One common problem with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day that I don’t see discussed often is what to in complex stepfamilies where different sets of siblings have different biological parents. The usual result is that one set of children spends the day in one home, while the other spends the day in another. There is not a good way to avoid the split when each child wants to honor his/her biological parent, but it does add an extra barrier to having the two sets of children blend as a unique family. This is a problem that the Brady Bunch never had.
In thinking about and researching the issue, I have come across several good ideas to help make these dedicated days less stressful. As usual, there is no magic solution, but one of these tips may help you through a complicated weekend.
Listen to Your Kids
Most children, if they have any opinion, will want to spend the day with their biological parent. Many court orders reflect that stereotype, requiring that children spend Mother’s Day with their mother and Father’s Day with their father. Unfortunately, these days often get overlooked with foster children, and some foster and stepchildren will be so angry that they want nothing to do with their biological parents on these days.
To the extent that court orders and case workers allow, listen to your children and their comfort levels. You may have to advocate for them with a case worker or give up part of your day to supervise a visit with their biological parents. Remember the reality that this day is not for you, but for your kids and their bio-parents. It may not be a fair situation, but it is the reality.
Celebrate the Occasion, Not the Date
As with many holidays, you may need to find a different day to celebrate. If your family has to split up between different homes on a given day, then find another date to celebrate your unique family. Find an activity that all of you can share and enjoy and make it a special “family day.” Of course, that is easier said than done. You will have to navigate how well the children get along, the tendency of teenagers to roll their eyes at any adult suggestions, and budget constraints. Just remember that the point is not to force a relationship, but to create an opportunity for your family members – ALL of your family members – to bond as best they can. Don’t give up, and you may be surprised at how your children learn how to meld into a family.
There really are no hard and fast rules about how to navigate separate groups of siblings in more complex blended families. All of us have different situations, different relationships, different court orders, and different schedules. Many of the universal principles of parenting other people’s children apply here – treat everyone with respect, encourage the relationship between children and their biological parents, and find opportunities for stepsiblings to learn how to get along and be part of a family. We cannot force any of our children into a healthy relationship with anyone, but we can try to lay the groundwork and create opportunities.