The holiday season is only weeks away! If you're in a blended family, that fact could cause your eyes to twitch and your beleaguered intestines to threaten explosive diarrhea because you barely got over the stress from last year's drama. But with coordinated logistics, bribes and chocolate, combined families can learn how to survive without a food fight, bloodletting or lawsuits. Just keep the wine and the children breathing.
Even with careful preparation, sometimes the best plans get burned along with the roast. It's tempting to go over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house and then keep on going just to avoid all the trite platitudes and impossible expectations about the holidays. Forget Rockwell's famous portrait because most grandmothers don't wear white aprons after fixing a messy meal, and there's a good chance that this year they'll introduce their new boyfriends instead of picture-perfect platters of browned Butterballs. And Martha Stewart is not coming over, so forget the hand-painted placemats and pilgrim-shaped gelatin molds.
Blended families add chaos to the holidays, and designing a stress-free schedule requires maximum organizational skills, saintly tolerance and nimble flexibility so plan now for the possible scenarios. You could be standing in the buffet line next to your ex-spouse, your stepson may demand to bring his mother and her new boyfriend to your home for brunch or your son's stepdaughters might want to stay at their father's place because you don't have cable television. You may accidentally call your son's new girlfriend by his ex-wife's name, and you'll see a boisterous toddler climbing onto the fireplace mantel and not know which parent to grab.
It's all fun and games until Grandma throws down her cane and demands to know who all the people are coming and going.
The best situations involve divorced parents who can cooperate and negotiate holiday schedules as they decide custody issues involving their children. We all know mean-spirited, immature parents who refuse to compromise, and that only hurts their children. These parents should receive nothing but coal in their stockings, and they better start saving money for their children's future therapy sessions.
My husband and I each have two adult children from previous marriages. My daughter married a man who already had a daughter, and then they had two more daughters. My son married a woman with two girls, and they had another baby. My ex-husband lives in the area and is included in family birthdays and other events. Somehow it all works, and no one has threatened anyone with a weapon, so far.
Our family tree could be in danger of falling over because the branches are laden with sporadic offshoots, new in-laws, old stepparents and assorted children who share multiple homes. But because of extra care, these roots are strong, and our tree can hold the chaotic collection of yours, mine, ours, various ex-spouses and a few confused grandparents.
During the holiday season, we welcome everyone into the family, and for a splendid moment in time we're all singing Fa La La before someone falls into the Christmas tree, a kid rips off the head of a cousin's new Barbie or the dog barfs in the kitchen.
There are fourteen Christmas stockings hanging over the mantel, and we'll need to build another one if any more members join the family. I'm uncomfortable with the label "step-grandchild" so I'll just call all of them my grandkids. They don't mind, and some of those lucky kids have four sets of doting grandparents. Score!
Here are four final suggestions for surviving the holidays with a blended family:
1. Have a sense of humor because it's better to laugh at the commotion instead of breaking something.
2. Take plenty of photographs to identify everyone because Grandma is still baffled.
3. Assign responsibilities and anticipate problems when Uncle Bud gets drunk, the baby swallows a turkey leg or Grandpa starts snoring during dinner.
4. Make time to appreciate the creative collection of characters in your unique family, believing that each one adds a definite spice. In the spirit of the holidays, choose to make it work.
After a few decades of holiday havoc, we can reduce the stressful requirements and have no qualms about using prepared gravy mixes, boxed stuffing and leftover Halloween napkins. So sit back and enjoy this holiday season, just make sure the turkey is done, the front door is unlocked and the wine and children are breathing.