Stepfamilies and Holidays: Blending Your Family Traditions - Ron Deal
Bob and Vicki Maday married late in life. Both had lost a spouse; and Bob says neither of them were prepared for the impact the holidays would have on their attempt to blend a new family.
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Blending Your Family Traditions
Guests: Ron Deal and Bob and Vicki Maday
From the series: Stepfamilies and Holidays
Bob: Bob and Vicki Maday married late in life. Both had lost a spouse; and Bob says neither of them were prepared for the impact the holidays would have on their attempt to blend a new family.
Bob M: We had taken some lead, as we were getting counseled in our remarriage, that we would try to start some new traditions. We made every effort to make new things sort of happen in our new family. The interesting thing that happened was—when it came to Christmas—that tradition sort of superseded anything else that we had expected. We were put under pressure to hold the tradition in place, and it was quite interesting.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. If you are in a blended family and you’re headed into the holidays for the first time, get ready.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. I’m just curious. You’ve had a number of pictures taken of your family over the years; right?
Bob: To your knowledge, any airbrushing ever done?
Dennis: Oh, absolutely. [Laughter] Photoshop, airbrushing—you can’t get a family perfect—I mean, in real life or in photography.
Bob: So, those Christmas pictures I’ve been getting through the years bear only a marginal resemblance to the real thing—— is what you’re saying.
Dennis: When I introduce my family and I show a picture, I say, “You know how we got that picture? We photo-shopped in two children”—
Dennis: —“who weren’t even in the picture at the time. We opened the eyes of two or three kids who never can seem to keep their eyes open during a picture.” And I say, “You know what? There is a reason for that because all families have their blemishes.”
Bob: Well, you had to take a couple hundred shots to get one where everybody was looking at the camera; right?
Dennis: Well, this was back in the days when you used to take, like, ten rolls.
Bob: I remember rolls.
Bob: Yes, I remember rolls.
Dennis: —hundreds of pictures to get a good one. I won’t tell you which one of our kids, but we had one—this child was called “The Many Faces of Blank”. I mean, if there was a way to make a strange-looking face,—
Bob: This child could do it.
Dennis: —this child did it. I’ve done a good job of protecting the identity, at this point.
Bob: The reason I ask you if you’ve ever had anything airbrushed is because this is going to be one of those non-airbrushed days—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: —as we talk about the holidays, and families, and challenges, and tensions, and, particularly, how those can emerge during the holiday season if you’re in a remarriage or a blended family situation.
Dennis: That’s exactly right, Bob. We’re sitting here about to have a conversation about blended families because listeners came alongside FamilyLife and said, “We’re going to donate, and we’re going to make this ministry possible. We want this outreach to reach all families.” That’s really what I want to talk to you about, here, at the beginning of the broadcast. FamilyLife is facing a serious shortfall in donations. I just need to ask you, as a listener, “If you’ve benefited personally from our broadcast, here on FamilyLife Today, would you stand with us with a donation, here at yearend?”
We’ve had a group of families that have come along side us and said, “We believe in what you are doing. You’ve helped us, and we want to help other families.” They’ve helped establish a $3.6 million match—here in December—that will match every dollar you give, up to $3.6 million. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation. You can help us take advantage—take full advantage of the $3.6 million match, here in December. Your dollar can become two. Help us so we can help you—and we can help your friends.
Bob: Well, again, go online to make a donation at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you are able to do in support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Now, you want to introduce our guests who are going to be joining us today?
Dennis: I do. First of all, is Ron Deal. He is the Director of Blended Family Ministries, here at FamilyLife—is a prolific author, has written a brand-new book. In fact, Ron, explain to our listeners what Life in a Blender is all about. It’s subtitled Living in a Stepfamily, a guide for kids.
Ron: Well, first of all, it’s great to be back on the broadcast with both of you. As you know, our blended family ministry endeavors to equip blended families—stepfamilies—to go the distance, to build families of grace that honor God and create a climate where children can grow to know the Lord and to be loved.
We’ve written a number of materials, books. We have DVD’s for adults. We’ve never done anything for kids until now. Life in a Blender: Living in a Stepfamily is a booklet designed for children—easy-to-read booklet for kids, ages 10 and up. It comes with a free parent discussion guide. The idea is to get your kid thinking about a few things that they’re probably feeling—put some words on it—then, give parents an opportunity to interact with their child around that—
Ron: —and create dialogue that let’s both of them understand each other better and move forward, as a family.
Dennis: You’ve got more than 25 years’ experience in this area. Marriages and families that are blended really do have some challenges around the holiday season. We decided to get up close and personal and bring into the studio Bob and Vicki Maday, all the way from Jonesboro, Georgia, down near Atlanta. Bob and Vicki, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Vicki: Thank you. We’re happy to be here.
Bob M: Our pleasure, thank you.
Dennis: We also brought Bob and Vicki’s daughters into the studio. Now, I have to mention, at this point, Bob and Vicki have been in a blended marriage, now, for five years. Have I got that right?
Bob M: That’s correct.
Dennis: And they brought Bob’s daughter, Katie, and Vicki’s daughter, Jonell, into the studio.
Bob: This is where all of the airbrushing goes away because we want—
Dennis: We want the truth. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right—the truth—the whole truth—and nothing but the truth about some of the challenges that go along with blendeds, especially during the holidays.
Ron, you’ve talked to a lot of blended couples—
Bob: —over the years.
Bob: Holiday seasons are stressful; aren’t they?
Ron: They are. I mean, they are stressful for all families, in some form or fashion. Right there, along with joys of the season, are the stresses of making it all happen and work. We all know that and understand that; but anybody, who is listening right now, who has ever had any sort of significant loss—I’m not just talking about divorce, but death of a parent, a friend—any sort of significant loss—you know that the holidays come with mixed emotions. It just does that.
You can’t experience a happy moment without also feeling the sadness of somebody who’s not there with you. When you sit down and engage in traditions that you may have done for years, as a family, it also brings up the fact that somebody is not there or life is not as you would want it to be. That’s one of the common experiences for adults and children in blended families.
You may be able to fake it the rest of the year; but when the holidays roll around and you’re sitting down and engaging in a tradition you’ve done for years, as a family, but your dad’s not there—it’s hard to fake it. If you’re engaging in a tradition that other people have brought to the table—your stepsiblings, your stepparent has brought to the table—and you don’t get that tradition—doesn’t make any sense to you—then, you really can’t fake it. So, oftentimes, for blended families, the holidays kind of resurges stress.
Dennis: Well, Bob and Vicki, I need to mention, at this point, because I failed to earlier—both of your spouses died. Then, you remarried, not long after your spouses died; correct?
Bob M: Yes. It was not long for me, but it was a little longer for her. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, take us to your first Christmas—your first holiday season: “Was it all smooth sailing?”, “ Was it just as you expected,” or, “Were you guys really prepared for that first Christmas together?”
Vicki: Oh, we were totally unprepared for the challenges that we were going to be facing that first Christmas. The first thing we did was we had our children address us and say, “We do not want to be one big, combined family.” We want to keep our Christmases separate, which we also felt was important. So, we planned a Christmas with my children; and then, planned a separate time with Bob’s children.
Bob: Now, the two of you were the common element in both of those, but you didn’t make the siblings kind of learn how to mash it up together; right?
Bob: Jonell—let me ask you. As one of the kids in this situation—that first Christmas, when here’s your mom and here’s her new husband, and the years of growing up and doing Christmas with your mom and your dad, and your dad’s not here anymore, and here’s this new guy, and you’re still not sure what you think about him, and it’s Christmas—how did that feel?
Jonell: Well, it was a little different for me than the other siblings because I lived out of state. So, naturally, I was thinking I would be coming home for Christmas; but instead, I was coming to a new house, a new environment. I mean, it wasn’t even our same Christmas tree that was put up—that I was used to. So, there was a lot that was different for me when I came home for Christmas that first year.
Ron: So, Jonell, you thought you might be going home for Christmas; but really quickly discovered that it didn’t feel like home at all—is that what you are saying?
Jonell: That’s correct.
Ron: Yes. So, where does that take you? I mean, how do you begin to try to get your mind and your heart around that because, obviously, you care deeply about your mother—and for her wellbeing and for her sake—for your siblings—you kind of want to be there and experience Christmas together—but yet, the climate doesn’t feel like home.
Jonell: Well, you know—Bob and I had only met a few times before that Christmas. So, I wanted—I didn’t want him to think that my reservations were what I was feeling toward him. That Christmas, I know I spent a lot of time trying to engage with him, make him feel like I loved him, and just sort of fought my battle—behind-closed-doors kind of thing.
Ron: I so appreciate Jonell sharing that, Dennis, because, essentially, what she’s pointing out is that there is a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, she’s wanting to engage the family—she’s wanting to engage her new stepdad, Bob. Mom’s married this guy—she wants to get to know him and experience a relationship with him. Then, at the same time, there’s this inner turmoil going on; and she is pulling away and feeling like she’s got to deal with it on her own.
That just kind of brings to the surface how complicated the holidays can be for families. Essentially, the commentary here is that they are trying to become family. That’s really what’s happening—those early years of the blended family experience. They’re trying to figure out how to be family with one another. There’s newness on every corner. So, getting to that place where it does feel comfortable is really a journey that takes many years—I would think.
Dennis: I want to ask you, Bob, did you have some high expectations about that first Christmas with Vicki’s family?
Bob M: You know—I really did. It’s pretty interesting we’d taken some lead, as we were getting counseled in our remarriage, that we would try to start some new traditions. We made every effort to make new things sort of happen in our new family. The interesting thing that happened is—when it came to Christmas—that tradition sort of superseded anything else that we had expected. It’s not like Valentine’s Day, where you can just change the location, and change the type of cookie, or candy, or cake that you use. We were put under pressure, by my children, to hold the tradition in place; and it was quite interesting.
Katie: Yes. Well, when they came to us and said that they wanted to maybe change things up a little bit—do things a little bit differently—I just said, “No!” For 30 years of my life, I’ve had Christmas Eve at my dad’s house. I will be there, Christmas Eve, with my family every year until—until [Laughter] —
I just felt like—for my children—I wanted them to see the traditions that I grew up with and how lucky for them to have Gigi, here, to make this wonderful Christmas Eve happen. It’s magical, and they’ve added some new things. We have started some new traditions, but our old tradition of Christmas Eve is still intact.
Bob: You know, Ron, as Katie is talking about this, I’m thinking back to when Mary Ann and I first got married. We tried to figure out how we blended her traditions of growing up the way her family did it with my tradition—how our family did it. It took a little adjusting.
Bob: There is a degree of difficulty that’s added here—
Ron: That’s right. That’s right. There were two of you.
Bob: —that’s significant. Yes.
Ron: There were two of you when you and Mary Ann were trying to do it.
Bob: And we were a little more flexible.
Ron: Yes, and highly-motivated—
Ron: —towards finding what will make one another happy. That’s part of what’s happening with some stepfamilies—is the adults are more motivated than sometimes the kids are. So, the adults kind of assume that the kids will join them in the motivation. Bob and Vicki had wonderful intentions, “Let’s do some new things. Let’s...”—and in their minds, that’s part of becoming family. “Let’s find ‘the us’.”
Vicki: Let me interrupt just a minute, Ron, because—
Ron: Please do.
Vicki: —our issue, which, I think, we didn’t face was—we had a fracture within the children. We had some who no longer wanted to have Christmas on Christmas Eve. So, the fracture there was among Bob’s children.
Vicki: And we were just agreeable to make any changes to Christmas we needed to make. I stepped back and said, “Bob, you need to make those decisions with your kids if you’re going to change Christmas completely—what it used to look like, getting together on Christmas Eve.” That’s when Katie came to me and said, “We’re going to keep this tradition. We’ve always been with Dad on Christmas Eve, and we want to continue to be with Dad on Christmas Eve. And that, now, is going to include you; and I want my children with big Daddy and Gigi on Christmas Eve.”
So, the fracture there wasn’t between the parents and the kids, as much as it was a fracture between the kids. Some wanted to maintain the family tradition that the Madays had always had, and another family member wanted to do away with everything.
Dennis: And Ron, just listening to Vicki talk about this, I can see how a blended family, coming together with all the expectations, the excitement—
Dennis: —you know “We’re beginning our lives together,” could really get ambushed by these differing opinions and expectations of their own children.
Bob: Well, I’m just sitting here thinking, “What if Jonell had stepped in the mix and said, ‘No! We get Christmas Eve. Katie gets something else. We get Christmas.’” What do you do if you’ve got your family and his family—and they both want the same things?
Ron: So, let’s talk about a couple of principles because there is no one answer— “What do you do?” —alright? One of the principles is: flexibility.
First of all, you know, as is evident in Bob and Vicki’s hearts, their intention was to find the win-win—something that works for the kids. They’re willing to be adaptable and, “Let’s just do whatever we need to do so that this holiday can be a season of joy for them.” Yet, even then, with that attitude, it got complex because they had differences of opinion about what that would look like, even among the children.
So, flexibility says, “Boy, we may not be able to figure this one out so that everybody wins. We do have to talk to all the parties involved.” In this case, all the kids are adults. So, it’s easier to have that conversation than with families that have younger kids—and a five-year-old and a seven-year-old sometimes don’t even know how to verbalize what they want—but we’re going to try to talk to as many people as we can and get out in front of this.
That’s one of my other principles—is be proactive about the holidays. You can’t wait until the last minute, and then throw it together, and expect good things, necessarily.
Bob: So, if you haven’t had a conversation yet for this Christmas, you’re probably a little behind the eight ball on this one.
Ron: Yes, it might be a little late; but start now. You know?
Ron: So, we’ve talked about two principles so far. Be proactive—plan, plan, plan—and number two, be flexible. Even with a plan, you still might have to go with the flow.
But here’s another principle I would give those who are listening today. That is— compartmentalize. This is not a fix-all. Again, when people say, “What do we do in this case when there are differences of opinions between siblings, between stepparents, stepkids, or different sides of the family?” What they are really asking is, “How do we make this perfect for everyone?”
Okay, I just want to be frank, and honest, and candid, and say, “You can’t.” You can’t do that every time. That’s a function of your family growing together over time and finding the fit. Many times it takes years. Okay? In the meantime, while you’re trying to find what that answer looks like, compartmentalize.
That’s the idea that it’s okay for some family members to get together the week before Christmas and open gifts because the kids are going to be with you that weekend and not the weekend of Christmas; or you get together after Christmas and do something special; or a parent spends time with their biological children and the stepparent says, “You know what? You guys have got the afternoon. I’m staying out of that so you can honor your tradition that you’ve had for 30 years together, as a family.”
All of those kinds of examples are compartmentalizing the different relationships within the home. That feels weird to adults because they feel like that’s a failure sometimes. They feel like—
Ron: —“Wow, because we’re not all together—we’re not all blended—that, somehow, we’ve failed.” I say, “No, no, no; that’s not true.” What we’re doing is we’re just acknowledging that today you’re not blended; and we’re not going to force everybody into a love relationship on our time. We’re going to allow them to find a love relationship on their own time.
Bob: Bob, I’m curious, as you look back on that first blended Christmas together, did you get through the season and think, “What used to be a season of joy, is now a season of kind of depressing”—[Laughter] —you know, I’m just imagining that you get to the end of Christmas and just go, “That was miserable. I don’t want to do that again.”
Bob M: Yes, we did get through it; but there was a high-level of stress. Even right now, as we’re approaching this Christmas, we can begin to feel the stress begin to grow.
Bob: Wait, wait, wait. This is five years later—
Bob M: Yes, it is.
Bob: —and it’s still there?
Dennis: You guys aren’t blended yet? [Laughter]
Bob: You don’t have the—
Bob M: No, we’re not. [Laughter] We’re struggling along. Dennis had mentioned earlier about kind of an ambush at Christmas. Let me just tell you an interesting thing that happened to us on our first Christmas.
I had retained some gifts that I was going to give to Vicki—special gifts. I had retained those to open when we had Christmas with Jonell and Stacy. She had retained a couple precious gifts that she was giving to me because we were in love with each other—are in love with each other. She was retaining those gifts to be opened in front of my children. So, when we had Christmas with my children, out came these gifts. Vicki gave them to me. They were precious, and they were really meaningful for me. It was a wonderful gift—got no reaction from my children—zero. The air just got let out of the room.
Likewise—the next morning—when we were sharing Christmas with Vicki’s children, same thing. I brought a couple of wonderful gifts out, presented them to Vicki, had lots of enthusiasm about it, and looked up. The air had been let out of the room again. Jonell was blank. Stacy was blank. We got sort of ambushed, right there. Actually, as a result of that, we now share our Christmas privately—even do a getaway, sometimes a week or so before—kind of keep our coupleness out of our familyness.
Ron: One of the things that I love about this family and what they are sharing with us today is that they are being real. They are sharing that it’s a process to become family to one another.
In the beginning, Bob and Vicki’s expectations about how the kids would react to their special time were not satisfied. They found a different way to get through that, at this point in their lives. That’s what I love about them—is they are still finding their way—not only them, but the kids and the grandkids. That’s what healthy stepfamilies do. They don’t quit on the process. They stay after it.
Dennis: And they need coaching because—
Vicki: Amen. [Laughter]
Dennis: —it’s very—it’s a very complex family structure. It takes coaching to plan, plan, plan and to kind of take the urgency out of it—say, “We will be a family! We’re going to have a family this year, this first Christmas. It has to happen now!” What I hear them saying and you saying, Ron, is it takes time, time, time. It takes a long time for these two families to, perhaps, come together—and maybe, they’ll never come together, as we imagined it in our minds.
Bob: But it does help to go through this—to have a mentor—to have maybe another couple that—like the Madays, are a few years down the road here who can say, “Boy, we’ve made some mistakes,” or, “Here are some things we learned along the way.” It helps to have some coaching, like Ron Deal has been providing for us today. Ron’s written a book called The Smart Stepfamily—that really is a classic book when it comes to how you make a blended family relationship work as well as it can possibly work. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about that book.
Ron has a brand-new booklet that he’s put together for children called Life in a Blender. It’s written for kids, elementary through high school, to help them understand a lot of what they’re feeling—put words to it—and help them understand the adjustments that they can make to make life work better for everybody in a blended family.
So, look for information about Life in a Blender—brand-new booklet from Ron Deal—and the book, The Smart Stepfamily, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call toll-free, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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Then, be sure to join us back here again tomorrow when we’re going to continue talking about the holidays, and blended families, and how you work to make that as good as it can be. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can be here.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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