Christmas Card Conflict in Blended Family

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Sept 1999

I would very much appreciate some advice on this pressing (after all, it is September) issue that has been troubling me. I am married to a man who has three children from his former marriage, ages 18, almost 17, and 14. We had a baby last spring. My husband and I normally send out Christmas/holiday cards every year, and this year I'd like to send those photo cards that everyone with a child seems to send -- especially since I didn't manage to include a photo of the baby with the birth announcement. The dilemma of course is whether it is OK to send a photo of JUST the baby - does this disrespect the other children? To give the full picture, they live with their mother, and visit us a couple of times a week and on alternate weekends. My thinking is that even people with traditional families sometimes send out a photo card of just the baby and not the older children. I don't think the older kids would mind, if they even were aware of it. I also feel that if we send out a photo card of the four of them, it is usurping or disrespecting the mother of the other three, and might make them feel uncomfortable -- sort of disloyal to their mother. (I have to say I wouldn't be too pleased if she was sending out a photocard that included my baby). But, I'm not sure I'm right on this, and I'm not sure what the solution is. Should we ask the kids what they think? Or does this just put them on the spot? One obvious answer is just to skip the whole thing...but, I want to do it! Thoughts/comments/ideas from anyone with good judgment and/or similar experiences would be appreciated.

Why not a card as follows:
* the large picture of the baby in the center - big and beautiful
* Smaller pictures of you, your husband and the children from a previous marriage circling the larger baby photo. Smaller stars orbiting the new arrival.

alternatively - invite all interested parties to participate in the construction of the card. Collectively you will be able to make a beautiful card, assuming of course that you want their help.

What I would want - avoid the baby christmas card altogether. As you said, they are very popular. How about a drawing of the child, just the child, going to everyone you know. A line drawing of the child - big face confronting the viewer, with a line drawing of you and your husband encirling the child in a dancy pose. good luck

Kudos to you for your sensitivity in even thinking of this as an issue! I'm trying to think back to when I was young and my half-sister (the child of my father and my step-mother) was born, would I have felt slighted? I think not, particularly if you make the caption read something about our newest arrival. All of us older kids in my family, I believe, knew that babies are special and deserve special attention, so I think that a card that featured the special new person would have felt normal to me. I'm also trying to guess whether my mom would have been displeased to see my brother and me in my step-mom's family photo card, although in truth she wouldn't have been likely to ever see it. I think that probably she would actually have been satisfied by a token of inclusion in my father's new family--putting the shoe on the other foot or something, I think she would have been more likely to be insulted if she knew that my father's family photo-card did Not include my brother and me: what's he trying to imply, that these new kids are more his 'real' kids than his 'old' kids? This year--baby's first christmas--may be your big chance to do a photo-card without getting too tangled up in the loyalty issues--baby is special because of being a baby, end of story. I say go for it!

I know how proud you must be of the new baby, but I think you should include your husband's older children in the photo, even if they seem not to care. The gesture of including them will go a long way toward making them feel part of your family. It will help relations with them in the long run, and it's good for your baby too - one day he or she will be grateful to have 3 older siblings that are part of the family rather than just somebody else's kids. Their presence in that Baby's First Xmas card will be long-time proof of family solidarity.

I have two teenagers, and I know that even when they pretend not to care much about such things, they are really very sensitive, and they appreciate being included, and treated considerately, even though they show no signs of appreciation. So I would recommend starting a new tradition of a Christmas photo that includes all the children in the family - your baby as well as older brothers/sisters.

As to their mother, maybe your husband can mention to her as a courtesy that you both would like to include the older children on your Christmas cards this year as a way of helping them feel closer to their new baby bro or sis. If their mother has strong objections, you should drop the idea and say nothing to the kids. Just send out regular cards. If there are friends and family who haven't seen the baby yet, enclose a photo.

To the mom who wants to know who to include in the holiday card:

My heart goes out to you, really very much, because I am both a stepdaughter and I have a partner with young adult children. And I have young children with my ex-husband.

The family things over the last 20 years that my father's second wife (I choke on 'stepmother') has excluded my brother and me from have hurt, hurt, hurt. My mother died when I was young, so there was never the thought of hurting her feelings (just her memory), but the result is that after 20 years I have cool regard for this person and doubt our relationship will warm much. I probably would have declined the invitations, but it would have been nice to have been thought of. Her kids are the center of her universe, and while she likes to claim me as a daughter when it grants her some kind of credit or privilege, she otherwise doesn't give us much thought.

Last year when it was time for my partner and me to send greetings, we took a photo of the two of us and my two kids, and a photo of him with his boys and their ancient dog. (They don't live with us, and I am mindful to treat them as a caring middle aged adult would treat any other young person, with no relationships assumed.) Conversely, my partner in no way imagines that he is taking over any of my kids' father's rights or privileges. He sees himself as a caring adult in their lives, and has proved to be a very useful one. (Some things you are uncomfortable talking to one or the other parent about, but an unrelated but close adult friend is more approachable.) He has expanded their close community of adult kin. After taking two sets of photos, including all the kids in our lives, we thought about who would like which pictures, and we sent them those. We didn't send a lot. BTW, when I was part of the classic nuclear unblended family, I was always very enthusiastic every year about sending a family photo and I never sent a picture of 'just the baby' -- that would have seemed impossible.

Every year we visit my dad and his wife, at my mother's family home, and we take every combination of photos so no one's feelings are crushed -- everyone in the little neighborhood; just me and my dad; me, Dad and the kids; with and without the steps, you get the idea. No one has to know which photo someone else got!

The comparison to your stepchildren's mother sending out a card with your baby's picture on it doesn't actually work, because she is not either parent to the baby, whereas your husband is definitely the father of his first three kids, and always will be. Have you asked him what he'd like to do?

My heartfelt, hypersensitive advice is to accept every opportunity to lovingly include your husband's first three children in your new blended family. You can give the older kids an option to bow out if they're uncomfortable, but let them know you care for them in the manner of a loving if unrelated adult. They will probably thank you for the respect years later. But an act of omission is also likely to be long remembered.

One idea is to send regular cards and enclose a photo. You could get copies made of one photo of the baby and one photo of either the three older kids or the 4 kids. Then depending on who you're sending the card to you could include one, both, or no photo at all. Gets a bit more expensive, but may be worth it...

My first reaction is ask them! The older kids are certainly old enough to take on this issue and resolve it together with you. I understand that teenagers might not jump at the opportunity to get into a discussion on the subject, but I think that, no matter how much indifference they may feign, they will be pleased that you consulted them. You've got time, so run it by them, and they can mull it over for a while. Good luck!

Have you thought about sending a photocopied Christmas letter that includes several photos from the year? A family friend does this and makes a kind of collage with vacation photos, graduation, birthdays and photocopies it onto white paper and then folds it into a card size. Maybe you'd just want a simpler, nicer version with two actual photos. Good luck.