Navigating the Holidays with a Blended Family
Many families today are blended and created by previous marriages or relationships. Holidays can be an especially challenging time for parents and children navigating holidays and the school breaks that accompany them. Don’t despair—we have a few strategies to make the holidays happy and stress-free.
Communicate. I know this one falls into the category of “easier said than done” because not all separations or divorces are amicable. Remember that the children come first—find a way to set aside anger or hurt feelings and focus on the kids. If you can communicate honestly and often, you can create a workable schedule with a healthy compromise that will make the kids comfortable and provide a successful holiday experience. On an important side note, be sure to go over your children’s holiday wish lists and agree on who will be purchasing what item. That keeps you from doubling up on a gift and discourages trying to one-up your ex—trust me, the outcome is never good, and feelings will be hurt.
Ask for your children’s input. Again, tricky but important. Be sure to get feedback from the kids on what would make them happiest and most comfortable—but keep their input to a minimum. It’s stressful enough for kids—try not to make it more difficult by leaving the entire set of decisions up to them. Your goal should be to avoid having them feel like they have to make choices that could lead to choosing one parent or environment over another. In addition, kids will often tell each parent what they think they would want to hear—this is especially the case with older children and teens who are savvy about the existing dynamics.
Make a schedule and stick to it. Kids respond well if they know exactly what’s going to happen. Doing things on the fly will only stress all parties involved. When you make a schedule for visits, pick-ups, and drop-offs, be sure all adults agree and then provide the approved and final plan to the kids. Lastly, be sure to follow the schedule to the letter. Of course, there could be an unforeseen issue that affects your plans but do your very best to follow through on the schedule.
Create new traditions. If your children are part of a shared custody agreement, they may be missing certain activities and traditions. The easiest way to counter those feelings is to plan new activities and customs to incorporate into the holidays. Baking, game-playing, crafts, special meals, and holiday movies are all good places to start. In our Kids Quest centers and Cyber Quest arcades, our guests love being sent on themed scavenger hunts. Perhaps you send your kids on an at-home holiday treasure hunt with clues that lead to a gift or special surprise? Be creative.
Keep the kids busy. If you have a full agenda of activities for your children, their focus will be on having fun instead of the fact they are not with some of their family members. Keep in mind when organizing the activities that there should be flexibility if they’re not enjoying something and want to move on, or if they are really engaged in play and don’t want to stop. Have those plan Bs ready and be prepared to go with the flow.
Go easy on yourself. If the divorce or separation is relatively new, cut yourself some slack. Chances are everything won’t go perfectly. In fact, it’s likely feelings and reactions will be complicated and it’s hard to predict emotional triggers. Talk through a negative response or outburst—let your kids express themselves. Learn from your miscues and plan better for the next holiday or future event. This is how we grow as humans (and parents) and it brings you closer to mastering a blended holiday celebration.