A Blended Families Holiday: The Survival Guide

Surviving the holidays can be tough—between family gatherings, shopping and parties, 'tis the season for a strain on your time, energy and wallet. More often than not, these family-centered holidays pit exes against each other in the battle of the blended families, each wanting time with their little ones during this magical time of year.

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Modern Family

Today, more and more households are straying from the nuclear family model, especially in the United States. In fact, the 2000 census bureau indicates that 67 percent of all families are "blended," or include a couple coming together with children from previous relationships. The pressure of blended family dynamics heightens during the holiday season, as couples struggle to bring their kids together, while still appeasing their exes—who, no doubt, also want time with the little ones.

With so much pressure, blended holidays are classic highways to tension and meltdowns. However, a little bit of planning can go a long way in easing the stress and reducing the anxiety. Here are six tips to help everyone enjoy the holidays—without the headache.

Creative Scheduling

One of the biggest sources of holiday stress is trying to pack everything into one day. To ease the scheduling strain, try moving events to another day that won't conflict with other plans, and emphasize making it special. For example, hold your Thanksgiving feast following Black Friday shopping, or exchange presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning.

New (and Old) Traditions

One way to make a new stepfamily feel like a unit is to establish traditions together. To minimize tension, try to choose activities that don't conflict with any established traditions that your kid's accustomed to—such as helping dad find and chop down the perfect Douglas fir—or they might interpret the new activity as an effort to replace the old. Instead, think up new family-centric activities, such as trimming the tree together, baking cookies or other treats, and decorating gingerbread houses as a family.

Prepare to Compromise

Setting unrealistic expectations is a recipe for failure in any family, let alone a blended one. Know in advance that everything might not go exactly as planned. Instead of flipping out when scheduling conflicts make your stepchildren late for Christmas mass, tell everyone in advance that they're welcome to attend a later service if it better suits their agenda. Accommodations like this will help keep you all relaxed and stress-free.

Respect Beliefs

Blended families sometimes mean the marriage of two belief systems, complete with their own customs, food, celebrations and traditions. If your new spouse is Jewish and you're a devout Catholic, find ways to incorporate traditional Hanukkah dishes, such as latkes and blintzes, into your Christmas dinner—and skip the honey-glazed ham. Incorporating new religious rituals into your tried and true traditions encourages kids to be open-minded and accepting of people who worship differently.

Give Back

If holiday pressures become overwhelming, consider volunteering with the family to help keep everything in perspective. Prepare a meal with for a family in need, invest in Toys for Tots, or serve up food at a local soup kitchen during holiday hours. Taking the time to consider others helps everyone step back from immediate pressures and remember the true spirit of the holidays. This in turn can remind your blended clan to be more flexible and understanding when tensions flare.

Gift Budget

Although talking money during the holidays can be awkward, it's especially important to do in a blended family, as parents might be accustomed to spending different amounts on presents for the kids. Several months before the holiday season, sit down with your spouse and agree to stick to a financial limit you're both comfortable with when buying gifts for the family. Whether it's $50 or $500, establishing these financial "ground rules" will help avoid jealousy among new siblings and make each child feel special.

Seasonal Flexibility

Though blended holiday celebrations can be a prickly time for all involved, the tips above will help turn down the level of anxiety and set the stage for years to come. If chaos ensues, take a deep breath, relax, and roll with the punches. Holidays are time for spending quality time with the people you love, and that should remain the focal point—regardless of hiccups along the way.

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