We’ve all been there: the emotionally charged holiday party or the forced birthday dinner. Nothing is worse for a step-family than special events with high expectations and bad blood. For a long time, combined family get-togethers usually meant walking on eggshells until someone came in too heavy-footed and all hell broke loose. For a while, our stepfamily flat out sucked at spending special days together. But with boundaries and self-control, your family, like ours, can learn to make lasting memories.

Part of what transformed our family was learning to wait for better timing. Since we are such a large bunch (9 of us all together not including partners), relationships tend to be in flux. Not all of us like each other all the time. Additionally, we do not all hold the same political, spiritual, and moral values. It’s all too easy for these differences to get under our skin and seep into dinner table conversation until before you know it, someone is storming out.

Take Topics Off The Table

My biggest problem is opening my big fat mouth at the wrong time because I want to feel better immediately. 
While I’m a big fan of the platitude, “There is no right way to be a family,” there are right and wrong ways to express your emotions and issues in a relationship.

My biggest problem is opening my big fat mouth at the wrong time because I want to feel better immediately. And sure, it’s natural to want to resolve conflict, but sometimes (like at special events), it’s better to just put it to the side and wait.

Here is a short bullet point list to help you (and your family) know when it’s time to keep it to yourself.

  • You’re mad at your step-sister but you’re stuck in a car ride with 8 other family members on the way to Thanksgiving: Keep it to yourself and wait for a private moment. (Also, avoid the urge for passive aggression, more on that another time.)
  • You think someone at your family get-together has gained weight or doesn’t look good: Keep it to yourself. Forever. Don’t be a jerk.
  • Your step-dad is a staunch conservative and you’re a liberal at a large family gathering: Keep it to yourself or take it somewhere less public because a handful of other voices chiming in won’t help.
  • Your daughter moved in with her boyfriend and you’re having a hard time: Invite the boyfriend, breathe deeply, and keep it to yourself for a better time. Don’t give her the satisfaction.

Other things that you don’t need to bring up during a special family get together include someone’s stint in rehab, medication, financial decisions, past arguments, disappointments, who you hate at the moment, or anything that clearly pins one person against another.

Give Each Other Room To Breathe

If you’re serious about bringing your step-family together, making special memories is an essential way to bond. If a whole vacation is too much pressure to handle keeping the negative to yourself, take a day trip. If a huge Christmas dinner brings up too many bad memories and puts everyone on edge, just host desserts and put on a movie or play a game. The fact is, your step-family doesn’t have the biological connection to help them over some of the emotional hurdles so setting really strong boundaries on when is and is not an appropriate time to discuss certain things give everyone room to breathe. Setting these boundaries in a loving and direct way could save your next family event. And if you’re having a hard time keeping your mouth closed, take a walk and don’t drink a glass of wine.

For questions, don’t hesitate to contact us here for more tips.