This year we will have fourteen people at our Christmas dinner table. This includes my mom and her husband, as well as our six kids plus four of their significant others. I can only imagine the additional pandemonium at our home once grandkids are part of the picture. It is fun to have a buzzing household and I’m so grateful for the jubilant chaos.
But for the kids – we are only one house on their yearly holiday tour of homes. Lily and Fin are celebrating Hanukkah with their dad, Zach, Jake, Elle, and Matt are going to their moms for Christmas Eve dinner, and then there are their partners’ family festivities to attend as well. Elle is hauling back to St. Augustine right after our meal to celebrate with Tommy’s family. Sometimes it feels like we all need a flowchart to orchestrate the comings and goings.
Managing blended family responsibilities during the holidays can be a challenge for many people. There is a reason that the movie Four Christmases resonates with so many of us. There are lots of different traditions, personalities, and negotiating schedules to keep things clicking along. I know in years past; I have slumped into an ‘*expletive* this season’ frame of mind. It is easy to do when there is so much pressure to make everything perfect. BUT… the goal is for everyone to be able to enjoy their family and friends while trying to make this time of year as joyful and frustration-free as possible.
I’ve put together a few short tips on how to better go-with-the-flow this season even if you have a circus of characters in your blended family.
1. Forget about perfect. It is the small, little mishaps that we all laugh about later. So don’t sweat the cat-destroyed Christmas tree, burned grass from a faulty firepit (it has come back beautifully by the way), and forgotten gift. If we aren’t striving for the Martha Stewart experience, we will be able to just enjoy the experience.
2. No matter how much you want to – you can’t control how other family members are going to behave. There can be bitterness and hurt when families break up and new family members join in. This is but a moment in time and the one thing I can promise is that things will change. Where you are this season will not be where you are next season or the one after that. Focus on fostering love and respect within your family because that is all you have control over.
3. Speaking of respect; be gracious to your children’s other families and obligations. Just as in divorce, when we put kids in the middle they are in a no-win situation. This isn’t the time to guilt them into spending more time with you or play tit-for-tat with their other parent. Learn to trust in quality over quantity.
4. Try to plan as much ahead of time as possible. This allows kids to better navigate the chaos and leaves less room for anticipatory anxiety. The Hanukkah / Christmas timeshare has certainly had its advantages; however, rotating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day each year takes a lot of the negations and guessing out of the equation.
5. Be open to creating new holiday traditions. Flexibility keeps us from being disappointed when things don’t go just as planned, or just as they have in previous years. Make a list of things that might be fun. We added a hot chocolate bar and looking at Christmas lights as a big group a few years ago and it has been wonderful. This year we may take the Christmas light journey by boat to change it up. Let things evolve and grow with your family.
6. Make sure to ask your family members about what traditions they love and don’t want to let go of. Everyone gets a vote and try to continue cherishing things that feel familiar and comforting to your loved ones.
7. Simplify things whenever you can. We started having the kids do a Secret Santa gift exchange, so it wasn’t as stressful for them to figure out what to buy for all their siblings (because there are more siblings for them in their other parents’ family). Over Thanksgiving we have started drawing names. This way they have some time to think about what to get each other. I also started doing more of a single big-ticket item for the kids (which, I realize, is only realistic with older kids – but refer back to #2 on things changing every year). I did all my wrapping in ONE night this year because of this new tradition. What a time-save.
8. Take a moment to share with your family what you are grateful for. Gratuity lists are touted over and over because THEY WORK. If we pay attention to the things that we appreciate, that is what we will notice. Classic Grinch wisdom, “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!”