By Guest Blogger Dionne Jenkins

The Christmas holiday is, by far, my favorite time of year. I love finding the perfect tree, decorating our home, and picking out the perfect gifts for my family. While the holidays are a time of joy and laughter for many, they can also be a source of stress and chaos, especially for blended families.

What should be one of the happiest times of the year is often overshadowed by custody arrangements and hurt feelings. But with trial and error, I have learned what works best to ensure that the holidays are a memorable time for our family – for the right reasons.

When I got married in 2009, I became a wife and a parent simultaneously. Early on, the holidays were, for lack of a better word, uncomfortable. It was especially tricky trying to navigate a shared holiday custody schedule. Mix in the stress of finding time to visit with both my and my husband’s immediate families, and it was a recipe for disaster. The “most wonderful time of the year” turned into the most stressful time of the year. But it does not have to be that way. With a little planning and intentionality, blended families can enjoy a holiday without a hitch.

Below are five tips on how I learned to survive the holiday season. I hope it helps other blended families.

Plan, plan, plan.

Looking back, I am reminded of the old adage: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  You wouldn’t take a trip to Disney World on a whim, would you? Of course not! Likewise, I have found that when you plan your holidays, they run a lot smoother; especially if there’s a custody order in play. Once you develop your holiday plan, it’s equally as important to communicate the plan to your extended family so that they know what to expect and don’t make unreasonable demands on your time.

Involve your extended family in the occasion.

I do not have children of my own; my stepdaughter is my only “child.” So, when my stepdaughter would come with us to my hometown, it was important to me that she felt welcomed and accepted by my family (her extended family) as well.  When my family exchanged gifts, they would include her in the gift-giving. It is extremely important to the success of any blended family situation for the children to feel accepted on both sides. Personally, I feel that the more family love – either biological or extended – the better.

Be understanding and open-minded.

Custody arrangements can be tough for children. When they are young, they just do not understand what’s going on or why. It is only natural for a child to want to be with their biological parent or other siblings over the holidays because that’s where they are comfortable. Be patient with your stepchild if they express some hesitancy with going to “mom’s house” or “dad’s house” during the holiday times. Don’t make the holidays all about the custody arrangements and don’t waste time griping and complaining about the visitation schedule. Also, it is never a good idea to speak negatively about the other parent in the presence of the child, especially around the holidays.

Create your own family holiday traditions.

To “blend” means to mix, combine, or mingle together. So, by definition, a blended family is a family that is mixed, mingled, and combined as a one. Like many blended families, my husband alternates his holiday time with his daughter every other year. So, in the years where my stepdaughter is with us for Thanksgiving, we have a tradition of picking out the Christmas tree the day after. In the years where she is with us on Christmas Eve, we usually stay up late drinking some of my homemade hot chocolate and watching movies. If there are siblings, that is even more of a reason to create holiday traditions that are unique and special to only your family. This will also help ease those awkward feelings I talked about before. These are the memories that will last a lifetime.

Come together.

While managing a blended family situation can be tricky, consider burying the hatchet and coming together for the holidays. As I mentioned before, it can be awkward for children not to spend the holidays with their parents and siblings. It might help ease some tensions to come together with the other parent, even for a brief time, over the holidays. I am fortunate to have a relationship with my stepdaughter’s mother such that we can come together during holidays, birthdays, and special events for the sake of our daughter. Children learn by example and they benefit by seeing their parents and stepparents practicing acceptance, kindness and love.

Being a stepmom is both challenging and rewarding. It is a relationship that I have been working on for thirteen years and I am still not perfect at it. I have learned many lessons about step-parenthood over the years. But with each year, and each holiday season, I get better and better. As a step-parent, I strongly believe that self-care is important to keep your sanity during the holidays. By keeping these tips in mind, you, too, can have a splendid, blended holiday season!

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