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Navigating Blended Families Road Bumps During the Holidays

Extended Family Group Preparing Christmas Meal In KitchenHolidays can be stressful.  Who do we need to buy presents for?  What should we get everyone?  Which family member are we celebrating with this weekend?  When are we going to decorate the tree?  What on earth are we going to do with that darn Elf this year??  The to-do lists, questions and Christmas party invites are endless.  Now imagine adding a blended family to that mix.  The stress only gets more complex and more intense as you try to balance old and new traditions, visitation schedules and heightened emotions.  Whether this is your first year as a blended family or you’re a seasoned veteran, the following tips will hopefully help you skate through the holiday season with a bit more ease.

  • Plan ahead! As challenging as this may be, the earlier you start, the easier it will be.  And yes, I realize that plans change, everyone has an opinion or a conflict, and some things are just out of your control.  However, some things are in your control.  Start there and focus on what you know you can set in stone.  Some is better than none.
  • Be Flexible. This may seem contradictory to the first point but it’s all about finding that balance.
  • Honor old and new traditions. If this is your first year as a blended family, come up with some new family traditions to celebrate your new family.  However, don’t completely disregard the old ones either.  You’re step-children may be really attached to having that specific french toast recipe every Christmas morning.  Make it!  But throw in your traditional breakfast casserole as well.  Your blended family  may be new but the old family ties still exist.
  • Allow your children to enjoy both of their homes and families during the holidays. Being apart from your kids at Christmas can be heartbreaking.  You miss seeing their faces light up on Christmas morning and you wonder what they are up to.  However, you still need to be excited for them to be with their other parent.  Focus on making your time with them as special as possible and allow your ex-spouse to do the same.
  • Be sensitive to a child’s sadness and sense of lose. No matter how long it’s been, children may still struggle with being separated from parents during the holidays.  It’s a yearly reminder that mom and dad aren’t married anymore.  Acknowledge and validate those feelings when they arise.  If you are the step-parent in this situation, be sensitive to increased emotionality or behavior problems.  Recognize that it’s not about you.  Kiddo is just sad right now.
  • Don’t make gift giving/getting a competition. Treat biological children and step children equally (this includes you grandparents!)  Work together with your ex-spouse to avoid duplicating gifts and remember to focus on what makes your children happy and not what makes your ex angry.
  • Keep some routines in place even amongst the chaos. Children thrive with consistency.  However, the holiday season is full of so many extra commitments that staying consistent feels impossible.  So do what you can.  Commit to at least one family dinner per week.  If school is still in session, stick to the bedtime ritual as closely as possible.  Even if school is out, try to have some kind of a bedtime routine that starts around the same time.

Change is never easy.  While some of us cope with it better than others, being a part of a blended family means making sacrifices and compromises.  The first year is always the most challenging but it’s also incredibly special and exciting.  In the end, it’s totally worth it.  So, take that extra dose of patience when you wake up in the morning and make a lot of wonderful memories this year.  Merry Christmas!

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