Reese Witherspoon is my favorite actress. Â Not only is she a beautiful woman and a classy mom, but she also starred in Legally Blonde, a girl-power movie that I watched every day (I kid you not!) for the first three months after my divorce. Â I cried when Warner dumped Elle and cried again when Elle emerged triumphant at Harvard. Â I kept thinking, â€śIf Elle Woods can do it, so can I.â€ť Â So this year, I am cheering for Reese. Â She has moved on from what she called a â€śhumiliatingâ€ť and â€śisolatingâ€ť divorce (Elle Magazine, April 2009) and has found happiness with Jim Toth and a peaceable relationship with her ex, Ryan Phillippe.
While it sounds like Reese has got it all together, she may have a little bit of anxiety as she and Jim manage their special occasions together for the first time. Â As a divorced and remarried mother of five children, I know what itâ€™s like to try to manage innumerable family get-togethers over the holidays. Â There are too many schedules, too many conflicts, and (letâ€™s face it) too many cookies. Â So, for what itâ€™s worth, here are my suggestions for surviving the holidays with a newly blended family:
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Give your ex a present. Yep, a real one. Â His old razor that he left behind or a picture of the children that he doesnâ€™t visit often enough don’t count. Â The other day, my ex complimented my son, Jake, on his new orange SkullCandy headphones as he was picking him up for the weekend. Â I had accidentally bought two pair, so I gave Jakeâ€™s dad one for his approaching birthday. Â In the eight years that we have been divorced, I donâ€™t think I have ever seen him more excited. Â He has smiled more lately, and I swear itâ€™s because of the headphones.
Buy presents together. When it comes to holiday presents, is so tempting to compete with your ex. Â I admit I have asked the question, â€śWhat did your dad get you for Christmas?â€ť with the secret hope that my present was better than his. Â But there are two reasons to give your children joint presents. Â First, it is a symbol of solidarity and communicates to your children that you and your ex are united in your parenting endeavors (even if youâ€™re not). Â Kids need to feel loved by both parents, and a joint gift communicates that effectively. Â Secondly, gifts become increasingly expensive as children age. Â They want iPods instead of Barbies. Â If you can swing a joint present, you can give your kids what they really want without spending too much money.
Know your limits. When I was divorced and single, it was sometimes difficult to see married couples enjoying their lives. Â This was especially true during the holidays. Â I tried to focus on the things I could enjoy, but when it got too hard, I left. Â I could do parties, but not dates with couples. Â I enjoyed Christmas with the family, but not New Yearsâ€™ Eve (banging pots at midnight with toddlersâ€“Nuff said). Â And I never held babies, because if I did, then I wanted oneâ€“but not without a husband.Â As Reese aptly told Marie Claire, divorce is â€śreally, really stressful”Â (October 2011), and itâ€™s okay to flee the scene when the stress starts to mount.
Celebrate the holidays . . . whenever. Who says Christmas has to be December 25? Â When the holidays get crazy, flexibility is truly a virtue. Â For example, this year my family is celebrating Christmas on December 23, so we can celebrate it with everyone. Â My kids love it, because they get two Christmases instead of one and donâ€™t have to feel left out of one familyâ€™s traditions. Â If you can change the family party so your kids can be there, do it. Â If you canâ€™t, then create a few traditions that they can look forward to before or after the holiday.
The combination of exes, children, and the holidays can be as distasteful as a cup of wassail gone bad. Â But if you are flexible, know your limits, and reach out to your ex, you might find yourself toleratingâ€“and even enjoyingâ€“the holiday season.
Amy Osmond Cook, Ph.D. is a faculty associate at Arizona State University, where she teaches Communication and English classes. Â She is the publisher of Sourced Media Books and co-author ofÂ Hope After DivorceÂ andÂ Full Bloom: Cultivating Success. Â Amy and her husband, Jeff, have five children and look forward to welcoming baby #6 in April 2012. Â For more information about Amy, please visitÂ amyosmondcook.com.