Blending the Holidays: How To Embrace the Season as a Blended Family

By Alison Neihardt

The holidays are upon us. There are parties to plan, school activities to participate in
and gifts to purchase. Oh, the fun! For blended families though, finding cheer at this
time of year often requires both careful planning and flexibility.

Woes all around

For many blended families, holiday activities can be stressful for both adults and kids.
Kids worry about going back and forth, whom they’ll spend Thanksgiving with, or who
will come to their school parties. Adults fear the possible drama that holiday expectation and tradition can stir.

In the best-case scenario, both parents spend the holiday together or split the time, or
both parents come to the school holiday function. If they are pleasant with each other,
even from across the room, this is what kids hope for. This is what adults hope for.
This does not always happen though. Here are some tips to consider:

Communicate kindly

Try your best to be kind in the heat of the moment and not say or do something you
might regret. But avoid being a doormat—setting boundaries is important, too. There
are ways to stand your ground without being rude or nasty.


Be flexible with the other parent; setting your plans in stone does not help anyone. Talk
with others in your family to see what arrangements can be made so your children can
enjoy holidays with both sides of their family. The first year as a blended family or as a
newly separated family is usually the hardest.

Holidays are about spending time with family. Help your children understand that. Also, discuss with them that just because a holiday is on a certain date, that doesn’t mean it can’t be celebrated on a different day.

Keep a calendar

If you keep a calendar of family events, write what days your children will be at which
house. This serves as a visual reminder for them to know when they’ll be where.
Hopefully this also helps ease some of their anxious feelings.

Talk about gifts

Another issue that comes into play for holidays is gift-giving. Try to communicate with
your children’s other parent about what they will be giving for Christmas, Hanukkah, or
whatever holiday you may celebrate. At the very least, consider setting a budget so that
each parent’s amount of giving is equal.
Also, if you are able, allow your children to pick a gift out for their other parent. You
could even encourage them to make something.

Encourage and accept relationships

Blending families also means that there might be step-siblings, half-siblings, and other
step or half relationships. To children, they are just family. They should be able to love
them all the same. In fact, the holidays may be the only times your children see other
members of their family. Try to encourage these relationships at what can be a special
time of year.

Create new traditions

This is a chance to create new family traditions and activities. Holidays can be fun with
both parents, whether it’s making cookies at Dad’s house or watching “Elf” with Mom.
Discuss with your children what they would like to do for each holiday. Let them have
input so you know their needs. It is their holiday time too. Of course, court order
requirements are important points to explain to your child as best as possible.

Check in with your children

Be aware that the added stress of the season may cause your children to act out in
anger or frustration very easily. They may also be extra sensitive and tearful at times.
When you notice them seeming down or upset, acknowledge their behavior and the
feelings attached to it. Then be willing to discuss with your children what is bothering

Give your children time

Allow your children time to adjust as they come back into your home. Going back and
forth is not easy on a child the rest of the year, but during the holidays especially so.
They may be zonked after a holiday get-together, and they probably have not slept
much. They also, in some cases, might be leaving behind gifts they were just given at
their other parent’s house. All of this is stressful on a child.

Lean into the new

With careful communication, understanding, and a bit of flexibility, everyone can enjoy
the holidays. As it turns out, new traditions are just as good as the old, and today is
always a good day to make a memory—especially at the holidays.

By Alison Neihardt

Alison Neihardt is a local child therapist who has been in practice since 2008. Alison’s practice, Helping Kids Counseling Services, has locations in Traverse City and Kalkaska. She helps children and their families work through a wide variety of issues, including behavior concerns, divorce, and grief. Visit

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