Q [Blended Families]: For the first time this year, we’re celebrating the holidays as a blended family. I want to make sure that we all have a memorable season without any fights, stress, etc. What should I keep in mind when planning our family celebrations?
A: The first holiday season after a divorce or remarriage can be challenging for all involved. A child can experience unresolved feelings of all kinds such as sadness, anger and grief when it comes to changes in how the season will be celebrated this year. Animosity and mixed loyalties can also throw a wrench into the happiest time of the year. But, this is to be expected and also completely normal.
One of the greatest gifts a parent and their significant other can give to children is reduced holiday stress. Understand that your blended family can still have a pleasant and enjoyable holiday season even if there are some bumps along the way. Below are some simple tips to help make upcoming celebrations happier and less stressful for your newly blended family:
Plan Ahead: the holidays can have children spending time in multiple households, so try to plan ahead as much as possible. They respond well to plans and clear expectations, especially if you’re able to anticipate creative ways to bypass any challenges that might suddenly come up. Create an itinerary for everyone in the family — this helps to decrease stress while also ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Planning ahead can also decrease stress for adults and help them to be better equipped to support one another.
Be Flexible: it’s okay to celebrate Hanukah or Christmas outside of the actual holiday. There also isn’t a rule that everyone needs to be together on December 12 or December 15. The holidays aren’t about being together on a specific day but about celebrating together as a family. So, set aside a day and time that is convenient for all members — this creates new, positive memories.
Create New Blended Family Traditions: creating new holiday traditions is a great way to forge stronger blended family bonds. Start new traditions that every member of the family can look forward to — a focus on fun, laughter and silliness helps to keep thoughts and feelings in the present and out of the past.
Encourage the Expression of All Feelings: the first holiday season without a biological parent present can be hard to emotionally manage for children and adults alike. Establish an environment where feelings can be openly share and make sure to listen without interrupting or trying to fix any problems immediately. Most importantly, acknowledge any and all emotions a child (or adult) is feeling — this helps him/her to move through these feelings rather than getting stuck in them.
If your child won’t be with you, reassure that him/her will be missed, but that you will be all right — add in a reminder that you will celebrate when you both are reunited. Give him/her permission to have an enjoyable time with the parent he/she will be with.
Remember, to avoid blaming problems on a blended family — a perfect family doesn’t exist. We all have challenges and struggles but if we work together, a stronger family unit grounded in understanding will emerge. Lastly, family doesn’t have to be bound by blood — love and respect is much more important.
Ryan Roemer, Psy.D. is the Manager of the ASPIRE Adolescent Mental Health Program with Mission Hospital. Dr. Roemer is a Licensed Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist who specializes in Family Psychology. For additional information, visit