Make the Holidays Work for Everyone
Statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 revealed that there were over 32 million remarried couples in the United States and that almost 22 million of those remarriages involved children. Unless there has been a dramatic shift in marriage dynamics over the last three years, this means that right now there are millions of Americans scratching their heads as they puzzle over the following question:
How are we going to make this whole blended-family holiday thing work ?
Every family has its own special way of doing the holidays, and there’s a surprising amount of variation in things that most people take for granted. From big picture concerns such as where Thanksgiving is going to take place to small details like who sits where at Christmas dinner, the holiday season for blended families can be daunting and overwhelming. The good news in the statistics is that with the millions of blended families out there, it stands to reason that whatever challenges your particular family blend is offering you this year, the chances are that some family somewhere has successfully faced those challenges before. So if you’re feeling a bit behind the eight-ball about the situation, take heart: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Five Holiday Tips for Blended Families
The following tips are meant to help blended families have an easier time during the holidays. This list is by no means comprehensive, but everything below is tried and true, and proven over time to be effective. Let these ideas remind you of what you already know: the holidays are about family, friends, good cheer, positive values and creating memories that last.
1. Kids First
Get the whole family together and talk about what everyone wants and expects from the holidays, especially the kids. Sometimes adults agonize unnecessarily over things—and a simple word from the kids can make all that anxiety go away or bring up things adults hadn’t considered. Either way, including kids when planning the holiday season will give them ownership of the events and a sense of importance in the family, and you never know: they might just solve everything for you.
2. Respect Traditions
Some families have Thanksgiving dinner at 2:00 pm, and some have it at 4:00 pm. Some families exchange presents on Christmas Eve, while others exchange presents first thing Christmas morning. To almost everyone, the way they grew up doing it feels like the right way to do it. When planning out the details, keep this in your thoughts and be mindful that everyone has their own idea of how the holidays should go and no one way is more right than another.
3. Plan Ahead and Communicate Clearly
Even though it might seem a little nuts to plan out all the holidays way ahead of time, it’s a really good idea to sit down with your new spouse and your ex-spouse (probably not at the same time) and plan out the entire year of holidays all at once. This way there will be no surprises and everyone will know ahead of time what to expect. You don’t have to hold on to the plan with white knuckles, but having a plan in place can reduce tension for everyone involved.
4. Do Something New
When combining families, it’s important to recognize that you’re creating a brand new family unit, not just connecting two separate entities with magic glue. Be creative, and think of fun and possibly silly things to do on the holidays: go to a diner for desert on Thanksgiving or go see a movie the day before Christmas. On a more serious note, another great holiday activity for families is to volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
5. Be Flexible
Like Elsa in Frozen: “Let it Go.” Sometimes making things work means compromising and giving up something that might feel important in order to keep everyone happy. If you find yourself getting worked up about a particular detail related to the holidays, take a step back and ask yourself the classic question that applies so often to parenting and divorce: “Is this battle worth fighting?”
Lead by Example and the Kids Will Follow
At the end of the day, after washing all the dishes and stuffing all that wrapping paper in garbage bags and getting it out to the curb, only one thing really matters. That thing? You created a meaningful and lasting holiday experience for your kids.
For parents in blended families, this reminder might feel like a little bit of pressure. But you can relieve that pressure by remembering that kids add meaning to everything and anything that happens. They also find value and fun in the most unexpected places. When kids see adults commit fully and honestly to holiday rituals and watch them working proactively with one another to create a positive, loving and caring atmosphere, that’s what they’ll take forward into their lives.
They’ll remember the example set by their parents, whether they’re biological parents or step-parents. And someday, they’ll know how to pass these values on to the people most dear to them.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.