The holidays are approaching, and what often comes with them is high expectations and a lot of emotion. I don’t know about you, but when I was young, holidays in my stepfamily were HARD. Sometimes the tension would be subtle, but at other times someone would end up in tears, would become angry and storm off, or would refuse to participate at all. Others might try to put on a brave face, but we’d all feel miserable. I’m happy to say that’s not my current reality.
We can’t control everything that might happen, but we can create conditions that make it much more likely things will go well. Here are steps you can take now:
- Plan, plan, plan. Communicate the details in writing and make sure everyone knows what to expect. Think about transitions, when and where the kids will eat, and other important details you want to be sure to work out ahead of time. There are a couple of movies my kids love to watch with us every year, but they don’t want to watch them twice. My ex and I switch off which movie we watch with the kids each year.
- Rushing togetherness often backfires. Give yourself permission to spend the holidays apart from your partner, especially if your blended family is new. This might work well if you and your partner have different family traditions that are meaningful to you and/or the kids. Kids benefit from the predictability of traditions, especially when they’ve had a lot of change in their lives. Plan a special reunion for afterwards, which can either include everyone or just be a romantic date between you and your partner.
- Keep as many old traditions as possible, adding one or two new ones each year. Kids thrive on consistency and don’t do well with too much change too soon. This is especially true during holidays and other beloved events. Because both partners might bring kids into the new family, this might take some delicate negotiation and compromise. If emotions are running high, consider step #2 above: it really is okay to spend some holidays apart.
- Try to limit the number of events. Two is the maximum number most kids can handle on one day, and some kids might need to keep it to one event. This will help them avoid stress and meltdowns. This might mean that the kids spend Thanksgiving with one parent one year and another the next. If that feels disappointing to you or your kids, consider starting a new tradition of doing something special together the weekend before or after the holiday.
- Keep it simple. Over-planning is hard on everyone.
- Be sure to work in some breaks for yourself. Holidays can be emotional times and our behavior impacts everyone around us. Taking breaks helps ensure that we’ll be at our best and is a good self-care practice.
- Center the kids, but don’t put them in the middle! If age appropriate, you might ask your kids what is most important for them during the holidays. Don’t ask them with which parent they’d rather spend the day; rather, leave it open for them to respond. You might find out they want to spend the day with their dad because they don’t seem him as often as they’d like. Or, they might want to play a beloved game, or eat their favorite holiday meal. If it’s possible, see if you can make that happen.
- Don’t compete with gifts. If you can, agree ahead of time with your co-parent about the gifts you will give to the kids.
I hope you are able to connect with your family this holiday season. If you need more support, reach out to friends, be sure to practice good self-care, and contact me if you’d like the support of a knowledgeable coach.