Currently it’s estimated that more than 65% of all individuals in the United States are in some kind of step-family relationship, be that they are a step-parent, have a step-parent etc, and 40% of all families are currently blended relationships. The term that’s typically used for this is blended families, though some have started using the phrase alternative families.
And with the holidays quickly approaching, this means a substantial amount of the population is going to head into the most wonderful time of the year more stressed out than ever, since it’s time to pretend to be happy and get things ready for your pajamas-on social-media picture.
We’ve compiled a few holiday survival tips and tricks for people who are a part of a blended family at this most wonderful time of the year.
Focus on the Kids
First and foremost, if you’re reading this, you probably have a kid in your life that is a part of your blended family, and that’s a huge part of why we try to make holidays so special. Gone are the days when we, the cynical and jaded adult population, give into Christmas magic. Well, for kids, that’s just not true. Magic is everywhere.
When dealing with a blended family, one of the best things you can do is to focus on the kids. What would make their holiday season? What is special about the holidays for them? Sure, you probably have a lot of traditions you want to share, but focus on the little folks. What do they need? Is going to La Salette on Christmas Eve going to be too much and exhaust you all, making it a generally terrible time all around? Well, postpone it. It’s up through the New Year, anyway.
Embrace Others’ Traditions
I know that one of the reasons grown-ass adults turn into Scrooge as quickly as you can say Bob Cratchit isn’t because of the kids. It’s because you’ve got a set number of traditions you have to do each year. Well, great, but as I said, focusing on the kids in your life is important – so allow those traditions to be modified to make everyone feel more comfortable.
That being said, don’t abandon traditions, find ways to embrace them without being the person demanding they follow through. Blended families typically have a lot of voices in the room, you don’t have to scream to get yours heard. For example, my stepdaughter has one of those Elf on the Shelf things. Each year, we begrudgingly get the elf out, and by the end of the holidays, we love it and embrace its presence. That’s something special we do, (the elf has traveled with us, too, breaking all rules of Elf on the Shelf-dom) and if we had a holiday without it, there would be tears. On the flip side, my stepdaughter also watches White Christmas every year with her dad. I can’t stand the movie, but I don’t jump up and down and say we can’t watch it, I go along. I’m not going to fight someone over their tradition, or stop them from having fun.
The same goes for traditions across every blended family. Do the grandparents do something special each year? Try to make time for it. Did the alternative parent or step-parent do something since they were little? Try to make time for it. The holidays are not a one-tradition fits all, you have to diversify and make space for everyone.
That being said, understand that things change. Holiday schedules for blended families can be insane. For a kid, one of the best/worst parts of having a blended family is the potential to celebrate holidays multiple times with multiple sets of people – this can be exhausting for everyone involved.
So, be amenable to change! If something isn’t working, that’s absolutely fine. Take a step back, work on making new traditions. Find ways to meet everyone’s wants and needs, and honestly, with a cup of hot cocoa, who can be mad?
Additionally, please note that blended families can contain more than one religion or celebration, too. Does your step-child attend Hanukkah celebrations with one side of their family and Christmas celebrations with another? Great! Ask them questions, be informed, and take interest. Again, your job isn’t to sail the ship, but to help everyone get through the murky waters.
All-in-all, the way to survive the holidays is simple: Don’t be a dick. Not having the nuclear family that we’ve all been told is “normal” can already be difficult enough. Follow a few of the guidelines I’ve given and you, too, can make this holiday season one that’s fun, memorable, and full of light and laughter.
And even if you can’t, remember, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a cult classic for a reason.
Caitlin Howle (she/they) is a writer, professor, and small business owner in Rhode Island. Her hobbies include researching obscure history, arguing the need for the Oxford Comma and bothering her pug, Winston. Find her on Instagram @caitlinmoments.