We are in the season of beautiful holiday traditions. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, and Day roll around about the same time of the year. Many families can feel overwhelmed by all the shopping, decorating, cooking, and celebrating, but it is an exciting, meaningful time for families to come together. Time is set aside to practice both religious rituals and family traditions, we give thanks, and, of course, later on, we give presents. It may be stressful for any family, but when you have a blended family, there may be additional concerns.
For blended families, the holiday season can bring a variety of emotions. When a family includes the union of two people with children from previous relationships, there can be a certain sensitivity around the traditions, sights, and sounds of the season. The first holidays can be the hardest. It might help to have some holiday agreements for a happier season that take all members of the family into account. If your family creates and communicates these with everyone, it just might help frame the holiday in a family-friendly and less stressful way.
Create new traditions that incorporate ones that are familiar to all family members.
Attachments to certain holiday traditions are so strong that the idea of giving up or changing them can be emotionally draining. The blending of families may alter many family traditions, yet it also opens up an opportunity for new traditions to be built.
Sit together and discuss the activities and traditions that have made the holiday special in the past. There will be differences, but everyone should be able to voice their ideas. Don’t be concerned with what other families are doing or how they are doing it; let the holidays be about your unique family. Let family members include one or two activities of their choice. No one person should dominate the discussion or insist on replicating holidays past. Discuss what you, as a unit, want to get out of the holidays—an idea, a value, a memory of doing something special together as a family—then work on achieving that. As you create new ways of approaching the season, acknowledge other traditions with respect. Before you were a blended family, you were all part of two separate families with unique holiday traditions.
Enjoy the combining of traditions and trying of new food, religious experiences, music, activities, and decorations. Trust in what your family wants and enjoys and plan with that in mind. Whether it is starting a gratitude jar on Thanksgiving or volunteering at the soup kitchen, participating in new activities will help cement a tradition that has meaning for your family.
Planning and sticking to the plan are so important in creating a peaceful season.
With many different and busy schedules and children involved in multiple family activities, planning is the key to enjoying the holiday season. In blended families, each parent and their children have separate schedules with established parenting schedules. To reach peace and harmony, it is helpful if all involved are aware of plans for parenting time over the holidays.
Make a calendar just for dates that include visitation schedules, shopping, school activities, holiday card photo shoots, baking, gift exchange, or any other such activities. All families involved would benefit by talking through the important dates and perhaps negotiating critical events. Discuss individual parenting schedules early on to find the best time to arrange your blended family celebration. Having it all on your calendar will ensure you don’t end up packing too much into a single day or not making time for the children’s activities.
The importance of mental well-being.
In blended families, there can be a push to participate in all the events of each family, which can be overwhelming. Rushing around can cause physical and emotional burn-out. Guard against that by making a commitment to care for your emotional welfare by weaving in quiet time, rest days, and doing everyday things that refresh. Going to the gym, taking a nap, going for a run in the morning, or taking time to finish reading a book will bring some renewal. Allow family members to reflect on and discuss their feelings about the rush and expectations of the season; if at all possible, stop and take note of the experiences as they occur. Remember to enjoy the experience of the holidays and not the event. Make this time more about the memories made rather than the presents or grand celebrations. Make it about the laughter of the family, the closeness of friends, and the new and blended traditions.
Holiday gatherings are sometimes less magical and more stressful than we’d like to admit, and that can be because children don’t have clear expectations set. If yours is a newly blended family and you are working to create new traditions, it’s natural to hope that the celebration is perfect. The truth is that reality might not live up to expectations, but you have to take the missteps in stride. Some of the best memories are made when reality crashes into expectation!
Plan structure for the children.
It is likely, especially with a blended family, that holidays include visiting relatives whom not all the children know well. The reality of travel can be grueling, facing traffic and long airplane rides, to attend one or more family get-togethers with unfamiliar relatives. Your children know the rules at home, but in the excitement and novelty of a relative’s home, good behavior is tested. Always have a conversation before leaving the house about how children are expected to behave and don’t shy away from specifics. The way children behave at a religious center, school, and on the ball field or the court is different from Grandma’s house. If there are any questions about the house rules at someone else’s house, don’t be afraid to ask. Be sure to prepare those whose homes you are visiting if there are any special behavioral concerns. A child with behavioral difficulties at school will have them at Grandma’s house too. Make sure the relatives know what to expect. Warn family members about sensitive topics.
Children like structured activities, and they’ll probably be missing them while school is out. The holidays lend themselves to art projects and family-friendly movies that kids enjoy. Here’s where new family traditions can kick in. If you are traveling in your car with children for any length of time, pack a bag with multiple activities, books, and games, particularly if the child has a lot of energy. Plan for breaks, even if it’s not that long of a trip.
Allow the celebration of holidays as a blended family to be bold yet thoughtful. Create a wonderful time for all family members by keeping in mind scheduling, planning, setting aside expectations, communicating, and respecting other traditions.
Judy Gilliam is a former teacher, principal, superintendent, and college professor. She held teaching and administrative positions in public, private and Department of Defense schools for over 40 years. She has a heart for children, especially those struggling with their own unique place in the world.