Q. My fiancé and I moved in together about nine months ago and this is our first Christmas together. Together we have 4 kids, ages 14, 13, 6 and 4. Mine are the younger ones who can’t wait for Santa to visit on Christmas morning. I’m so afraid that the older ones won’t keep Santa’s secret and tell the younger ones. I don’t know how to handle it. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. It all depends on the vibe at your house. If it’s a yours-against-mine sort of feel in the household, the older ones may do exactly what you fear. But, if that’s what you’re facing, working on acceptance and integrating family members are things you should have been working on even before you moved in with your fiancé. Holiday traditions should have been discussed and adjusted, take a little of yours and a little of mine, so that everyone feels included well in advance of the Season.
That said, relying on the 10 Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents can be of assistance even in a predicament like yours. Most think the 10 rules are just for exes, but they can apply to anyone dealing with breaking up and starting over—and that includes the kids. After all, Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1 is “Put the children first”.
Rather than just coming right out and telling middle-schoolers not to tell—because that can be a cue for them to spill everything, “Ask them for their help”. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #2). Make the older kids feel important and an integral part of perpetuating the holiday ritual by looking to them for creative ways to keep the Santa tradition going. Make this a bonusfamily project. Give everyone tasks to make Christmas morning something special—some of the family members are the “supris-ees,” some are the “surpris-ors,” but everyone has a part to play. Coordination, cooperation, compromise.
Finally, if you’re going to take this project on, take note of this very important component of the bonusfamily philosophy—acknowledge each family members’ individuality. Just as you have a history and can remember how the holidays used to be—bad or good, so does each member of your bonusfamily. This can be a bittersweet time for them as well and they may need your help to make the transition. Acknowledge that and don’t sweep their worries or their favorite ways to celebrate under the rug in the name of family blending. That’s when you end up with resentful kids and middle schoolers, in particular, want to be acknowledged for “who they are.” Who they are is past, present, and future. That means they may worry about the mom or dad they cannot be with during the holidays or they may miss the aunt, uncle or cousins with whom the used to spend the day. So, celebrate with this new family you’re attempting to build, but remember to set the example and respect the ones with whom the kids cannot celebrate. (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #9, “Respect…”) That’s good Ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.