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Holidays spent with family can be nourishing and necessary, but also wrought with heightened emotions and lifetimes of history. They can be healing, hurtful, or both.
The holidays can be especially challenging for blended families to navigate -- your child (or you) may bounce around to different family gatherings or miss them all together. Figuring out your holiday schedule can be more than nerve-wracking.
Whether your child's grandparents are divorced or you're co-parenting with your ex-partner or your partner's ex-partner, these tips will help you keep calm and carry on.
The earlier you can plan your holiday schedules and set expectations, the better. Preferably, you have a long-standing schedule that dictates which parents get which holidays according to the year. For example, a child may spend Christmas in odd years with his mother's family and even years with his father's family.
However, as children grow older, they may have their own ideas about how they'd prefer to spend their holiday. They may feel like they lack control over where they spend their time, so give them some of the power back over the holidays. Listen to them and you will gain their trust.
Even the best-laid plans require flexibility and compromise. Keep in mind that flexibility is most difficult when it's most important. Like stretching tight muscles, it hurts to make yourself more accommodating.
Create new traditions if you're unable to maintain your old ones. Shake things up: Make Santa's cookies the weekend before Christmas instead of on Christmas Eve, open presents on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas morning.
Amicable co-parents may even choose to get together for the holidays. A successful and inclusive gathering will become a cherished childhood memory for the younger generation, which is ultimately the reason for the season.
None of this is easy for any of us.
You may feel as if you're getting the bad end of the deal or that your agreement is unfair. If you can't see things from the other person's perspective, that's okay. But you can accept that their truth is different from yours, and it doesn't make either one of you right or wrong.
Most important, have empathy for the child who is bouncing between different households or missing beloved family celebrations altogether. If your child feels sad on a holiday because she's missing her other family, acknowledge her emotions without taking it personally or introducing guilt.
If you are that child, don't bend over backward (or spend most of Christmas driving back and forth) to make your parents happy. Take care of yourself and your own needs, too.
You may have to give up your idea of the perfect holiday. You may not be able to celebrate certain occasions in the same way your family did when you were young. Remember that change is the only constant in life. In the words of a famous Disney princess: Let it go!
Let situations exist without naming them as good or bad. Avoid complaining to your child about his other parent; criticizing your child's parent is just as harmful as criticizing your child. Venting to trusted confidantes can be healthy so long as you don't dwell on perceived injustices. Don't bottle up your anger, because holding onto negative emotions can be toxic to your health and your family. Get mad, and then get over it.
If you end up in conflict with family or former family members over the holidays, try not to play the blame game. The best way to move forward from a sticky situation is to take a step back and reflect on what you can learn in order to avoid the drama next year: planning, empathy, flexibility, or nonattachment?
For more advice on blended families, check out these resources:
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