Q: Any ideas for extended family spending the first holiday with the bonuskids of my brother's girlfriend? They moved in together three months ago and plan to marry in six months. We met only once before this summer. Her daughters are very funny and bright but they became shy at our house with my slightly older teenage daughter. So, any pointers? Treat them like guests (clear dishes for them), friends (tell them to bring their dishes to the kitchen) or family (expect them to help out with the dishes)? I think everyone will have a good time because we all like each other, I just want to make it comfortable.
A: Thanks for asking such a timely question! So often people think the rules of good ex-etiquette are just for exes. Your question proves good ex-etiquette really affects just about everyone in some way or another.
The answer is you treat people who come to your home as you want them to feel. If you want them to feel like a welcomed guest, then treat them as if they are guests. If you would like them to feel like family, then treat them as you would treat family members. It may help to make special point to let them know what you expect: "No, no you are our guest, please sit still while we get dessert." Or: "You're family now, we all pitch in to clean up."
Sharyl and I find it amusing that no matter how long we have all been together, our combined kids eat along family lines. They eat certain things at each home and when we have bought the preference of the other home to serve at our table, the kids look at us like we are crazy.
Adolescents and teens can get downright rude about food, which will not promote future harmony when combining families at the holidays. That's why we have a potluck Thanksgiving -- I make the things that are unique to my biological family traditions and she does the same. We put everything at the table and let everyone pick what they like. Each Thanksgiving we stand back and watch as the kids pile on their family of origin's foods, rarely trying the other family's choices. Knowing this, you may want to email their house prior to the holiday to check in for food preferences. Ask them to bring the favorite stuffing or sweet potato pie recipe and make a special effort to try it to demonstrate the combining of family traditions. Then relax and enjoy. The holidays can be extremely trying, especially the first one when combining families, or the first one after a divorce. "
Finally, once all together, don't forget to count your blessings.
Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families.