Holidays can offer a big emotional challenge for blended families. This time of year is tough for every party involved, whether schedules have been decided by a judge or both bio-parents have managed to figure out a plan they agree on. In our family, we have each of these situations. Although there are benefits to having custody clearly spelled out, it is infinitely easier to enjoy flexibility and a great co-parenting relationship that benefits the children whenever possible.

In our home, all of the siblings stay together from the start of holiday break through either Christmas Eve at 5pm or Christmas Day at 12pm on alternating years. After that, all of the kids jet off to visit their other parent’s relatives for the remainder of the holiday break. It can be pretty heartbreaking to see their goodbye hugs to each other and their “I wish we could stay togethers” but we know that as soon as they leave, they have amazing trips and fun experiences that they will share with each other when they meet again.

The challenge for parents is always trying to squeeze in “enough” of the holiday traditions, to feel that we’ve gotten “our share” of the holiday and above all, to not stress the kids with the busy schedules at both homes or co-parent disagreements.

The first years as a blended family seemed to hold more of the need to get as much time with the kids as we could. There were heated discussions about schedules, exact drop-off times, presents and who had more quality time with the kids. As time has gone by and everyone has settled into their roles as co-parents, things have gotten much easier and infinitely more manageable.

Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:

1. Holiday traditions. After the break up of a family, some holiday traditions that were important to the kids may be lost. While we have kept some of our old traditions, we’ve also created our own unique, blended family ones. New traditions help to define and bond our blended family and give the kids a sense of belonging in their new world. The reading of Christmas stories by the fire, counting down Christmas with chocolates, setting up twinkling lights in their bedrooms while playing Christmas carols, all help to make their time together as siblings and as a family, special.

2. Gifts. Before birthdays and at the beginning of the holiday season, I conference with the kids’ dad and we usually help each other by discussing gift hints the kids have dropped in the other’s home. Any bigger ticket items we are thinking about purchasing (phones, gaming systems, etc.) we make sure to talk through and agree on set rules (ie no gaming during the week at either home). My rule of thumb is, if I would have had a discussion before buying it during our marriage, I need to discuss it now. After all, he is no less a parent now than he was then.

Oh, and there is absolutely no need to compete for gifts. In their new lives, the kids are already so spoiled by presents from twice as many people! For birthdays and at Christmas time, they receive gifts from us, from their dad, from my family, their dad’s family, and their stepdad’s family. Our kids tend to get overwhelmed by all of the presents and usually can’t even remember who got them what. Focus on your time with them instead.

3. Schedules. I am blessed with a co-parent who is extremely flexible. We try to always work together to find a compromise. If at all possible, give your co-parent some flexibility around the holidays. Is there a family Christmas party during their custodial weekend? Are cousins coming into town unexpectedly? Offer to trade the day or the weekend. Holding your child’s interest in your mind’s eye will help you do what’s best for their sake. Kids see everything and allowing them to see how well you are able to co-parent will help them feel less anxious, more secure and loved.

4. Don’t exclude. I always make sure to take lots of pictures during important experiences and send them to the bio-parents. It’s hard not to feel like you are “missing out” when the kids are having grand experiences without you. Pictures help keep the other parent involved and connected. There’s absolutely no reason to be selfish about your time with the kids. Remember, you CHOSE their mom or dad. If you allow your heightened emotions to rule, the only “losers” will be the children.

5. Take time to reconnect. It’s easy to get down when the kids are away but we have learned to “let go” and enjoy our alone time. When the kids are away, we work on home projects, have lots of date nights or plan a special trip ourselves. It’s important to focus not only on the health and security of your children after divorce, but yours as well. Prioritizing your marriage and developing deeper connections in your one-on-one relationship is crucial. The kids thrive in a happy, loving home so make sure it stays one!

Do you have tips for managing the holidays as a stepfamily? Leave them below or drop me a line  at [email protected]