By Emma Reilly
Ah, the holidays – a time of togetherness, peace, love, and turkey dinners so scrumptious they’d make Martha Stewart jealous.
Or, for many of us, a stressful, hectic whirlwind that involves more political manoeuvering than a United Nations summit.
For those of us whose lives are more like Modern Family than Leave it to Beaver, the holidays can pose a special challenge. In non-traditional or blended families, it’s often a particular struggle to deal with several household schedules, multiple dinner invitations, back-to-back party appearances, and obligatory holiday events (Great-Aunt Sheila’s annual gingerbread decorating jamboree, anyone?)
So how can blended families get through the holidays unscathed—and without coming unhinged?
It’s all about planning and communication, says Deborah Moskovitch, a Toronto-based author, speaker, and divorce coach. She suggests setting out a strategy with your ex, parents, step-parents, or anyone else who may be expecting to see you and your family over the holidays.
Laying out clear expectations—which parties or dinners you’ll attend, where the kids will spend Christmas Eve, and even how many presents will be under each household’s tree—will help the holidays go smoothly.
“That conversation really needs to happen,” Moskovitch says.
Hamilton, Ont., mom Brenda Ziemann has navigated post-divorce holiday planning along with her three girls, Brigitte, 15, Maya, 13, and Carina, 11. The girls now split their time equally between Mom’s and Dad’s houses over the holidays—in even years, they spend the first week of Christmas holidays with Mom and the second with Dad, and in odd years, they switch. That way, each parent gets to spend either Christmas or New Year with the kids.
Ziemann says the first step for approaching Christmas as a blended or split family is to realize that some of the changes may be difficult, especially at first.
“Accept that nothing will be the same. That is the big thing,” she says. “When you get over that, it makes it so much easier to be fair. You can have a logical discussion about what’s going to work.”
Ziemann also advises parents in blended families to create new traditions that the kids can look forward to.
“It’s okay to acknowledge that they’re going to be sad or upset about some of the changes, but try to give them something to look forward to,” she says. “This year we’re having a Christmas brunch—and they’re so excited about that.”
Creating new traditions is a key part of a successful holiday season as a blended family, Moskovitch says. She suggests asking the kids about what experiences are special to them, whether it’s making their favourite cookie recipe or a midnight ice skate. Then make sure to carve out time for those activities.
“You don’t want the kids to associate negative thoughts towards happy holdays,” Moskovitch says. “The holidays are fun, the kids are out of school – you don't want them to dread it.”
After all, the holidays should be about making things as enjoyable as possible for the kids, especially if they’re getting used to new family traditions.
“When families are reconfigured, you always want to get the kids involved,” she says. “The goal is to put your kids’ best interests first.”
Photo courtesy of Brenda Ziemann.