with singer/songwriter/worship leader Laura Story. She joins us tomorrow. We hope you can join us to be back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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