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So how do you handle Christmas when there are different (secular) traditions/expectations?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

Briefly, we've got three competing, but equally valid (i.e. nobody has a get-drunk-and-fight Christmas) traditions:

 

1. My stepdaughter's mom's family goes all out for Christmas. Huge pile of presents, multiple trees, decking the halls, jingle bells, whole nine yards. None of this is religious in nature--I have no idea if they claim a religious affiliation or not. They don't go to church; it's purely cultural. Her mom doesn't have a lot of money, but what she does have gets spent on my stepdaughter for Christmas, in grand fashion. (She's getting an iPad from grandma on that side, too.)

 

2. My husband's family tends to be more low key--a few nice presents, maybe a trip to the Nutcracker. They're not huge on holidays in general. They are also not religious. My husband identifies as Unitarian and attends services very occasionally, though not on holidays as a general rule. (My husband's family of origin is pretty well-off, too, and they provide for occasional wants outside of Christmas and birthdays.)

 

3. My family is (again, pretty secularly) Jewish. We don't do a tree. We go out for Chinese food. We celebrate Hanukkah as a minor holiday and exchange modest gifts. We were also comfortable growing up, and we received the occasional toy or video game or what have you independent of special occasions. 

 

Recently, my husband and I have been blending our traditions--small tabletop tree, menorah at Hanukkah, go out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas day. This is how we feel comfortable, and how we want to raise our son.

 

My stepdaughter, naturally, prefers the going-all-out, and is not shy about letting us know...and, as I've posted in Childhood Years, says we don't give enough presents for her Christmas to be fun if she's with us. Her mom's hinted that we need to step it up. (I should add: If my stepdaughter's with us on Christmas, she still gets her holiday with her mom the weekend before or after. So she doesn't miss out.) We really don't want to, especially because we don't want to create the expectation of a massive Christmas celebration.  

 

My question to you: How do you handle this between your families? We've tried the "this is how we do things, and I know it's hard being away from your mom on Christmas, what BESIDES fancy electronics would make your holiday more fun and maybe we can do it?" approach, without a great response. Any thoughts?

 

Thanks.

 

post #2 of 26

It's great that you and your dh have been able to blend your traditions so well.  I am a lover of Christmas (although I don't save up all presents for Christmas so it's not ipad huge) and I really miss it when I feel pressured to spend Christmas with relatives that don't celebrate in the way I do.  Doing Christmas on a different day really doesn't work either.  I seriously doubt you are going to get a kid that age to feel good about the change to her holiday.  In fact, I would gently suggest that since Christmas isn't a big thing for you guys and it is a big thing for her and her mom that you let her spend Christmas with the person who values Christmas and pick a different day to sub as your holiday.  If you do a cultural version of Hannukah maybe you could do  your gifts as part of that celebration or arrange to always get the weekend before or after.  That way you are not failing to compete with a holiday you have no desire to compete with anyway.

post #3 of 26

We do solstice with our kids (all of them). We also have DSS for Christmas eve b/c it is a big family holiday and we don't want him to miss it but we starting last year (he is seven) have begun to allow him to wake up at his mom's every Christmas morning since this is something that is important to him and her and not something we want to do at our house. So they get family gifts, a small solstice gift from us and then he gets the big stuff from his mom's house.

post #4 of 26

What about doing something really special as a family vs. big gifts thing? Maybe going to a nearby big city to the park to go ice-skating? or looking up a sleigh ride? So that the useless gifts are not piling up, but the holiday still feels unique and special to the child, just in a different way?

 

It's hard for me to comment, because I am a biig fan of Christmas (although, I don't like the 15,000 presents under the tree thing). I can see both sides of issues here. Hope you can find something that works for you this year. :)

post #5 of 26

I rarely read this forum, but I saw it on new posts. 

 

I just encourage you to find a solution.  My mom and stepdad never found the solution to this with my stepsister (the child of my stepfather).  She was forever disappointed at Christmas.  Eventually, around age 8 or 9, she started spending Christmas exclusively at her mom's house.  I don't think it was the best solution, but it was the only one that seemed to work at all 

post #6 of 26

nak...would you consider letting her mom just have christmas every year in exchange for you guys having another day (new year's eve, first day of hanukkah, day after christmas, whatever) to have a special tradition? Dsd's mom has as much right to tell you to "step it up" as you do to tell her to tone it down to meet your ideals, so I think you should celebrate how you feel comfortable. 

post #7 of 26

I would just have her spend Christmas every year at mom's--and trade for another day/event.  My parents split up when I was 3, and my dad is loosely Jewish and my mom is loosely Christian. We went with my mom every Christmas, and my dad for the seders at Passover. It worked well for everyone. My brother and I weren't torn between two traditions and neither parent felt like they were being compared to the other.

post #8 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by greenemami View Post

nak...would you consider letting her mom just have christmas every year in exchange for you guys having another day (new year's eve, first day of hanukkah, day after christmas, whatever) to have a special tradition? Dsd's mom has as much right to tell you to "step it up" as you do to tell her to tone it down to meet your ideals, so I think you should celebrate how you feel comfortable. 



We'd be OK with it, but her mom's work schedule (she works in a 24/7 environment) is another matter.  (I should have indicated that in the original post--most holidays are decided based on work, and plans to travel rather than a strict even-odd allotment).  She can't always get off the holidays she wants (competing with lots of other employees for those); usually, if they fall on her regular days off, she gets them off.  She gets overtime pay on Christmas, though, so it softens the blow.

 

Still...even in years where she hasn't been with us on Christmas, she's been disappointed with the Christmas she's had here. It's kind of hard to say to an 8-year-old that most kids only get ONE Christmas (because, well, she gets two because her parents are apart, and that's tough on a kid).

post #9 of 26

I don't know your husband's relationship with his ex (except for the thread where she got angry about it seeming like you were the mom in some campaign literature) but, I think he needs to talk to her about this pressure to over-commercialize Christmas. Your stepdaughter isn't making that up on her own--I would bet it is getting fed to her by her mother. We had years where our presents were very extravagant and years where they weren't, and years where one of us got a huge gift and one of us didn't, and years where one parent was generous and years where the other parent was generous, and it would never ever ever in a million years have crossed our minds to complain.

 

she is plenty old enough to get that there are different rules at different houses. Now, i do think that when I was a kid and one parent was going to go all-out on a gift, they ran it by the other parent so no one was blind-sided. Your stepdaughter's mother may be feeling like she is being forced to buy all the big gifts because you and your husband are too cheap to pull your weight. There were a few years where we wanted something that was too expensive for either parent to swing on their own, and we got one big gift from both of them and then something small to open on the other holiday.

post #10 of 26

Your step-daughter's reasonably young, if I remember correctly?

 

There's a recent thread in Frugal Parenting (I'm not 100% sure of the forum name, but it's along those lines) about ways to celebrate the holidays without spending money.  Baking together, making homemade gifts for each other, curling up to read Christmas books or watch a Christmas movie as a family with mugs of hot chocolate, driving together at night to look at Christmas lights... And if you're in or near any reasonably-sized city, there should be all kinds of Christmas activities for kids (at parks, museums, stores, churches, the Y...) that are free or inexpensive.  Forcing yourselves to do more of these things might help your step-daughter feel that Christmas is still something special at your house, even if you don't buy her the latest offerings by Apple.

 

We always start the holiday season with some sort of charity project - the giving tree at church, Operation Christmas Child or Toys for Tots...  My older kids serve food at a homeless shelter with their grandparents.  It sounds like it might be important for your step-daughter to put herself in the shoes of kids whose families can't shower them with gifts and start thinking about what ELSE makes the holidays special.  (Of course, that light bulb will not go on over her head immediately!  But, reinforced year after year with you guys, she'll eventually get a message it sounds like she may not hear, at her mother's.)  

 

Plenty of Christmas books reinforce the idea that expensive presents shouldn't be the most important focus of the holiday - and some also skirt around the religious aspects, since it sounds like that's not a priority at your house.

>> In The Polar Express, the main character gets a genie-in-the-bottle moment, where he can have ANYTHING he wants from Santa and decides the thing he wants most is a bell from his sleigh, to commemorate that Santa's "real" and the whole exciting, cozy Christmas journey he had, going to see Santa.  The movie (although I find it inexplicably annoying) expands quite a bit on this theme and contrasts a bratty, demanding kid (whose parents seem to buy him everything he wants, but whom Santa only finds worthy of underwear) and a poor kid whose parents can't afford to celebrate Christmas and who appreciates the one gift he gets from Santa, as well as the "gifts" of friendship and his whole North Pole/Christmas experience.  

 

>> In The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey a frontier widow and her young son save all their money to pay the local woodcarver to re-make the tabletop nativity set her grandfather had carved, but which was lost in their move to this new town.  That's their one and only Christmas "gift".  The woodcarver lost his wife and child to some illness and is lonely and antisocial.  But the kid begs to watch the carving - then to be taught how to do it.  He must be quiet and patient, because the woodcarver is so grouchy.  And the mom quietly and patiently knits in a corner, offering special home-cooked food while they work.  By the time the nativity set is done, she has finished a scarf for the woodcarver - his only gift - and he has warmed up to them completely.  It's implied that he and the widow will marry.  It's really touching and shows how all that time together and each person going out of their way to do something special and thoughtful for the others is more important than the sparse gift-giving...without being preachy.    

 

Decorating the house is also a great way to celebrate inexpensively.  Making a gingerbread house, paper chains, strings of paper dolls, homemade ornaments, strings of popcorn-and-cranberries or pinecones you gathered during a wintry walk...are all excellent for fine-motor skills, spending time together AND making your home feel more festive and exciting, to a child.  You certainly don't have to invest in matchy-matchy glass balls, ribbons and velvet stockings or Swarovski snowflakes, to be festive!

 

Don't be too quick to dismiss your step-daughter's feelings about Christmas as pure materialism.  Although her excitement about the big gifts at her mom's may be the easiest thing to verbalize, I can assure you that in go-all-out-for-Christmas families, there is significant excitement, wonder and emotion for kids simply because the house is filled with festive lights, decorations, smells and music.  Parents and grandparents make extra time to do special, cozy, holiday things with the kids.  And - while I disagree with buying kids things for Christmas that the family really can't afford - there CAN be merit in the practice of saving special "wants" for Christmas or birthdays.  It teaches kids delayed gratification and emphasizes how special that occasion is.

 

So - while your preferences in celebrating the holidays are perfectly valid - to your step-daughter, Christmas at your house may feel like just another day.  You give her a few new things.  But that's not a significant deviation from normal, since you occasionally buy her things she wants anyway.  And the only change in your house is that a small tree has replaced the candlesticks as a centerpiece on your table?  Some compromise might be nice.  You guys could put yourselves out more, to decorate and do special activities with her (without waiting for her to come up with ideas); but you can still expect HER to come to grips with the fact that you're not spending $500 on presents. 

post #11 of 26
Blending expectations at the holidays are tough even for adults. XH's family thought the perfect Christmas was a few presents in the morning and then spend the day at the beach. No big tree, no cookies, no carols. At one point we were watching tv before bed and It's A Wonderful Life was coming on. I wanted to watch. They had never even heard of it.

There was nothing wrong with how they chose to spend Christmas, but I found being with them for the holidays incredibly depressing.

You might want to consider upping the celebration factor. It doesn't have to be about extravagant gifts. You could go ice skating, bake cookies, walk around your neighborhood looking at lights and sipping hot cocoa.
post #12 of 26

Honestly, I would just keep doing what you are doing, but keep working on things she would like to add to the tradition that stay within the bounds of you and your husband's comfort. Maybe she wants more decorations, she'd like an advent tradition, she wants to listen to more Christmas carols, or she wants take-out Chinese while watching a Christmas movie. 

 

Sure, in the short-term an 8-year-old wants more presents and bigger and better celebrations. In the long-term she's going to value the different traditions to choose from. As an adult who grew up in a very blended family, I love being able to pick and choose from so many traditions and beliefs, and I am sometimes surprised at the ones that are now the most meaningful to me.

 

If it's cool with you guys for her to spend Christmas at mom's more years than not, I don't think that's a problem. But I don't think she should be able to just opt out of your traditions and your family during holidays that aren't extravagant or exciting enough for her. 

post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by aricha View Post

Honestly, I would just keep doing what you are doing, but keep working on things she would like to add to the tradition that stay within the bounds of you and your husband's comfort. Maybe she wants more decorations, she'd like an advent tradition, she wants to listen to more Christmas carols, or she wants take-out Chinese while watching a Christmas movie. 

 

Sure, in the short-term an 8-year-old wants more presents and bigger and better celebrations. In the long-term she's going to value the different traditions to choose from. As an adult who grew up in a very blended family, I love being able to pick and choose from so many traditions and beliefs, and I am sometimes surprised at the ones that are now the most meaningful to me.

 

If it's cool with you guys for her to spend Christmas at mom's more years than not, I don't think that's a problem. But I don't think she should be able to just opt out of your traditions and your family during holidays that aren't extravagant or exciting enough for her. 


Thanks for the suggestions (everyone)...we try, but things get shot down (read my thread in the Childhood Years for the giant meltdown she had over going to our neighborhood's tree lighting).  She want the huge tree (which, I'm not even sure where we'd put it, or what our dog would do to it) not because she wants the huge tree, but a huge tree can accommodate more presents under it.  I'm not sure how to decouple the gifts thing from everything else.

 

I don't think she's getting the materialism message specifically from her mom--she goes to school, watches TV, etc. and it's all over the place. So, while Mom isn't necessarily helping, she's far from the only source of the message.

post #14 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:


You might want to consider upping the celebration factor. It doesn't have to be about extravagant gifts. You could go ice skating, bake cookies, walk around your neighborhood looking at lights and sipping hot cocoa.


 

We've done ice skating, I bake plenty of cookies ("SD, want to help!" "Sure...um, no"), and hot cocoa. Our neighborhood doesn't do a lot of lights (neither does her mom's--it's an apartment complex) but we've gotten the whining that "it's toooo cooolllld" when we try to do much else (see: tree lighting, etc.).

 

My husband took her to see the Nutcracker this weekend (I stayed with the baby), but that "wasn't on Christmas" so it's not going to count, when Saturday rolls around. None of it counts, unless it's on Christmas (which, of course, the Nutcracker is not playing on Christmas), or involves "the stuff." Sigh...

post #15 of 26

 

This is not a blended family problem. This is a spoiled child problem. Fortunately, she's at an age where it's pretty common for children to act spoiled, ungrateful, bratty, etc., and you can look forward to the 99.99% probability of her growing out of it. winky.gif

 

Just do what you do. If you think your DSD needs the feedback that complaining about the amount and type of presents received is unspeakably ungracious, then have DH give her that feedback. But it may be that you just need to be emotionally neutral on the issue and keep on doing your thing until she gets older and can appreciate it. 

 

post #16 of 26

We really enjoy saving what we want and need for Christmas morning surprises for each other and following the traditions we love. But there's more to Christmas to make it a big thing. Seeing extended family, having a big meal together, following the "rules" of Christmas morning (to keep it orderly my mom said every year stockings first, then everyone must eat breakfast and make beds before any presents, and we open one at a time and the kids hand them to whoever's turn it is). Besides that, baking and singing and decorating, reading stories and watching movies for a couple weeks beforehand are all a whole lot of fun. It's not all despicable and worthless materialism. Actually none of it is. The generous giving thing is great and the stuff to play with is too... we don't buy things ever besides the start of Spring, birthdays, and Christmas. If you talk about it with them the right way they don't even think to get selfish about it. Leading up to Christmas all my 4 y.o.'s mind is on is what to help get his little brother!

 

I was pretty sad the year I spent with my dad and I missed out on all of it. He brought me shopping to buy myself presents and we got take-out Christmas-y foods of some kind, and it was just me and him and my presents. He was offended I was sad and said it was all because my mother taught me to hate him or something. I wanted my traditions. Singing, friends and family, decorating, cooking, surprises, shared joy and wonder! And growing up I wasn't even in a Christian household, the songs about Jesus' birth were just the songs you sang at that time, nothing otherwise that meaningful to my family. Still it was all very special, especially to a child.

post #17 of 26

Oh, my family of origin does the big Christmas hoo-rah too. Extended family meals. Multiple trees. Rituals galore. And my nuclear unit is so not Christian - although the extended family is. I see why a kid would be disappointed to miss that, and really it's too bad that DSD's mom has a work schedule that means she MUST work on some Christmases and PL's family  can't just always take Dec. 26th through New Year's. 

 

But by the time a kid is explicitly mourning the size of the tree and the paucity of presents, she needs her reset button pushed, because that's The Nightmare Before Bratty. 

post #18 of 26
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smithie View Post

Oh, my family of origin does the big Christmas hoo-rah too. Extended family meals. Multiple trees. Rituals galore. And my nuclear unit is so not Christian - although the extended family is. I see why a kid would be disappointed to miss that, and really it's too bad that DSD's mom has a work schedule that means she MUST work on some Christmases and PL's family  can't just always take Dec. 26th through New Year's. 

 

But by the time a kid is explicitly mourning the size of the tree and the paucity of presents, she needs her reset button pushed, because that's The Nightmare Before Bratty. 

 

Yeah, that's the thing--I'm getting the impression that if it's not EXACTLY the way her mother would do it (and, yes, the big piles of presents thing is probably the easiest way for her to express that), it's all terribly wrong.

 

And, well, I don't WANT to do things the same way her mom does it. What's the matter with our own traditions? We do fun things--INCLUDING Christmas things, though not necessarily on Christmas proper because tree lightings and open ice-skating occur earlier in December and the ballet is closed on Christmas. We don't have a huge tree because the dog will eat it and there is no space for it, so we have a little tree and presents end up placed around them. There are fewer presents because (a) we don't do tons, and (b) we receive some Hanukkah gifts, too, that get opened at Hanukkah. We have stockings (not hung by the chimney because we don't have one). We have a nice dinner (something traditional on Christmas eve, Chinese food on Christmas day). But they're all terribly, terribly wrong because they're (a) not enough and (b) not how Mom does it. We've asked for concrete suggestions from both Mom and SD and we've either gotten vagaries from Mom ("more festivity") or a demand for more presents from SD, and when we've made suggestions ("why don't we make some decorations for the house?" "why don't we take the baby to see Santa?" "why don't we watch "The Year Without Santa Claus?--no, sorry, it's not in 3D"*) we've gotten "that's lame." 

 

Yeah, I think I was probably like this at 8, too.

 

I know it sounds defensive...I think every stepmom who has new kids "of her own" (for lack of a better way of putting it) has this back-of-the-head fear that she'll end up having to raise her kids the same way her stepkids' mom raises them. It rarely comes to that in full force, of course, but it's still a fear.

 

(Oh: SD wants to see a movie "in 3D" for Christmas, which would be fine except my husband is nearly blind in his left eye and can't physically watch 3D movies. He can't see the 3D and he can't go anyway without headaches and dizziness. SD and her mom know this; it's generally why they see 3D movies together and we see regular ones. But this is a cause of sulking, too.)

post #19 of 26

It sounds like you are really doing the best you can and it's not your fault that her mother can't keep her every Christmas.  If you guys were taking her for Christmas, even though it's not that big of a deal for you, only because you had the "right" to and keeping her from where she wanted to be I would think that your family was in the wrong.  As it stands...well sometime life doesn't go exactly how you want it to and 8 is about when kids start to learn that.  They also tend (especially girls) to be pains in the butt at this age.  I really hope you can learn to let it roll off your back and realize it's got nothing to do with you.  Hopefully she'll get over it soon.  Have a great holiday season!!

post #20 of 26

I can speak about this from the perspective of the kid in this situation. OP I don't know if this will be of any help, but i though maybe sharing what it was like for me as a kid would give you some insight into your DSD's state of mind....and maybe help you to be patient with her.

 

My sister and I had very similar feelings to your DSD's when we were growing up. We loved Christmas (still do) and had many very special traditions that were handed down from my Mom's side of the family. When our parents divorced, our Dad was very insistent on his new traditions with his new wife. The message we got was that our feelings were not important, it didn't matter what our traditions were or what we wanted to do. I can imagine that for your DSD with a new baby thrown into the mix, which can increase feelings of jealousy and alienation, the sense that her traditions/feelings aren't important may be amplified.  I can see from this thread that you are trying to listen to your DSD and honor her feelings, that's wonderful; keep doing that. It may appear from her behavior that it doesn't make a difference, but it does--over the long term it makes a huge difference.

 

I agree with the PP's who said that if she wants to spend it with her mom, and you are cool with that, let her...I'd even go so far as to say let her do it even if you have some negative feelings about it. But it sounds like your situation is a little different because her mom can't always take her on Xmas. I don't think it's reasonable or realistic for you guys to recreate the same exact experience that she has with her mom, and there's no point in even trying.  I can remember saying things like "Well if we had a microwave, then I'd be more comfortable here," or whatever, knowing full well that microwaves (or any "stuff") wasn't going to fix the pain and confusion I felt over my parents divorce and my dad's new family. I think sometimes my parents just got the "stuff" because it was easier to do that than to really look at the pain my sister and I were in. And I just suggested the "stuff" because that was easier than trying to articulate what I was really feeling. I dunno I guess sometimes it felt like the adults would be asking me "what will fix this right now? what will make it so you never have these feelings again?" and the truth is there is nothing that can do that. So it's not really a valid question, there's no way to really answer it. So you say "more presents" or "microwave" because you have to answer something. For a kid these feelings can be really scary and hard to talk about. Add the emotionality and expectations of the holidays to the mix and you've got a massive cocktail of confusion. I notice that some folks have called your DSD spoiled, but I'd offer the perspective that Christmas has become a hard, melancholy time for her and presents are not the real issue. She's 8 years old and she's struggling, when you come up with ideas that she rejects don't take it personally, cut the kid some slack and just keep trying.

 

Another thing is that splitting a big holiday between two households is exhausting (from the kids perspective) I think sometimes the adults whose homes the holiday is being split between completely forget the sheer exhaustion (both emotional and physical) of it for the child traveling between the two houses--your step daughter could simply want to have a more relaxed holiday where she is not shuttled form place to place. I know I longed for that every year...and I wish I could have asked for it without my parents (both of them) taking it as a rejection of them.

 

I also really disliked having to celebrate Christmas not on the actual day, it felt fake and forced to me, so I can identify with your DSD's feelings on that.

 

Sounds like there's a magic to Christmas that she's remembering from when she was younger and she doesn't feel like that magic is being embraced in your home. You have admitted that Xmas is not a big thing to you and you don't want it to be for your DS, so it sounds like that's a pretty fair assessment. I guess the question is how can you honor your DSD's feelings and at the same time create new traditions that reflect the family you are building? This is something that will take years. If you can be patient and understanding of your DSD that will help.That doesn't mean that she gets to dictate all the terms, or that you need to jump through tons of hoops to please her, just that you guys (the grown ups) don't get all bent out of shape when she expresses dissatisfaction.

 

Be patient with her, be patient with yourself, just keep trying. Enjoy the good moments. It'll take years but it'll happen. My sister and I actually asked my dad and step mom if they would host our families for Xmas this year. 15 years ago I would have never thought that would be possible. If we can make it, so can you!!!

 

Hope this was of some help, and happy holidays!

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