Healing From Christmas
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If your blended family Christmas turned out to be less than you'd hoped for, be encouraged. Bob and Vicki Maday and their grown daughters Katie and Jonell describe the good, but mostly rough parts of their first Christmas as a stepfamily.
If your blended family Christmas turned out to be less than you’d hoped for, be encouraged. Bob and Vicki Maday and their grown daughters describe the rough parts of their first Christmas as a stepfamily.
Michelle: It’s Christmas weekend, and we’ve celebrated Christmas; but if you are part of a blended family, you might be celebrating twice or maybe even three times. Well, how is it going? Bob and Vicki Maday can sympathize with you, because they remember their first Christmas as a blended family and how it felt.
Bob: Very forced.
Vicki: Forced conversation.
Bob: Very planned—we had it sort of planned as we thought it was going to go—and we were prepared with certain language. It just didn’t work; it just bombed.
Vicki: It truly is so much about the little things, and we just blew it.
Vicki: We did.
Michelle: We’re going to talk about Christmases gone wrong and how to turn them right, as a blended family, on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Merry Christmas! I’m sure the tunes are still streaming through your device in some form or fashion—maybe, Silent Night or The Twelve Days of Christmas. I just love Christmas; but what about that Christmas that, maybe, didn’t go so well?
Ron Deal is here in the studio with me today, and he is the head of Smart Stepfamilies and FamilyLife Blended®. Ron we had such a great conversation last weekend concerning getting ready for Christmas. Now that Christmas is behind us, I wanted to pull you back into the studio and say, “Okay; there is someone listening who has had a train wreck of a Christmas. Help us work through that.”
Ron: Yes; kind of looking back, going, “Oh man; that was hard.” You know, life is a live-and-learn experience. I don’t want to minimize at all what somebody listening right now has been through—their heart may be heavy; the conflict may still be alive and ongoing—and they still don’t know what to do about it or how they are going to manage it.
Talking to a friend; trying to sit down, talking to the Lord about it; and trying to filter through and get some perspective on it—all of those things are good first steps.
Michelle: Now, there is a family that you know of—that you’ve known for quite a while—who had/would you say a train wreck of a first Christmas?
Ron: Well, I don’t know what word they would use; but I know it was a hard one. We have them joining us right now. Bob and Vicki Maday are joining us. It’s good to see you guys. Thanks for being here.
Bob: Thank you.
Vicki: Thank you; we’re happy to be here.
Ron: And their adult daughters—two of their kids are joining us as well—Katie and Jonell.
Katie: Yes; it’s good to be here.
Ron: Michelle, just for a little perspective for our listeners, I’ve known Bob and Vicki for a long time. We’ve talked around this before with them, so I’ve kind of heard the story. They had married; all their children were adults or young adults. There was this fantasy—I think, maybe, is the word—that this first Christmas was going to be a bonding time and a merger of all of those people and coming together in one place. That was Bob and Vicki’s vision for how it would work out. The logistics of it, and the emotional transitions that were going on for everyone, just made that really difficult.
Michelle: Tell us about it. What happened?
Bob: I think it/I guess I can say we had high expectations. We brought in two families that were steeped in a ton of tradition. We had 34 years of tradition on my family, and we had 24 years of tradition on Vicki’s family. I think, somehow, we thought that we could pull all of this together and make some kind of a spectacular new Christmas.
Our advice that we were given—that we’ve used in a lot of situations—was to create some new traditions. Of course, we had a new home; we had a new Christmas tree; we had new surroundings; a new method of doing Christmas/a new method of gift-giving. It kind of blew up in our face, a little bit, on that first Christmas.
Michelle: Now, Vicki, what were some of your hopes and plans for that first Christmas?
Vicki: Well, Christmas is my favorite time of year. So, first off, just to speak of my own two daughters: they are so easy to please. All of the changes that I had made and planned for that day—I forgot to discuss with them that Christmas might look a little different—I had dropped the ball on communicating with them before they arrived, because Christmas had always been just so easy.
I really was just so in love with Bob that I expected them to feel the same. I expected them to just pick up the baton that I was offering with—“Look how Christmas is going to look now,”—that I just forgot that, while love can be blind, it can also be very confusing to those that you are bringing into a relationship. I think it was confusing for the girls, because they were seeing me prepare for a celebration differently than I had their entire life. That meant we decided on a new tree, new decorations; we changed up the stockings and all to kind of start new traditions for us. When Jonell and Stacy walked in, I think there was a lot of confusion/a lot of disappointment: “This isn’t what Christmas is supposed to look like.” I really felt like I failed them.
Michelle: Now, Jonell, were you confused?
Jonell: Yes; well, I wasn’t really confused. It was more—I lived out of state, and so I thought I was coming home for Christmas—but instead of coming home for Christmas, I was in a strange place, where I didn’t recognize anything. There weren’t the same decorations that I was used to; I think she even used different colors.
Vicki: I did. [Laughter]
Jonell: Yes, she did. [Laughter] It was always traditional Christmas colors; and all of a sudden, we were seeing purple everywhere.
Vicki: To try to connect with Katie, who is Bob’s daughter—and I knew that she decorated Christmas trees in homes and she did that for her seasonal income—she did that; that was part of her job. She does a beautiful job. Listen, she could be highlighted in Southern Living Magazine. [Laughter]
In trying to connect with Katie, I said, “Come decorate my mantle and my tree; would love to have you do that for us.” She came; I told her what colors I would like/what I thought it would look like. Jonell walked into a home that Katie had decorated, not her mom. I made a connection there [with Katie], but then I lost a connection here [with Jonell].
Michelle: What did the conversation around the Christmas table look like that day?
Vicki: Phony; phony. [Laughter]
Ron: Awkward. Yes; trying to figure out where to go, what to say, how to put it together—
Bob: Very forced.
Vicki: Forced conversation.
Bob: Very planned—we had it sort of planned as we thought it was going to go—and we were prepared with certain language. It just didn’t work; it just bombed.
Vicki: Truly/truly, it is so much about the little things; we just blew it.
Vicki: We did on—[emotion in voice] you know, I’m feeling a flood of emotion, because just talking about it is taking me right back there—and a lot of inadequacies in just—
Bob: One of the things—
Vicki: —poor judgment.
Bob: One of the things that we thought was a good idea was that I held a couple of really nice gifts that I was going to present to Vicki, in front of her children, and thinking it was going to be a real point-getter for me and a real moving time to blend our family. Likewise, Vicki kept a couple of nice gifts to give to me in front of my children, and it just got no reaction. In fact, when we did it, it took the air completely out of the room; because they just were not interested in how we were blessing and doing for each other. It turned into a real difficult time.
As a matter of fact, since that first Christmas, we have taken our Christmas aside from the family Christmas. When we get together with Jonell and Stacy and their families, we focus on them. When we get together with my children at Christmas, we focus primarily on them. We take ourselves somewhat out of the center.
Ron: Bob, I appreciate your perspective in looking back. You now know that you had really high hopes for that moment that you had orchestrated. I call that a blender moment, where your hope was that it was going bring people together, and it was going to solidify family-ness for everyone. That so makes sense; because that’s your heart and hope for everybody, and your love and your desire is coming through in that.
I’m wondering about perspective from Jonell and Katie. As you look back on that moment, do you know what you were feeling? Do you know what that was about? He said the air went out of the room. What was going on in you?
Jonell: [Emotion in voice] Well, my daddy was not a good gift-giver. [Laughter] We joke about that sometimes. You know, for years, we saw him give Mommy a pair of socks or something just because he was terrible at it; because when he was growing up, his family never gave gifts. You would think, after 20 years of being married to a woman who loves gifts, he would have figured it out; but he really struggled.
Ron: Of course; you couldn’t hardly celebrate that moment—
Ron: —because it just brought up so much mixed feelings inside you.
Katie, do you remember what it was like?
Katie: I just/I think it, in my mind, solidified that now my father is spoiling another woman. Physically and materially seeing that was like: “Wow; okay; alright. There is another one—okay; and he got her another one.” Because we still weren’t
100 percent—I mean, we were always on board; but you know, it was just a very real moment—
Katie: —where it wasn’t my mom on the other side of the receiving.
Ron: Yes; there is something about that that just divides your heart, because you so want Mom there. Seeing this new thing in your dad—and new love/new commitment—it’s just weird.
Bob: And let me just tell you—at the holidays, that is just heightened.
Bob: It just/it—you know, the traditions that come up/the past memories that come up—they flood everybody’s heart at Christmas. I think about my mother every Christmas; she’s been dead for 25 years.
In a blended family, it just adds—it just—a holiday/Christmas, specifically, just heightens all the tension around that. What’s a small problem becomes—it just can become a real explosion.
Michelle: Hey, Bob, I need to break in here; because we need to take a break. When we come back, I want to continue our conversation about the Maday family Christmas experience. We’ll be back in two minutes. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. We are talking with Ron Deal today, and also Bob and Vicki Maday and their girls, Jonell and Katie. We’re talking about a Christmas gone wrong and how to try to make it straight.
You know, Bob and Vicki, we’ve talked about Christmas and how you both wanted it to be, in a way, perfect; because Christmas is—that’s what we think about. We had the twinkle lights going on and everything; and we think, “This is going to be full of joy, and this is going to be the best day.”
As you guys were planning that first day, I’m just wondering what your feelings were when that perfection didn’t happen—like on Christmas night—the night after you were celebrating.
Vicki: I think our first words that we shared were, “Well, that was a blended blunder.” [Laughter] Then we kind of walked through the day. Then our recovery was—and we may over communicate, but our recovery was [emotion in voice]: “We know our hearts. Our hearts were meant to bless our kids—
Vicki: —“and move on—and find joy in the grief of my girls losing their daddy and Katie and them losing their mother.” When we would talk it through, we would say: “Well, we know our hearts. We did not plan to: ‘How can we change things up? How can we make this a miserable day for everyone?’” It was completely the opposite.
Moving forward, we said: “We’re going to do our best to make it a day where we are really supposed to focus on Jesus.” Then the priority began, as we moved from one Christmas to the next, the priority began to be: “At the end of the day, we want to still be okay. At the end of the day, when we come back together, after having been with all of our children for two days, we want our marriage to still be intact.”
Ron: I’m curious, from the standpoint of: you recovered as a couple; how did you begin to live and learn with your kids? Did you each reach out to children?—start having conversations? Did it take six months before that happened?—was it five years before that happened?
Michelle: Because I’m thinking it would be a little awkward in some of these conversations.
Bob: One of the things we recognized is that: “What is happening in our family is there is a balance of power shift. We don’t have the power in a family full of married children with children.” We began to see that the power/the shift in the power was going to them, which caused us to be much more flexible in our planning/much more flexible and inclusive in how we create our future Christmases. It actually helped us release and, somewhat, lower our expectations of the outcomes of Christmas.
Michelle: Ron, just as I’m listening, I’m wondering, “How do we reset our expectations after we’ve had a hard Christmas like the Madays shared about that journey on the first Christmas? How do we reset our expectations?”
Ron: I think they’ve demonstrated pretty well the big chunks of what has to happen. First thing you do is process: “What just happened to us? Where did that go? What was going on inside of me? What was going on with us?” As husband and wife, there is a central relationship there that you have to repair and process; and then you begin to branch out—and talking to children—inviting them into the process/learning from them.
I think one of the things couples need to remember, whether their kids are adults, as in this situation, or younger: “Shut up and listen. They have emotions and experience that they want to share. If you’re just telling, telling, telling, you are still in the orchestration mode. Go into the mode of listening and letting other people co-create how you are, going to go forward.” This is especially true the older children are.
Michelle: You know, just as we’re talking here, Jonell, I can’t even imagine what this first Christmas was like for you, coming home; and it wasn’t home. Now, that you’ve celebrated many Christmases in this home, do you look at Bob now as a father figure or as your dad?
Jonell: Oh, definitely as a father figure; yes. He’s been/he’s been there through thick and thin with me through—even my marriage and infertility—different things like that. He’s been a big encourager to my life.
Michelle: Would you have thought that, 13 years down the road from that Christmas that you spent in that house that was not your home, that you would have been saying that about him?
Jonell: I think so/I think so, because I tried really hard to give him a good chance and be respectful. I didn’t harvest any negative feelings toward him in my heart, even from the beginning. It was just sort of they were moving a lot faster than we were in accepting things. I was just, maybe, a little behind them.
Ron: Michelle, that’s a good word for any child, who is listening, of any age: “Give them a chance,” “Give your stepparent a chance; you might discover there is something there that is a real gift. They are not replacing your parent. You’re not moving anybody out of your heart and putting somebody else in that place—that’s not happening—you’re just adding another person into your life.”
One of the things/one of the messages we give blended families all the time is: “It takes time, and you can get there. You do have to keep going and keep pressing in.”
If somebody is listening right now—this is an open-ended question to anybody—if somebody is listening right now, and they are still in the hard and they are going, “I don’t know; I don’t know; they did it, but…”—there are some early adapters in a lot of blended families; there are some slow adapters in a lot of blended families. What advice would you give people if they’ve got a slow adapter?
Bob: I think I have this one: “Time is your friend—you just referenced it—it takes time, number one. Number two: It will work; just keep after it; keep doing the right thing. Time is your friend; keep your marriage healthy. We got there by just keeping on keeping on and keeping on. That is/that’s the secret sauce: ‘Is to give it time.’”
Michelle: That’s really good, but I can’t help but question this time thing. When we’re talking about time—and we’re saying, “Just give it time,”—are we talking about months, or are we talking about years? I mean, do we/what do we need to be thinking about there?
Vicki: Sometimes, you have to move on and keep pressing forward with those that you have on board; you have to just keep pressing forward. Then you have to hope that the others will come along and join you when it is right for them. You can’t just keep forcing and forcing someone to join back in the family unit.
Michelle: Yes; that’s a good one.
Katie: I think, for me, the time issue was huge. Over time, our relationship—Vicki and my relationship—has become so strong, and so deep, and so personal. I remember, early on, thinking, “Okay; my dad trusts this person, and I trust my father. If he trusts her, then I’m going to allow myself to trust her.” That helped me, early on, even when I had doubts and “Oh my goodness! What is my father doing?!”—just remembering, “I trust my dad, and my dad trusts her.”
Ron: Let’s do a little experiment. I’m going to ask you guys a question: “How many years was it before you felt like you really turned a corner as a family unit?”—that’s multi-generations/multiple households. I’m not saying it is perfect and everybody is on board; but by and large, it kind of felt like, “We turned a corner here.” Think of a number; don’t say it out loud.
Michelle, the answer to your question, from a lot of research, is: “Average blended families need five to seven years to kind of figure out their harmony, connectedness, their sense of stability.” Some blended families can do it in two to four; most need five to seven. Every once in a while, slow families—challenges they are fighting through—nine years or more; okay?
What numbers did you guys come up with?
Vicki: Well, when Bob and I hit the seven-year mark, we wanted to tear that page out of your book. [Laughter]
Ron: —because you weren’t there yet.
Vicki: —because we weren’t there yet. [Laughter] Then we would make a joke and go, “Okay; we hit seven years.”
Ron: “It should be better.”
Vicki: “How much longer?” [Laughter]
Bob: I would be thinking five years.
Bob: I felt like we were turning the corner at five years. One of our secrets was we have 15 grandchildren. They are just pure gold—
Bob: —in our relationship; because they come in, unassuming, with zero baggage. All they think of us is “Big Daddy” and “Gigi; they bring the parents along. I would say five years.
Ron: I’m curious; Katie/Jonell, did you guys have a number in mind?
Katie: I was thinking five/six—around there.
Jonell: I was thinking more three; because I was away, like I said, out of state for the first three years of their marriage. I would always introduce Bob as: “This is my mom’s husband, Bob.” That’s how I always referred to him, because I didn’t have a relationship with him. Then, when we moved back to Georgia, that relationship started to grow. Like, just Monday, I introduced him to somebody: “These are my parents.”
Ron: Yes; what a difference time makes—a lot of effort/a lot of work—it’s a real testimony. I know not everything is perfect—nothing is ever perfect in any family/any biological family; it doesn’t—nothing is perfect, but we just keep moving forward.
Michelle: Bob, Vicki, and Katie and Jonell, thank you so much for coming in and sharing the journey with us and being willing to answer both Ron and my questions that sort of poked some painful memories. Thank you for sharing.
So good to hear Bob and Vicki Maday reminiscing about their first Christmas as a blended family with Jonell and Katie. Thanks to Ron Deal for also joining me. Ultimately, this was a story of redemption—this was a story of how God took something that did go wrong, and He made it into a beautiful story—not just a beautiful story but a beautiful life.
This is the last week of 2020. I hear many people going, “YEAH! We can’t wait; 2020 is done!” Okay; well, let’s turn the page; but have you been thinking about, maybe, your New Year’s resolutions? We’re going to talk about some resolutions, and we’re going to go back into the archives of FamilyLife Today® and hear from Dennis and Barbara Rainey reminiscing and remembering some very important resolutions from many years ago. That’s going to be on FamilyLife This Week next week.
Hey, thanks for listening! Again, “Thank you!” to Bob and Vicki Maday and also Ron Deal, Jonell, and Katie. Thanks to the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. Thanks to our engineer today, Bruce Goff, joined by Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week. Merry Christmas!
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