If you live in a step-family, then you know that navigating the holidays when you live in a blender poses special challenges. But it doesn’t have to be horrible. Here are five tips you can apply to make your holiday season merrier.

(1) Don’t resent the custody situation – deal with it. It can be tough to establish new traditions and reconnect with old ones when you share split custody over the holidays, which is common in step-families. Last year my husband’s ex-wife had the kids for Christmas and they went out of town to visit her family. My husband and I spent our first Christmas as a married couple with my family in another city minus his three children. It was sad to be without the kids, but our trip helped him understand the traditions that I value.

(2) Form realistic expectations. Talk with the kids and your spouse about what should happen. All of the holiday bustle, can make engineering “the perfect holiday” appear seductively easy. Unfortunately forcing your step-family to conform to a Norman Rockwell painting is more likely to create resentment then rejoicing. So go easy on everyone and yourself by forming realistic expectations. Because it’s “our year” to have the kids wake up at our home on the big day, we’ve been talking with the kids about Christmas morning. It’s been an exciting time to share what we all value.

(3) Don’t be afraid to establish new traditions. We’re establishing a new tradition by hosting dinner for my husband’s extended family in the afternoon on Christmas day. It’s a new event that won’t function in the shadow of my husband’s ex-wife, who is still included in his family’s Christmas Eve celebration (I’ll be discussing dealing with tricky in-laws like mine next week). Explaining her exclusion from our Christmas dinner to my husband’s sisters was the equivalent of a nuclear arms treaty negotiation, but my husband held his ground.

(4) Conserve time and plan well. Not having a plan for the holidays is like stomping into an emotional minefield without a map. Everyone wants to spend time with the kids on the big day. We eliminated a third trip to another house for the kids by inviting their grandmother to our house to open gifts with them and she’ll stay for dinner. Our dinner was scheduled to accommodate the time the kids are going over to their mom’s house – enabling her to make plans.

(5) Remember what you value and find ways to connect to it. Identify the touchstones that you value about the holidays and share them with your spouse. In my family, attending church on Christmas Eve is very important, so that’s being added to the line-up for us, even though it means cutting short time with his family. I’ve tried to focus on living out the values I hold dear. It’s given me a sense of control (because as a stepparent there are lots of things I can’t control!) and helped me emerge from the holiday blues with new energy.

I’ve placed on my website a holiday survival guide with links to articles to help step-families sorting out thorny issues. The holidays are hectic for everyone, but they don’t have to be horrible for blended families. Don’t stress out – shine!

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