Navigating the Holidays with Large and Blended Families

Navigating the HolidaysWhen I was younger, I LOVED Christmas. I can quote almost all of Christmas Vacation from memory and have been known to kick off Christmas stations on Pandora as soon as the leaves begin to change.

I began to love Christmas with a little less of my heart a few years ago, though, when the gift-buying and scheduling started to overwhelm me. I have three stepkids, family spread out all over the country, and my husband’s parents are divorced. What does that mean? For starters, we only have half of the time from school breaks to work with because our big kids spend half of that time with their mom. Next, we have numerous sets of grandparents to try to make sure we see for each major holiday, along with larger gatherings for more extended family–sometimes out of state. Add in other people’s schedules and our toddlers’ nap schedules . . . well, I’m already in a cold sweat, and I’m just typing about it nearly three months out. It’s never easy, and sometimes it’s downright impossible.

Two years ago (or, as I like to call it, “The Christmas that Fourth of July Became My Favorite Holiday”), things exploded. My husband and I decided that we would like to take our three oldest children (my stepkids) to Disneyland for their Christmas present. We set about finding affordable airfare and dates that would work around their time with their mom for the holidays. It all fell into place, magically . . . until we started trying to plan our get-togethers with the rest of the family. Among our obligations and our family members’ obligations, it seemed we wouldn’t be able to get together for Christmas until early January. No one was happy. Ultimately, we were able to work something out, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons that year (and in other years).

First and foremost, be flexible. Christmas celebrations don’t have to happen on Christmas, or even Christmas week. So long as you’re all together (preferably not stressed beyond enjoyment), that’s all that matters. Forcing it at an extremely inconvenient time will only add stress.

Think outside the box. This follows from being flexible, really. Get creative with your scheduling and locations of events. One of my friends recently told me that one year, she rented the clubhouse in her neighborhood for several days and scheduled family get-togethers there in shifts. Personally, I think this is brilliant. I haven’t gone that far, but I have taken to hosting far more events at my house to allow for the fun to continue while the toddlers nap peacefully in their beds. It might mean a messy house, but let’s be honest–my house was never that clean to begin with. I have also started combining events when possible, such as inviting my parents to join us Christmas Eve dinner and church, rather than trying to stop by their house for a second or third trip on Christmas day.

Communicate early. As I type this, I’m wondering if it’s too early to start planning. In our situation, we have to plan in stages–first, figuring out when we’ll have the big kids, and then working in family events around the younger children’s naps, work, travel, and the older kids’ activities. Without fail, each year we’ll end up trading additional days with the kids’ mom to make the holidays schedules work on both our ends, but it helps to have at least a starting place to work from. The sooner that we can get things on the calendar with our families, then, the less likely it is to sneak up on us when we’ve scheduled ourselves completely out of free time before New Year’s.

Also, if you have a major event or trip that’s going to bog down your holiday schedule, put it right out there for your family to know. The more they know about what you’re working with, the more likely they are to be flexible and understanding.

Be willing to compromise. I’ve had to learn to look at the big picture of the holidays, and sometimes that means giving up things I really want to do–like an evening at the Nutcracker or lunch with extended family before we returned home. You can’t have it all, so just focus on what’s most important and getting in some quality time with everyone who matters.

Be understanding. Remember that the holidays don’t revolve around you, and try to keep in mind the obligations others are facing. For example, the holidays are especially challenging for those couples with small children who need to nap. Some people are completely giving up seeing certain family members in order to see the other side on a given year. We’re all fighting our own holiday battles, so the sooner we become more understanding, the better.

With the above in mind, let’s crack open a jug of eggnog and let the merriment begin!

holidays and blended families

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