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a large family sits down to dinner
by
Nina Collins
,
November 16, 2022

7 Tips For Thriving in a Blended Family Over the Holidays

Try not to get all worked up about the exact particulars of your holiday celebrations.

Did you know that 52% of “sandwich generation” couples have at least one stepparent or stepchild connected to the couple’s relationship?

The holidays are officially upon us, and for many of us (did you know that 52% of “sandwich generation” couples have at least one stepparent or stepchild connected to the couple’s relationship?) this brings with it the challenges that are accentuated by blended families; by divorce and remarriage and custody and step-children, and by the clash of cultures that inevitably result. The holidays are always somehow stressful anyway, so when you add in rigid expectations, raw emotions, and truly complicated schedules, it can all result in a potent brew of messiness.

How to survive it all? As someone who feels like I’ve lived through nearly every permutation of what might arise, and finally, in my fifties, actually find the whole season fun for nearly the first time in my life, I’d love to offer you some tips:

1. Plan Ahead... Like Way Ahead

Encourage family members to share their ideas about upcoming holidays well in advance. I start in April or May (and yes, it annoys everyone). Allowing everyone to have a voice that is heard will help avoid unrealistic expectations and reduce tension. 

A friend just told me that she’s having her family holiday get-together on December 16th because that's when everyone’s schedules aligned. She and her third husband chose that date back in September, informed their combined six kids (some adult, some still at home, some with kids of their own) that their presence was as close to mandatory as possible, and she started shopping for gifts in October. She also let their extended families know their chosen date ahead of time so anyone who wanted to could mail presents for the kids in time for their early celebration. Talk about planning ahead! But you can see,

2. Flexibility Is Your Friend

From November 22 thru January 4 your mantra needs to be “I’m easy; it’s all ok, whatever happens, happens.” Flights will be delayed, tears will be shed, gifts will disappoint, cookies may get burned. It’s all ok. A lot of the Christmas music played on the radio is annoying, but some of it is extraordinarily beautiful. Maybe you’ll get lucky and witness a perfect snowfall. There will be delights in this holiday season if you are open to them and if you can embrace serendipity. 

3. Perfection Is The Enemy Of The Good (have low expectations!)

Try not to get all worked up about the exact particulars of your holiday celebrations. For example, if you're scheduled to have the kids on Christmas Eve only, you'll sabotage yourself if you pile on huge expectations about having a perfect night. Then when it isn't (because of course it won't be, because nothing’s ever perfect), the disappointment can be crushing. There are so many potential pitfalls that the holidays bring up—present competition between houses, off-kilter schedules that affect planned visits, recipe competitions (in a bad way), far too much alcohol. No blended family can possibly prevent all of these holiday challenges, and it's better not to try. Focus on simply enjoying whatever moments you have with the kids, whenever you have them, and for however long,

4. Stop Competing With Others; Star Competing With Yourself

In other words, don’t worry what your ex-husband is doing with the kids, or how happy everyone seems to be at your best friend’s house. Their holiday is not your holiday and you are enough just as you are! Focus on you, and the time you have with your loved ones, to make it as special as it can possibly be. Avoiding social media may help here!  Perhaps this is the year to start a new tradition? My mother and I, together on my grandmother’s couch, always used to watch Miracle on 34th Street and Little Women every year over the season, and that's what I suggest you focus on: the things you do do, not the things you don’t.

5. Make Your Well-Being A Priority

If you know you’re susceptible to the holiday blues, plan some fun stuff to distract yourself. For me this would mean lots of time in movie theaters and on ice skating rinks. What does it mean for you?  Alternatively, if you don’t feel like making the effort,  block out some private time for crying into your peppermint mocha and get it all out of your system. Just recognize your feelings, and take care of yourself. This too, will pass.

6. Fly Your Own Freak Flag

As long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, you do you, please!. Whatever gives you pleasure during this holiday season, I hereby give you permission to indulge. Egg-nog every night before bedtime? No problem. You want to put up a 7 foot tall fake pink Christmas tree in your own home? Go for it. Gingerbread houses make you happy even though there’s no one under the age of 15 in your extended family? Who cares? Get yourself to CostCo and buy a kit! The point is, holidays are meant to be fun. Figure out what part of the season rocks your boat (for me it’s all the lights

7. Fake It Til You Feel It

Blended Holidays can be really hard, and when you’re newly divorced or widowed, or your mom just died, they can be utterly brutal. I have so many memories of ducking out while decorating the tree to have a good cry in the bathroom. Just know a) that you’re not alone, and your girlfriends at Revel are always here to talk and b) that it will get easier over time, I promise.

 

The goal? To get to a place where you genuinely feel easy-going and relaxed about the season. Where you can say to your loved ones “Come whenever, or I’ll go to you! Let’s enjoy the holiday whenever we can be together. Love is love.”

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