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Blended Family Holidays: Share the Joy While Keeping the Peace

Holidays can be stressful for blended families. Parents may need to follow court orders while being flexible and using common sense. Communication with the other parent is essential, especially if someone is sick. Now’s the time to avoid the blame game and do what’s in the best interest of the children. Try these tips for making the season bright for the entire family:

Plan Your Holidays Early

Plan your holidays early with the other parent(s) and families. Be open and honest about upcoming holiday events and time sharing.

  • Include the children in planning so they feel involved and like they belong.
  • Create a written plan for travel itineraries and multiple celebrations.
  • Create proposed menus and dinner times to ease stress and anxiety.
  • Plan for downtime and pace things to avoid overwhelming children.
  • Have one-on-one time, especially for the part-time biological parent and their biological child.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff! You can’t do it all. Remind yourself what really matters and plan accordingly.

Communicate in a Civil and Respectful Way

Communicate in a civil and respectful way despite differences. This is a relief for children. Be positive and remember that you ultimately cannot control the other household. Pick your battles and seek balance.

  • Be open with former spouses and their new partners about holiday plans.
  • When stuck in tough situations, put differences aside and remember that resolving the matter is the desired outcome.
  • If relations with ex-partners haven’t been the best, use this opportunity to refresh and start over for the well-being of all involved.
  • Discuss titles for family members, especially if it’s a new step family. Find terms such as step-uncle or Mr. that are appropriate and respectful. Not all children will feel comfortable addressing new blended family members in certain ways, so communication is vital to help reduce stress.

Give with Fairness and Equity

Give with fairness and equity because gift giving is an important part of the holiday, especially for children. Plan ahead to avoid hard feelings.

  • Be equitable in giving gifts to children/stepchildren, grandchildren/step grandchildren. Children are very aware of how others are treated.
  • Discuss gifts purchased to avoid duplications and uncomfortable situations. Different wish lists for each biological parent can be helpful.
  • Do not buy gifts together with an ex-spouse as it sets up false expectations for the children.
  • Do not compete with the other parent(s) to buy a better gift or spend more money; this only puts the children in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Stepparents and stepchildren are encouraged to give cards and gifts that feel appropriate to their relationship with the other family member.
  • If a stepchild doesn’t acknowledge a stepparent with a gift, don’t take it personally; remember that it is just as uncomfortable for children as it is for you.

Be Flexible for the Holidays

Be flexible because every situation is unique. Do what you can to make the holidays a time of connection.

  • Have each family member identify traditions that are important to them.
  • Modify old traditions to include stepfamilies and be open to starting new traditions.
  • Accept inevitable sacrifices. You don’t have the superpower to make everyone happy all of the time. Accepting that you can’t make everyone happy removes the pressure.
  • Remember you ultimately cannot control the other household. You are still a parent the other 364 days of the year – and that’s what really matters.

Accept a Range of Emotions

Accept a range of emotions. Grief and loss are part of blended families, and everyone may wish that things were different. No matter how long it has been, children struggle with loss.

  • Listen, validate, and reassure children about negative feelings. Be sensitive to their losses and realize that mixed emotions are common. Don’t punish them for negative feelings. Instead, offer hugs or extra TLC.
  • Give children approval to enjoy time with the other parent/family, so they don’t feel responsible for your wellbeing when you’re apart for the holidays.
  • Use FaceTime, video chat or allow the child to talk by phone with the other parent if needed. Validate their feelings and establish healthy boundaries.
  • Accept that not seeing children over the holidays is difficult and have understanding for the other parents involved.
  • Accept what you can’t change and understand that it’s not your ex-spouse’s fault if time is limited with children during the holiday.
  • Avoid acting out, arguing or making negative comments about the other parent.

Before, during and after the holidays, remember to nurture family relationships. Give hugs, read a bedtime story, have family dinners and movie nights, put notes in lunch boxes and have date nights with your spouse. Family connectedness should be a priority. Meanwhile take care of yourself! Slow down, breathe and practice self-care. Spend time with your significant other and remember that you’re on the same team. The goal is to have safe and healthy family relationships.

Visit chihealth.com/behavioral to connect with a CHI Health mental health provider. We offer in-person and virtual therapy sessions with our team of licensed mental health therapists.

Originally Published: December 2020. Updated: October 2022. 

Jessica Jackson, LIMHP
Jessica Jackson, LIMHP

Jessica Jackson, LIMHP, is a mental health therapist with CHI Health Psychiatric Associates.

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