As a child psychotherapist and as a child of a large blended family, I am aware of how important it is to thoughtfully plan the holidays when arranging time spent between two parents and often extended family as well. My childhood, from age two onward, involved holiday time with both parents, multiple sets of grandparents, and aunts, uncles, and friends. I was fortunate to have parents and step-parents that arranged holidays in an amicable, seamless way. Years of holiday seasons that could have been unpredictable and chaotic instead evolved into expected traditions. Here are a few tips to help other blended families make the holidays positive and enjoyable for all.
“If parents can work out an equitable balance of time, perhaps that alternates each year, then children can know what to expect, and they will feel a sense of balance and structure.“
- Come up with as much of a plan as possible, and do the planning behind the scenes. As a therapist, I cannot stress enough how important it is to protect children from witnessing any stress and tension between parents. Holiday planning can be very stressful, and that stress can be magnified when trying to determine how to share time with each other and other family and friends. If parents can work out an equitable balance of time, perhaps that alternates each year, then children can know what to expect, and they will feel a sense of balance and structure.
- Do not contrast, compare and grill for information about the other parent. Allow children to enjoy the holiday time without having to ‘report back’ on their experiences. Every holiday set up is going to be very different. If one parent heads to fast food instead of cooking, it is important to allow that to be ok. If children come home reporting those type of differences, allow them to vent, but also make sure that they know that you are ok with those differences. Sometimes children report back because they think the other parent needs or wants to hear the information based on past conflicts. It is important to allow them to be freed of that responsibility and to be able to relax and enjoy holiday time no matter what it looks like.
- Stick to the plan as much as possible each year. Plans can change, and some people are better at structure than others. If one parent tends to be more spontaneous, make attempts to discuss the value of structure and consistency with that parent (perhaps with the help of a third party). Ideally, that parent will learn the importance of planning and sticking to it for the sake of the children. In the meantime, the more reliable parent can work to set boundaries to protect the children from instability and disappointment. Let the children know the predictable plans and allow the other plans to be more open-ended. For example, do not tell the children the other parent is going to take them ice skating if the other parent often changes plans last minute. Instead, let them know that parent likes to decide things closer to the scheduled time, and that you will help them get ready appropriately when you know the plans.
- Finally, engage in self-care. The holidays can be exhausting. Make sure to relax and enjoy them too. Self-care may look like sitting by a fire with a book and a cup of tea, or it may mean letting something go like not cooking one night or not going to every party. It is important to find ways to refuel and recharge in order to operate from your best self and to be the parent and co-parent that you want to be.
Katherine Granberry, MA, LPC