With Passover less than 1 week away and Easter to follow soon after, families must once again think about how to keep the peace during these potentially emotionally charged times. While intact families often have their claws come out at holiday time, and warm family dinners can turn into screaming matches and a symphony of slamming doors, these displays are often compounded in stepfamily situations where loyalties can be more challenged and there are that many more people involved.
So, what can be done to strengthen the family bond rather than tear it apart?
One idea is to share stories and traditions. Jeannette Lofas, President and Founder of The Stepfamily Foundation developed “The Ten Steps for the Holidays”. In that, she emphasizes the importance of “Honor[ing] each other differences.” She says, “Often couples have different customs and religions. Talk with the child about the different religious, cultural ways of looking at the world, and much more. It is important that parents explain the meaning and significance of each person's point of view.”
If the biological parent and stepparent are from the same religious or cultural background, they are still bound to have different family traditions. Share them! Don’t be surprised if you hear “But that’s not right! That’s not the way WE do it.” Just explain that no two families celebrate holidays in the exact same way and that it will be fun to try new and different ways to celebrate. They may resist, but then they’ll start to forget whose tradition it was to begin with.
If the biological parent and stepparent are from different religious or cultural backgrounds, this is a great opportunity to teach and inform the children of those differences. The Passover Seder is centered on the telling of a story. Make sure all the kids are given something to read from the Hagaddah. It’s a great way get them involved in their new family’s traditions and to learn the story of the Exodus at the same time. Maybe even watch “The Ten Commandments” together. The kids can laugh at the outdated special effects and learn something, too.
Similar things can be done for Easter. If you are a stepparent who observes the holiday and your step children do not, encourage them to join you at Sunday Mass. Afterwards, open up a dialogue and do your best to answer any questions they may have. And, of course, the ceremonial coloring of the eggs and the Easter Egg Hunt is something that every kid loves, no matter their background. Maybe even make some crazy Easter Bonnets and wear them while watching “Easter Parade”.
In the recent New York Times article "The Stories that Bind Us", Bruce Feiler shared Emory University psychologist Marshall Duke’s theory that “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”
Duke’s wife, Sara, also a psychologist, said, ““The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”
If this is true when it comes to biological families, wouldn’t it be a good bet to say that the more a child knows about their stepfamilies, the better off they’ll be? While there may be no hard statistics on this, logic would lead us to this conclusion. So, tell the stories of your early Passover or Easter experiences. Give your stepchildren insight into your family history. And maybe next year they’ll say, “Remember that holiday story you told us about when you were a kid? Tell it again! Please?”