Tips for navigating the holidays with a blended family
The holidays are stressful enough on their own. Add a divorce, blended families and stepfamilies to the mix, and Christmas gets even more complicated.
The holidays don't have to go downhill just because your family structure isn't textbook. Check out these expert tips for making the holidays happy with your blended family.
His family opens presents on Christmas Eve. Her family opens presents as one big group on Christmas Day. His family just opens all the presents and then says thank you. Her family has a tradition of only opening one present each at a time so that everyone can stop, enjoy and marvel over the presents.
No one wants to sacrifice the holiday they grew up with — but you can blend your stepfamily's traditions without making it feel like one person is losing that part of their history.
Let it slide, let it slide, let it slide
When two families merge, it's unlikely that they will each conduct the holidays in the exact same way. Each family may celebrate with different foods, traditions... even little things like how to approach unwrapping gifts on Christmas Day (or Eve!).
Instead of focusing on how differently each family goes about the holiday, enjoy your time together and be open to compromise. Paula Bisacre, publisher of Remarriage LLC, says, "Concentrate on how the holiday celebration will end up, and let the little things slide. If we don't open gifts after a Christmas Eve dinner taking place on December 24, it will be all right. If December 26 is when everyone can get together, the world will not fall apart. Pay attention to creating a good memory, and not the perfect memory."
To ensure this happens, communicate with your spouse and family to decide how you will celebrate the holidays, and accept the fact that things may not go exactly according to the plan and that's OK too. Remember, you can compromise by doing some of each tradition — for instance perhaps your new blended family can open a few gifts on Christmas Eve and the rest together with the whole family.
Check out these 9 do's and don'ts for raising a blended family >>
Focus on the children
Put any anger or resentment toward exes aside during the holidays so you can focus on making a special memory for your children. "Keep your focus on making the holidays pleasant for your children, and not on your own resentments and frustrations. You can work those out in therapy after the holidays," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.
She also suggests, "Be willing to try some experiments. Try it the way the other parent wants it, to see if it works. Try letting the children decide how they want it to be, within reason. If they like paternal Grandma's cooking, ask her to teach you some of their favorite recipes. This will help you form a new bond. Sharing informal, productive activities is very bonding, as is allowing others to mentor you."
Read these tips for smoothing the stepparenting transition >>
Look to the future, not the past
Understand — and help your children understand — that your holidays will be different with the new blended family than holiday celebrations in the past. But look at it as an opportunity to create new and special traditions.
"In most cases family members set themselves up for disappointment by making comparisons with the past," says Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, who is considered "The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce" and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love!
Talk to your children about how things are changing, and include them in your decisions.
"Stepparents and stepchildren can erroneously expect the newly formed stepfamily to replicate the close bonds and sense of security within their original family," she says. "By talking about these realities, sharing expectations and understanding that this new family dynamic is unique and different from the first family, the pressure is released. This opens the door to new traditions, new activities and new ways to spend time together as a blended family."