Last year we had our first Christmas together as a new family – me, my new partner, his son and my son and daughter. It was a disaster as they fought over what to do and disagreed on everything from when to open presents to what to eat. What should have been a really happy weekend was miserable – they all seemed to be in a permanent moody. I feel like running away to Antarctica this year. How can I make it the happy time it’s supposed to be?
Begin by accepting it may not be supposed to be a happy time. You saw this as the first Christmas as a new family – I bet all they could think of was the last Christmas they had had as their first family. They fought because all of them were trying to keep hold of how it was, before everything went wrong and Mum and Dad split up.
This time, talk about how they might really be feeling and allow them to mourn the past before they can move on and accept the future. They cling to their own family traditions of when you open presents and what you have for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper as a desperate attempt to bring back the past. Recognise and acknowledge this by talking it over with them and saying you can understand how it feels. Tell them you know it makes them sad. Then suggest you can all keep hold of the best of both families and make this a shared new one. Ask them to nominate traditions they particularly like – stockings in bed or round the breakfast table, presents all in one orgy of opening, or spread throughout the day. Discuss what might belong to the past but not be quite as helpful and see if you can all agree on a weekend in which everyone gets something of what they like.
Simply by acknowledging they have sad feelings about the day and have a right to these can make a tremendous difference. Oh – and by the way. you may be reassured and get plenty of ideas to help by seeing my series Stepfamilies that will be coming out on BBC1 in January. and get a copy of the book (it’s on the books page) – it will help!