Being part of a blended family is an exercise in knowing yourself and what you want very well. It also means compromise and the realisation that no one situation will ever mean everyone is happy. You see, without this knowledge, life can get pretty uncomfortable and even miserable as you entertain others’ whims fancies and needs, or pander to your own without room for negotiation.
This is neither selfish nor being a doormat. It is survival and the only way I’ve found to ENJOY a blended family.
Take a particular situation which involves two countries a world apart as well as a blended family. Can you imagine the decision-making involved in having everyone happy in that scenario? Tough to imagine? That’s because “making everyone happy” really isn’t ever going to happen. Just as my husband and I know very well that one of us will always be away from family. A happy situation? No but one we live with and do the best we can by every day.
Those are the decisions we make.
We build in compensating factors such as video calling and messaging regularly. We also are very good at picking up where we left off. That’s the beauty of family. It’s like putting on an old sweater. Familiar and comfortable with no prickly bits to be wary of. As adults, my siblings and I are over a lot of childhood niggle. We know who we are and how we are with each other.
The festive season normally works well as we travel to New Zealand to be with my family (in the summer and the holidays). Is it ideal to only see my family for three weeks a year? No. I am incredibly aware of the gift of being able to see them that often. Many people living away from family aren’t able to travel such a distance every year. That was a caveat to our relationship and living in the UK- we would travel to NZ every year. My husband understands that heavy compromise and we both work hard to make sure that happens.
We travel to New Zealand close to Christmas. My family in there take turns between siblings and divorced parents to host. Some of us travel across the world; some of us travel across the country. Ideal? No. but knowing we only have two-three weeks together, we make the effort. We make the most of the time together. We plan time together. Living away from them also means we are more aware of the time we have together and don’t want to spoil it with unsaid issues or grudges. We have become very good at saying what we want: to host or not; to travel on the day or not. We work it out best we can.
Is my husband’s family happy that Christmas is without us? Not really, but we make the best of that situation as well. My brother in-law and godfather to our daughter comes at the beginning of the month to help decorate the tree. We begin our Christmas celebrations then. We go and visit my husband’s family the following weekend and have a family meal and swap gifts. The celebrations continue. Is this ideal? Well, it certainly makes Christmas more than just a single day of celebration! It’s not conventional, but it works and is the best we can come up with between us all.
Other in-laws in New Zealand know that Christmas is spent with the UK ones. The UK ones know Christmas is spent with the New Zealand family. Fair? You get them the rest of the year. What makes any of that fair?
Now add in my husband’s two daughters. When they were younger it was more difficult to make that trip to New Zealand but we did, knowing we had time with them the rest of the year and they had time with their mother and grandparents at Christmas. Now they are adults, one with children of her own. They have grown up knowing special time with us doesn’t often happen at Christmas. They live in two different continents now as well, so meeting up together at other times of the year is difficult. But again there are compensations – a lot of messaging and video calling.
This year we have Christmas in the UK. It doesn’t happen often so it is a bit of a novelty to enjoy the cooler weather and really feel the winter Christmas experience. We go to every Christmas fair, drink a lot of mulled wine, and enjoy the lights as it gets dark early. My husband’s family have their Christmas routine and we slot into it. The opportunity to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas day with my husband’s daughters and the grandchildren is acknowledged by their mother and she concedes part of the day to us.
I have been told we are very lucky that it all runs as smoothly and as amenably as it does – I know of some families where the festive season is rife with tension, upset and family rift. So why does it work for us?
Firstly, I think everyone is very clear and honest about what they want to do. From travelling to the other side of the world, to hosting, to not travelling on Christmas Day. Everyone has their points of compromise. Outside of that…
Everyone is pretty accommodating and understanding. It may be you who calls the shots for some reason next year.
But mostly, everyone knows what the festive season is really about. Being together. Both families aren’t very precious about being together ‘on the day’. The Catholics in the family know the significance of the 25th and that adds to the overall occasion. For the secular amongst us, it is the opportunity to be together in whatever way shape or configuration we can manage! If it doesn’t work for the 25th, then we make the point of Christmas (the being together bit) another day. Even the children buy into it as an extended celebration and the little ones really don’t know whether they opened gifts on the 25th or the 27th…
I feel it is this that makes it work the most. We embrace the spirit of the holidays wholeheartedly, wherever we are and whoever we are with!