By Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy, Special to Tribune Newspapers
November 14, 2012
Bringing relatives together any time can be tricky, but when a new divorce is involved, holidays can be a minefield.
Key to navigating visits successfully is checking in with others ahead of time, says Jann Blackstone-Ford, a mediator and psychotherapist in San Francisco who specializes in blended families, and co-author of the syndicated column, "Ex-Etiquette."
Ask stepchildren and biological children, young or adult, what's important to them about the holiday, she advises. Find out how they like to do things — "maybe they like potatoes a certain way on Thanksgiving, or they always sit by their dad."
Why do seemingly simple things matter? Because your loved ones may not even be aware of traditions until they're altered.
The holidays are about what you do, and with whom — and that changes when parents divorce or remarry, Blackstone-Ford says. Dealing with teens or adult children is especially touchy.
"Adult kids have been celebrating the same way for 20 or 30 years, but if their parents re-couple, it changes," she says. "Parents feel grown children should get it, but they don't."
When they tell you what they'd like to incorporate into the holiday, don't get defensive or make excuses.
"Make them ignore something they value, that's a quick way to alienate a stepchild," Blackstone-Ford says.
And her advice on inviting both halves of a newly divorced couple to a family gathering?
"Whoever is invited, is up to the host," she says. "If you love them both, invite them both. Let (each) know the other is invited. Leave it up to them whether to attend, but if they come, they act like adults."
The holidays can be pivotal in a good way, too — for example, when a stepchild buys a thoughtful present, or writes a note telling a step-parent how glad he is that they're family.
"The holidays can be the first time their bonus kids tell them they love them," Blackstone-Ford says. "And that's huge."