Blended family holiday planning
Blending four young children, managing a harried schedule with two former spouses and competing with the other households for time ignited a simmering blaze that burned throughout the season, leaving behind a trail of hurt feelings and unmet expectations.
I learned some valuable lessons on negotiating with others and compromising on details. I also resolved to take proactive steps to help relieve some of the turmoil and division that occurred among family members. Here are a few suggestions for a more peaceful get-together that will enable your family to enjoy one another and create lasting memories instead of simply surviving another holiday season.
Consider your children’s needs. Children don’t choose to join a stepfamily and they don’t deserve to be pulled between family members. Allow them the freedom to go to each parent’s home without a guilt trip. Help your children buy gifts for other family members. And don’t set a lot of rules about where gifts are kept or played with. If your child receives a gift he’s asked for all year and leaves for dad’s house that afternoon, it’s likely he will want to take the gift with him.
Be proactive. Plan your schedule early. Have a family meeting and talk about the logistics of the season – when to decorate, what to eat, how to do a gift exchange (including who to include) and special events (school programs, work gatherings). Ask each family member to participate in the planning and decision-making. Negotiate the visitation schedule early to allow time for input from all parties.
Set aside unrealistic expectations. Accept that there will be unhappy moments. Children experience fluctuating emotions as they cope with the loss of their nuclear family and accept their new family. They may act out or withdraw during periods of grief. When my stepchildren lost their mother, holidays became especially difficult for them. Memories of past holidays sometimes prevent them from enjoying our family celebrations today. However, a difficult day or period of unhappiness doesn’t have to ruin the entire holiday season.
Be flexible and agreeable when possible. Be willing to make sacrifices to fit everyone’s schedule. Offer alternatives and recognize that Christmas can be celebrated on a day other than December 25 and still be a special day. We have altered our gift exchange many years to allow everyone to be together. Try to be fair to all parties involved and commit to do your part toward peaceful interaction with your ex. Separate old marital issues from parenting issues and rid your heart of resentment or bitterness that might be preventing friendly communication.
Start new traditions together and continue to celebrate old ones that fit. Traditions offer a sense of belonging to family members and cement relationships. Talk to your children about what traditions are important to them and brainstorm ideas for new traditions to start. Soon after we married, we started a tradition of reading the Christmas Story to our children on Christmas Eve to remind them of the reason we celebrate. We also enjoy special church services and a light show together. We like to decorate the house and bake special goodies for those we love. Traditions are a great way for blended families to create bonds with one another that are strengthened every year.
With the right attitude and proactive steps, holidays can be enjoyable and memorable as a blended family. There may be bumps along the way, but don’t give up on a joyous holiday season.
Gayla Grace is a freelance writer and a wife and mom to five children in her blended family. She loves helping parents find success in their blended family relationships.