Planning for a successful blended family holiday DURING the holidays can be a challenge. Will you travel to Grandma’s or is this the year the in-laws travel to stay with you? Who’s cooking the turkey? Where will you wake up on Christmas morning? And, if you happen to be one of the more than 20 million blended family households in America, how will you handle visitation, transportation and schedules over the holidays?
The holidays can be an especially stressful time for newly formed blended families. Waiting until the last minute to make these important decisions just adds to holiday stress – especially for the child who will be in more than one home during that time. Here are some tips for a smoother holiday visit.
Coordinating the Schedules
Planning a visitation calendar for a blended family is a challenge. If you’ve remarried, and your ex-spouse has remarried, (and their spouses were married before) your schedule can affect up to five different families. Your children want the stability that comes from knowing where they will be each weekend.
You may have negotiated a holiday visitation schedule when you completed your separation agreement. If not, you need one now. Be sure to put it in writing. There are any number of ways to handle it. One suggestion is for the dad to have the kids over the December holidays on even years, and the mom to have them on odd years. Other holidays—from Thanksgiving to birthdays—also can be handled with the even/odd year schedule.
How will your children travel to visit their other parent and who will pay? Again, negotiating this early and taking turns works out the best. If the children will be traveling by plane or train, find out what the unaccompanied minor rules are. They vary by airline. Even if you have decided when the children will travel and who will pay, be sure to consult with your ex-spouse about dates and travel plans before buying a nonrefundable ticket.
Getting Your Child Organized
Create a personal calendar for your children with the visitation dates clearly marked. It will give them a sense of continuity and stability. Your children can look at the calendar anytime they are unsure about when the next visit to Mom or Dad’s house will be. Having a large calendar in the kitchen, with each child a different color, will also help coordinate your family.
Getting the Right Clothes There and Back
Label your children’s clothes if they are visiting a house with other children that are the same size and gender. It keeps things organized at the other house and can help avoid arguments when it’s time to pack for home. Mabel’s Labels makes stick-on labels that are pre-printed and do not come off in the wash. It’s also helpful to include a list of all clothes that are being sent. Of course, even that doesn’t guarantee they’ll return home with the right possessions. I’ve had a child return home with size 3 Batman underwear in his suitcase (he’s 16 and as big as an adult) and only half the number of jeans he left with.
Before you pack it, make sure it still fits. Children grow constantly, and you don’t want to send your child to a non-custodial parent’s house with clothes or shoes that are too short or small. And try to send enough underwear and socks for a week without laundry. You may want to ask your ex-spouse if your child’s clothes can be washed during their visit. Remember, their household likely does not run the same as yours.
Getting the Right Luggage
Check your child’s luggage. Leave room for souvenirs and new clothes, just in case your ex likes to shop. Make sure you mark the luggage so that your child’s name and address is clearly marked on each piece of his or her luggage. There are terrific kid-friendly carry-ons that won’t break the bank.
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 & Step Family Resource Center offering coaching, ebooks, newsletters, reader’s forum and more. Her website is: www.BlendedFamilyAdvice.com Sign up for a free newsletter and receive The Ten Worst Mistakes You Can Make in a Blended Family.