Managing the holidays with a child who has two families can be complicated. Difficult schedules and emotions running high can set everyone up for ’tis the season to be jolly complications.
Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. Shopping for loved ones, cutting down our Christmas tree and having the natural pine scent in our home, blaring and singing festive music in the car and at home, making cut out cookies and frosting them for Santa… all of the exciting Christmasy types of things.
However, the holidays are also one of my more dreaded times of the year. You see, without fail, everyone wants to see all of my children at the same time.
If your family is like ours, the weekends in December are pretty booked with family time and making holiday memories. We spend the weekend before Christmas with my Mom’s family, Christmas Eve with my husband’s family, and Christmas Day with my Dad’s family.
When you have a child who has two homes, you typically have a custody schedule that regulates holidays, weekdays, weekends, etc. When you have relatives who want to see all of the children and other family members at the same time, that is where it becomes complicated. Your family holiday schedule may not work with the blended family custody schedule. It’s simply a fact.
But fear not! After years of working through these holiday complications, I have discovered a few tips to help manage the festive season with holiday spirit, instead of bitterness, as you navigate your blended family.
Start off with a holiday custody plan
If you do not have a set holiday custody schedule, make one now. Remember, the child involved has two homes. You don’t want them to have any resentment over the holidays because they didn’t get to see one side of the family. Sit down with the ex and come up with a plan. And if necessary, a neutral third party, like a professional mediator or a certified stepparent coach, may be able to help out.
Make a yearly schedule with set times and stick to it. That way there is no conflict in the future for either parent.
Our holiday custody schedule consists of celebrating every other year. This year we will not have my stepdaughter for Christmas Eve, but we will have her back home on Christmas Day. Next year it switches so we will have her home for Christmas Eve, but then she will not be with us on Christmas Day. So we plan accordingly.
My extended family has grown accustomed to the holiday custody schedule because they understand the circumstances that my stepdaughter has two homes. Do they wish they could see all of our children at the same time? Yes. Do we adjust to their wishes to make our schedule a little more hectic? No.
Luckily, we live close to my stepdaughter’s other home so we we can make the holiday switch easily. I know some families don’t have it that easy, especially if they live out of state. If you are unable to switch days due to your locations, make sure you can call or video chat with them. They will want to know you are okay.
2. Make it about the child
One situation that many families have during the holidays is letting their extended families know what is on the children’s Christmas lists. Every year as my children get older, I stress over what I should let each grandparent know the grandchildren would be excited to receive as gifts. I have a hard time figuring out what we as parents are even going to gift them!
I know that sometimes grandparents think that the more gifts they buy the grandchildren, the more favored they become as a grandparent. Remind them this is not the case. Just like parents, the children love you all the same. Do not try to buy their love.
Another ’tis the season to be jolly blended family complication in relation to gifts, is that the child often lets each of their homes know what they want for Christmas. A lot of the time, the child may give all of their gift ideas to the one parent whose home they spend more time at. Or they give the same gift ideas to both homes and then they have two of the same gifts at each of their houses. This can be especially difficult for when they are teenagers. Teenagers tend to want more of the expensive electronic and clothing gifts.
My stepdaughter is a teenager and a few years ago she wanted a new phone for Christmas. So she told both of her parents that she wanted a new phone. Her father and I knew right away that her having two phones would not work out. So both of her parents talked about the phone purchase and came to the conclusion that her other parent would purchase the phone gift for her. We would have loved to purchase that specific gift for her that year, however, my stepdaughter’s parents had to come to an agreement on who was going to take on the role of purchasing that phone for her. Because in the end it was about her, not us.
If you can co-parent with the other parent, discuss ways with each other on how you can make the holidays fair for the child, with each parent at both homes. Try to have each parent take turns buying that one special gift that they truly want. That way one home is not buying all the gifts the child wants.
Bonus: Talk to your child about gift giving and the reason behind it all. Let them know that receiving gifts is an exciting, generous time, especially if they have two homes. More love that they will give and get to receive.
3. Family holiday traditions
Holiday celebrations may look different if you have a blended family. There may be days that you have all of your children with you and some not. And that is okay. You cannot base your life off of a custody schedule. And though some of it will be painful, be prepared to let go of some of the activities that you may have once done all together.
Building new holiday traditions is a big part of making memories and keeping the cheerful spirit alive. One tradition that our family gets excited about is going to a local tree farm, finding the perfect sized tree for our home and cutting it down. The joys of surrounding ourselves with so many pine trees brings the little kid out in everybody.
Every year we cut down our tree the day after Thanksgiving. However, some years it is just my husband and I and our two boys. And other years, we have my husband and I and all three of our children with us. We keep this tradition alive every year on the same day no matter what the custody schedule looks like.
When we bring the tree home to decorate, and if my stepdaughter isn’t home with us, we leave out her ornaments to hang up so that way she still feels included on the tree decorating ceremony. It is good to keep your child included as much as you can so they do not feel left out.
4. Keep yourself busy
The holiday season can be a happy, and yet sometimes stressful, time. If you do not get to spend time with your children during the holiday season, keep yourself busy. Do not dwell over the memories that kept you happy in the past. Do not watch Christmas shows that you know your children would love to watch with you. Do not sit and wait for your children to come back home to keep you happy. Those may cause unhappy triggers inside of you. Go find something that you enjoy!
Go on a mini-vacation, take a road trip to a place you have always wanted to visit, volunteer at a shelter, go to a spa, or do something special that you want to do. This will not only help you, but your child as well!
5. Remain positive
No family is perfect. Co-parents may have their disagreements from time to time. However, try to stay as positive during the holidays as you can, without bringing your children into the already crazy picture.
If you have a good relationship with the other parent and can co-parent peacefully during the holidays, cheers to you!
In the New Year, give yourself some new co-parenting goals. Start each day with a blank page in the diary of your life and turn that new page day by day. Turn your story into the best story that you possibly can write for you, your children and your family.
Remember, just because things may seem hard right now, doesn’t mean that it has to remain this way forever. Happy Holidays from my big, beautiful, blended family!