Saturday, October 12, 2013

Creating a (Step) Family Culture

Early on in my "stepmommyhood" I charged full force in to creating traditions, memories and establishing our household values.  After all I believe one of the most important things you can do for your family is to establish a culture within. So I did. And was promptly awarded with a mixture of success (hurray!) and failure. Wait, what? I was so not expecting failure.

That's when it hit me. I was building from the ground up in a ready made family. My husband and his daughter already had a family culture. And in our situation her family culture started with her early years while her mom and dad were together before getting completely tied up with her mom's new family. And the family traditions she most recently shared with my husband were in large part ones my mother-in-law created. Yet here I was the bull in the china shop trying to redo everything this child knew about holidays and family.

So what is a step mom to do? Most women have family traditions and values they have spent years dreaming of passing on to their own families. So now that you married a man with kids, with a family culture already, do you give up those dreams?

Absolutely not. But you need to do some research first

First step you take is asking questions. What is important to your husband? You might be pleasantly surprised by what he has to say. My husband shared that in his family the Easter bunny hid the eggs. This was a first time hearing this tradition for me but now its something we are incorporating as well. You want to make sure you learn from your husband not only things his family did growing up but also things him and his ex did with the kids. I know that part was hard and scary for me but its necessary. Especially with older children. In this aspect I was pretty lucky because my step daughter was very young when her parents split. But its still part of her history and I'm glad to know her early traditions.

After you have asked your husband what's important to him try and figure out what traditions and values your step child has at their other home. I remember on St. Patrick's Day running out to the store to buy my step daughter a gift because I didn't know the leprechaun was supposed to have left something. I know now that I could have explained to my step daughter that the leprechaun probably didn't visit because we aren't Irish and don't celebrate. \but how much easier would it have been if I knew the importance of St. Patty's in her life?

Now that you are armed with information its your turn to bring to the table your values and traditions. I want my family to be uniquely "ours" so I have created (with the help of my husband and step daughter) a family culture that is just that. Unique to the three of us. But the reason it works is I started with knowing what they both expected and needed.

For me as an adult I still expect to go to my dad's for Christmas and have brisket. If my (current) step mom had taken it upon herself to change that I would have probably felt hurt. But every year when my Dad's extended family gets together we still have brisket and potatoes. Last year she gave us a new tradition by cooking the meal my Dad and her learned to make on their honeymoon for the actual night of Christmas. Because she respected the tradition we already have I was completely on board with the new one.

Establishing family rules may be a little trickier depending on your child's living situation. The biggest challenge we have is keeping the limited time we have her structured. Especially because neither my husband or I are strict people and are much more likely to go with the flow and guide her with a general set of expectations than to lay down a bunch of rules. At her mom's house there are a lot more rules. Which is to be expected since she also has younger children in her home and has our daughter the majority of the time. That being said we do the best we can to try and create consistency for my step daughter while still parenting in our own way. When conflict arises we simply explain to my step daughter why things are different at our house than they are at her mom's. Not everyone will agree with this method and that's fine. But it works for us.

One last thing to remember is your step child's mom will more than likely still want to "own" their family traditions. Every year my step daughter and her mom go for pedicures on her birthday day. It would be out of line for me to try and do that for my step daughter. However there might be a holiday where you know your step child will only be celebrating in your home. For us this was Easter this year. My step daughter was going to be with us and I know how much she looks forward to an Easter ham every year. Normally I like to make green chili and beans for this holiday. This year I made the ham because I knew that was important to her. Making a ham was something I could do for her without stepping on anyone's toes and so I did. It's a balancing act after all.

What are some challenges you've found in establishing family traditions in your step family? What about house rules?


  1. I enjoyed reading this!

    Holiday traditions were already established at their dad's house when I came along, so I go with it and sprinkle in a little bit of "Kristi flavor" here and there, such as baking a special treat for each holiday and decorating the table.

    House rules are a big issue. At their mother's house, there is no bedtime, no internet or movie restrictions, no making the bed and brushing teeth routine-type of chores. Their dad (my husband) is very strict, and expects chores done before coming downstairs, even on weekends... So it is difficult not to feel like the "mean parents" sometimes, but I consistently tell myself that structure and routine is good for them in the long run.

  2. I think that its awesome that you aren't trying to change their traditions but you still add to them! Step mothering is a balancing act!