Planning for the holidays in your blended family

When you and your former spouse divorced, you agreed on a parenting arrangement that covers where your kids spend birthdays and holidays. This is very good, because without a plan, you leave yourself open for arguments with your ex-spouse, and your kids vulnerable to disappointments. Here are some tips for making birthdays and holidays pleasant for everyone concerned.

Be flexible in your step family

Arguably, one of the best gifts you can give your children on special days is a conflict-free celebration. You may want to adjust established plans to fit the needs of your kids now and then. For example, if your kids express a strong desire to spend a holiday with your ex-spouse, do not take it personally. Try instead to understand how important it is to give them a choice, even if the schedule assigned the day to you. Enjoy a parallel celebration with them at another time.

Plan ahead with blended families

Arrangements for step family celebrations require more planning than they did when everyone lived under the same roof. Help your kids avoid disappointment because of misunderstandings or unworkable timetables by communicating early and often with them and with your ex-spouse. Offer suggestions to your ex-spouse and his or her new partner about holiday plans, and give them plenty of time to consider and to respond. Remember that the negotiations are about what is best for the kids, and keep in mind that considerate and respectful proposals always work best.

Be kind and generous with everyone

Especially during holidays and birthdays, be generous with your kids about relationship with their other parent and his or her blended family.  Avoid putting the children in the painful position of having to take sides; encourage them to talk about gifts received and activities they engaged in with step family members. Let them know you want them to be happy in both homes. Help your kids shop for their other parent, as well as siblings, step siblings, grandparents, and step parent.

Keep your word

Holidays and birthdays are important to kids. Be particularly careful to follow through on whatever promises you make related to these special days. Holidays often make kids of divorce feel especially vulnerable; and broken promises – whatever their cause or excuse – can only make matters worse.

Include the kids in plans

Whenever possible, let your kids help choose when, where, and with whom they will celebrate the holidays. Make it clear that all plans must be approved by everyone involved; this means everyone in your own step family and that of your ex-spouse. Seeing how other people are impacted by blended family decisions helps kids understand and respect the collaborative efforts you and your ex-spouse practice.

Create two holidays or birthdays

Having two holiday or birthday celebrations, one at the home of each parent, is an excellent model for blended family celebrations.  This parallel celebration arrangement not only supports the normality of two homes and the two families your kids live in, it cements blended family rituals and holiday customs. Be sure to collaborate with the other parent and make plans well in advance. Try not to compete with the other parent with lavish parties or gifts.

Build new blended family traditions

While it is important at first, especially for younger children, to keep as much of their familiar traditions as possible, avoid trying to replicate pre-blended family traditions. Creating your own blended family traditions is important, too, and is an excellent way to create new memories and build relationships between step parents, step grandparents, step kids, and between step siblings.

Nurture your blended family at the holidays

Birthdays and holidays are special times for you and your kids, but they can also lead to feelings of loss, sadness, and remorse for some blended family members. Be understanding and sympathetic, but focus on the present. Stay calm, stay positive without pretending that things are unchanged, and remember the reasons for your celebrations.

Time will give your blended family new traditions, new memories, and new relationships to celebrate. As a blended family, cherish your special times together. They pass more quickly than you thought possible. For more information, go to the Blended and Step Family Resource Center.