Blended and step-families have special needs during the holidays. Taking some time to talk with family members – discuss and plan holiday events will save you hours of upset children, relatives and an upset you! Since there are several family holidays coming up–Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah–I will use Thanksgiving as my primary example for how to have a better blended family holiday.
1. Scheduling Visitation
Talk with your ex and figure out a schedule from now until January 3rd. Agree that no changes will be made to this schedule unless it’s a real emergency. Negotiate with your ex and remember to exchange special holidays each year. (For example, Dad gets the kids every even year on Thanksgiving, and Mom gets the kids on every odd year.)
2. Schedule Downtime
Remember that the holidays can be an emotional time for all. Don’t over-schedule yourselves. Give kids time for a trip out to get hot chocolate and one-on-one time with Mom (or Dad) to share their feelings. Create couple time for you and your spouse at least once a week, and a short check-in time, at least once a day.
3. Prepare Your Kids
Talk with your children and step children about how they live in two homes and are lucky to have a mom, dad, and stepparents who care about them. Show them the calendar and talk them through the holiday schedule. Answer any questions they have about where they will be staying, how they will travel to the location (airplane, train, and car) and what will happen at each location. Speak positively about your ex, and express your happiness to your kids that they will be spending the holidays at Mom’s house and at Dad’s house.
4. Extended Family
Remind extended family (grandparents, aunts uncles) that you want everyone treated the same. If that means Grandma purchases smaller gifts for everyone, that’s fine. Remind her that her step-grandchildren and bio-grandchildren should be treated the same.
If you have relatives that will not cooperate, you have two choices:
1. Tell them you would prefer to not exchange gifts at all this year (due to their inability to treat everyone the same) or
2. Have them celebrate with their bio-relatives at a separate event.
The second choice is not a preference of mine because it encourages the relatives to continue to ignore their new stepfamily. But, if these relatives insist and you don’t want a battle, then this is a way to have a quick gift exchange, when the step-kids aren’t home, and then ask your kids to not mention the event to their step-siblings.
Thanksgiving does not have to be on Thursday. Anytime during that weekend or even the weekend before Thanksgiving is fine. Your kids aren’t worried about celebrating Thanksgiving on the exact day; they are worried about spending time with both Mom and Dad, and making everyone feels loved, including them.
Remember that all holidays can be moved on the calendar. We’ve moved children’s birthday celebrations to Saturday for years, so what’s the big deal about moving a holiday to the next Saturday if it means your child can spend time with Mom and Dad, albeit on separate days.
6. Consider Being Different
You don’t have to serve turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Be different! I remember my kids’ eyes lighting up on Christmas afternoon when they walked in (literally stuffed with turkey from their mom’s house) and realized we were having appetizers and finger food for dinner.
Our Christmas seafood buffet has also become a tradition. The kids look forward to creatively planning different seafood for our Christmas feast.
7. Special Situations
Some of you are able to schedule a one-time, all-family-members-included event. This means sharing a meal or exchanging gifts with all family members at once, including ex-spouses. (Peggy Nolan of Step Mom’s Toolbox is one of those special people.) If you are able to do this, and not confuse your kids, then I believe it’s a wonderful gift to everyone in your family. Make sure, though, that your kids don’t see Mom and Dad together and believe that reconciliation is coming.
There are many ways to create positive memories for your blended or step family during the holidays:
- Take one-day trips out of the city to view holiday events
- Skip a holiday and take a cruise!
- Plan crafts to decorate your house for the holidays
- Take candid photos of the kids while they are having fun
- Involve all of the kids in the food preparation, cooking and clean up. (Giving your visiting child house chores makes them feel part of the family. Don’t treat visiting kids like guests.)
9. Focus on Your Spouse
During all this planning, remember to only make schedule changes after talking to your spouse. Your spouse should be in the center of the family and the center of the marriage. Any changes to the visitation schedule will affect their lives too, so make sure you include them.
This is your family, your new blended family. Holidays are a wonderful time to make new memories, bond your family, and celebrate why you are together. Talk with your spouse about how to make this holiday season special.
Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education. She is the founder of The Blended and Step Family Resource Center and author of Blended Family Advice.