6 tips on blending families over the holidays

Children, Divorce, Family/Kids

We hear it’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” but the winter holidays can present some difficult challenges for newly blended families (i.e., families with children from other relationships). Unrealistic expectations—and unexpected realities—can quickly dash all hopes for a picture-perfect family holiday. Prevent disappointment, drama, and chaos with these simple suggestions for your first major holiday together.

Honor and share traditions

The traditions we carry from one year to the next are a big part of what makes a family holiday so special. So when two families with different holiday customs become one, some give-and-take is necessary. Pleasing everyone by attempting to do everything you’ve always done before is unrealistic, if not impossible.

It helps to do a bit of planning ahead of time. For example, don’t wait until Christmas Eve to decide whether you’ll continue with the yearly turkey dinner at Grandma’s house or attend your new spouse’s annual Christmas services at church. Pick and choose the activities that are most important to both families well in advance. Eventually, these choices will transform into a new set of traditions that are tailor-made for your blended brood.

Don’t expect perfection

It helps to dial down your expectations and accept that your holiday is not going to be perfect. Blending a family takes time, and your first holiday season together may feel more awkward than you might like.

You and your new spouse may find all this change energizing and exciting, but your children may not. Summon some extra sensitivity for the children in your new family who are spending the season in a different home than they did last year. They may feel nostalgic for the old days and find their new situation heartbreaking. You’re asking them to experience (and, to a certain extent, tolerate) the holidays with new people instead of their other loved ones.

Try to stay patient. Your kids need time to adjust to their new situation.

Empathize with your kids’ feelings

The holidays can be stressful for children. Expecting them to happily hop aboard the Brady Bunch Express is asking a lot. Now, more than ever, you must make the effort to rise above the chaos and drama that often surround both holidays and divorce.

Allow your children to experience sadness without guilt. And don’t force them to show excitement or emotions they don’t honestly feel. Decorating the tree, hanging stockings, opening gifts, and sharing a holiday meal without one of their biological parents will not be easy for them. Be as empathetic as possible. And try to keep things light: a good sense of humor will go a long way in relieving inevitable tensions.

Don’t let chaos reign

Respecting your children’s feelings does not mean you need to turn into a pushover during the holidays. Children can get overwhelmed by the mania that comes with presents, visitors, and holiday festivities and start to act out. Mom and Dad shouldn’t sit back while all hell breaks loose. You need to keep the peace or chaos and stress will rule the house.

Decide well in advance who will dish out the discipline to whom. At this early blended stage, you may find it most effective for each biological parent to set the decrees for his/her own children, while the stepparent provides support. And reassure your kids that your new spouse isn’t attempting to replace anyone but can and should be viewed as a trusted adult.

Respect the ex

You owe it to your children to set a good example, and being civil with your ex and your new spouse’s ex is a great way to demonstrate some holiday goodwill.

Set pride and ill feelings aside and work with your own ex to make sure your children have the best holiday possible. Determine a reasonable custodial and visitation arrangement and honor that agreement by being prompt and flexible.

And make an effort to act graciously with your stepchildren’s other parent(s). Consider exchanging gifts or extending an invitation to a pre-holiday gathering. If everyone is on good terms, consider a combined celebration to help the children through this transition.

Take a deep breath and do your best

Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Your blended clan is a work in progress, so take this first holiday season together with a grain of salt. It’s true that kids are highly adaptable, but your leadership, dedication, and sensitivity will go a long way to helping them eventually embrace this new family you have created.

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