Step-living: Cheer Up, the Holidays ARE Coming!

(Below post actually written October 9th for an article in “Five for Women” magazine. I apologize for not being here and posting. I’ve had several issues in my family, including my mom-in-law passing through heaven’s door on November 4th…my birthday.)               

True enough…. as I make my way through various retail establishments this past week, Halloween has not yet arrived and Christmas lights and fixtures sparkle in the aisles.  I guess the Thanksgiving holiday is displayed in the meat aisles at your local grocery store. Why are we all in such a rush, reaching out, extending past what we have for today?

                Holidays are stressful for many people; what to buy, how many to buy for, will they like it, and then January’s credit card statements roll in and we stress over how we are going to pay for it all. There is tangible “electricity” in the air that begins about mid-November and dissipates after the first of the year. Most everyone feels it. For some it is part of the experience of the year, but for others, it is a time of heart-squeezing stress, isolation, loneliness, regret…. while pulling, pushing, and juggling schedules.

                Couples and their children that are experiencing separation or divorce feel the weight and magnitude of the holidays, broadened higher and wider than they’ve ever known before. They find themselves staring at a dark tunnel of 6-8 weeks, rather than the joy of family eating and laughing during Thanksgiving (ok and a few family fights over the yams on the dinner table), and the lights, toys, and trees announcing the Christmas season becomes a taunting reminder of what once was…. family was together and routines were familiar.

                If we allow what I call our “personal recorders” to run rampant in our minds, ruminating over past conversations, arguments, packing up and leaving….or the future “what if, who will, when will…”, we will build up towers of expectations in our mind, exclusive of anything that will really actually happen, and become stressed and despondent over what we’ve created. We have full control over what we think, speak, and do. We cannot control others, we can only control ourselves. We have complete authority over our minds to not allow others the power to affect our emotional well-being and contentment. Can we find calm, joy, peace, contentment during the holidays when things are falling apart for us? Yes we can. We embrace that we only have the moment at hand, with no promises for the rest of the day, or any of the future. We cherish and give thanks for what we do have now.

                Thanksgiving:  Be with family, bring a new recipe to pass, draw a hand-made card with all that you are thankful for, made a centerpiece, take a plate to a lonely or elderly neighbor, call your church or school or Human Resource center to help families needing a home-cooked meal. If family is too far away, invite friends for a potluck meal, volunteer all day to prepare and help serve meals at a community kitchen, visit a shelter for men or women (homeless, abused, or domestic violence individuals), visit a nursing home. I find when I feel most down, I volunteer and serve others less fortunate than me and I leave feeling full of gratitude, and fulfilled that I helped someone. Have a “call buddy” to contact and give you encouragement and support.

                Christmas: Plan a month ahead if possible with your spouse/ex-spouse to share expectations and plans. Waiting until the last minute will only cause issues to become more stressful and disappointing. Try to keep traditional time with the family and the in-laws the same. For example, the paternal side may be on Christmas Eve and the maternal side on Christmas Day. Try to involve the children to see what they would like to do, if they are age appropriate. Buy a new board game to play with the kids, make cookies with them, get fun paper and crayons/markers and make cards for grammas and grampas and both mom and dad…this helps relieve the children and gives them “permission” to continue loving their family as they always have. Make a homemade pizza together, get a small Christmas tree and decorate it and take pictures.  Love each moment with your precious ones.

                Stepfamilies:  The extended family that stepfamilies have to accommodate along with biological family can indeed stretch anyone’s patience and endurance. Again….the spirit of Christmas is not held hostage by one or two days. A personal Christmas with one’s children can occur the week before, the week after, days before or after. I personally learned to let go of the “day” and accepted the pleasure and beauty of having my sons with me to eat, share, exchange gifts. I taught myself to think of those that have sick children fighting for their lives, or parents that have suffered the death of a child, parents of children kidnapped and missing. The world wants us to become immersed in days and hours and material things. I choose to become immersed in my God-given blessings; my children and family, joyfully grateful they want to spend time with me and my husband.

                In my book, I speak of three important areas within stepfamilies to assist with the daily ebb and flow of the necessary interactions: Forgiveness, Flexibility, and Fun. The proper association for forgiveness is with “freedom”, not acceptance or agreement with any inflicted hurt or pain. I release any bitterness, revenge, animosity, anger to Jesus. He is much better at handling it than I am. I choose to be free to enjoy my family and friends in any way I can. I can be flexible. I can discuss and share schedules to accommodate my children. Families love each other and we can work together to share. Fun? Yes, sometimes you just have to laugh it off. I have stewed and stomped and growled enough in my life about things that were completely out of my control.  Now, I am more apt to shake my head and have a good laugh…thanking God I am who I am and have what I have.

Bio: Dori Pulse and her husband, Bob, live in Eau Claire. She is a speaker, free-lance writer, and her book “Everything Changed When I Said ‘I Do’” is in the publishing process. She has been married, divorced, and remarried, becoming a stepmom in 1998. Dori developed Stepfamily Rx “Prescriptions for Stepliving” seminars and blogs at stepfamilyrx.com.

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