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How To Survive Any Holiday With Divorced And Step Parents

Updated on February 7, 2013

Holidays Can Be A Stressful Time For Divorced Parents When Children Are Involved

Even for "normal" family units of two married parents with children Christmas can be a stressful time of year. But what if your family doesn't fit the "normal" mould? For example, you might have two parents that are divorced, step-parents, step-siblings and maybe half-siblings too. With a complicated family how do you decide what to do during the holidays? You can't show favoritism, be selfish, or demand anything otherwise you could upset a very delicate balance: planning and compromise is the key.

My parents have been divorced for about 5 years now and we have come to fairly good arrangement for dealing with Christmas and other holidays. This is going to be my experience of how my sister and I, along with our parents, step-parents and other extended family members deal with the holidays.

Please remember that this is my experience only and that if you take my advice it should be adapted for your own family means and what works for my family may not work for yours.

Adults: Plan Ahead of Time

Well before you start to get in the festive mood you should be speaking with your children and other family members, especially the other parent to organize a schedule for the holidays. My family normally has everything organized around October and everyone knows what the plan is. The tips that we follow are:

  • Communicate either in person, phone, or email
  • Ask when people are available, including the children
  • Decide how long you will spend with each other
  • Decide who will spend Christmas together and who will have the second celebration (rotate this on a yearly basis or with other holidays such as Thanks Giving)

Adults: Visiting Schedule

To give you an idea of how my family do things I will give a run down of our schedule. There are two children (now adults), two parents and two step-parents and we have to decide who will spend what with whom. There are also grand- and step-grandparents to worry about too, but here's what we do:

  • As I live away from home at the moment I take the initiative to organize Christmas.
  • I book about a week and a half off from work and tell my parents that I will spend equal time with them.
  • Before going back home I will have an early Christmas with my Granny
  • When I go home I will stay with my Mum either side of Christmas and on Christmas morning
  • For the rest of Christmas day my sister and I will go down to my Dad's and stay there for a few days and go hunting on Boxing Day
  • I then go back to Mum's for a couple of days and head back to my place

Adults: Planning Presents

Another reason why communication is key: you might end up buying duplicate presents! Get together with the other parent(s) and decide who will be buying what, ask your child(ren) as well as they might have a great idea on how to work things out.

Start thinking about it sometime in October that way all parties involved will have plenty of time to communicate their wishes and figure out what is best of their child(ren).

Adults: Involving Your Children With Decisions

As I mentioned above, ask your child(ren) what they want. By asking them they will feel involved in the decision making and also part of the family. Not only will it be developing some of their skills but it will also make them feel loved.

Remember, when talking about the other parent(s) ALWAYS say nice or neutral statements, NEVER something bad or negative as this will seem to the child(ren) that you are forcing them to take sides. Children will always love both of their parents and it is unfair to inflict that sort of emotional response on to them.

Adults: Informing Other Family and Friends

It is not only the other parent that needs to be spoken with but also other relatives. For example, there may be step-parents, half-siblings, step-siblings, step- aunties, uncles, and grandparents as well as the blood family side (aunties, uncles and grandparents) and everyone will want to see the children.

Depending on how close (emotionally) everyone is will determine who will want to see whom over the holidays. Assuming that everyone wants to see their relatives then planning must take priority to ensure that no-one is left out or put into an uncomfortable situation.


Advice For Children

This section is going to be advice for children and what they can do or expect to happen over Christmas.

Children: Where Do You Want To Be At Christmas

In my family we have a split Christmas day but in some other families they will have two Christmas days, especially if one parent lives far away. Luckily my parents only live about 3 miles from each other so we spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with Mum and the Christmas afternoon and Boxing Day with Dad.

We got to this system after trying out some others, like Dad coming over to Mum's for Christmas but that just got awkward so they sat down with me and my sister and we came up with the new plan. We have been using it for at least the last 4 years (it works with other family celebrations too) and it works really well for us.

The reason it works for us is because we all sat down and had a polite conversation about what does and doesn't work for each person. Because we were able to talk about it without fighting or feeling jealous we came to this great decision.

This is why it is important to talk to your parents and tell them where and what you want to do for Christmas, it might make it a bit easier on your parents if they have trouble talking to each other at the moment.

Children: The Gift List

I've found that getting a gift list is a great idea to help out our parents. By giving them a list of some things that you would like it takes off some of the pressure for them. It will also mean that they can talk to each other and decide which parent will get you which present. You can help them out even further by giving them separate lists.

Children: Expect Some Tension

I know this is not a nice thing to talk about but expect some tension from your parents over Christmas, especially if this is the first year that you are not spending Christmas together.

Parents can often find it difficult to talk to each other about certain things when they have got a divorce and it can also mean the their emotions might start to come to the surface around the holidays. Just let them know that you love them both and that it's ok, they don't have to force conversation, or they can go early if they need to.

Fortunately with my parents they can now talk to each about most things and are actually on good terms again but to start with there was a lot of anger and mixed emotions. Over time things got better as they began to move on with their lives. Things will also get better for your family too, it just needs some time if things are bad now.

Children: Tell Your Parents Your Feelings

Parents can sometimes get caught up in their own feelings and forget that everyone else also have feelings. If something isn't right and it's making you sad or upset then tell your parents so that they can make it better. However, if something is good, or making you happy them tell them as well so that they know they are doing it right and can keep doing it again and again.

It can sometimes be difficult to talk to your parents, if it seems like they're not listening then get them to sit down with you so that you can talk properly. This can be done with both parents in one go or it might be easier to talk to them separately. Just make sure that they understand what you are saying and ask them what they are going to do next.

Children: Appreciate Your Parents

Divorce can be messy and a very upsetting and stressful time for both you and your parents. Sometimes it might feel that your parents aren't there for you as much as they used to be, but don't worry things will get better over time when they've managed to sort some things out between them.

In the mean time be sure to appreciate the things that your parents can do for you and let them know by saying thanks or even a quick hug. They might make you lunch or do your extra washing, just little things like that and saying thanks or a hug can make all the difference to their day. It will also make them want to do more nice things for you in the future too.

Surviving The Holidays With A Blended Family (Part 1)

The main thing to keep in mind is that you need plenty of preparation to get through the holidays. You might still find that there is still raw feelings, arguments break out, there will be tears but keep an open mind and keep communication lines open so that you can talk it through with everyone.

Even when divorces have gone through there can still be a lot of hate and resentment between two people especially when it comes to raising a child. I know it's easier said than done but if possible try not to fight or if you are having a disagreement take it away from the children. To make it easier plan ahead who will have them, for how long, and where they will be - stick to the schedule to make it fair on everyone.

Stress is a large factor in the holidays so make sure to talk with everyone to discuss the expectations of the family. The most important people you need to speak with is your spouse and your (step)kids. You'll need to discuss finance, visitations, who will have presents/cards/phone calls, who will be coming to visit, and any other planning preparations for the holidays. If this is not planned out in advance then take time to do that now otherwise you will have more stress than you need!

Survival Summary For Parents

To make things a bit easier follow these guidelines:

  • Plan ahead of time
  • Make it very clear who will be visiting, where, when, and for how long
  • When children are involved plan ahead the presents they will receive with the other parent - it's no good getting duplicate presents or something that the child really doesn't want
  • Don't forget to ask you child what they want to do, it's important that they feel part of the family and have a say in their happiness
  • If you have other family or friends coming round let them know who will be around when they come to visit.

With these guidelines in place your should have a relatively stress free Christmas (aside the normal stressful things).

Survival Summary For Children

When it comes to spending time with your folks at Christmas it can start to become stressful and awkward if your parents no longer live together. You might also feel a bit isolated at school and other areas of your life if others comment that you wont have a "proper" Christmas. Don't worry though, everyone's Christmases are different and you wont be the exception. If you follow these tips you'll find that you will have a good time with both parents.

  • Tell your parents where you want to be over Christmas
  • Get together a gift list (things that you would like) and give it to both parents; they can either decide between them what they can get or you could help them out by putting their name next to a present
  • Expect a little bit of tension, especially at first. If this is your first or second Christmas where your parents are apart then your parents might be a little bit uncomfortable around each other if they are dropping you off
  • Tell your parents when you are happy or unhappy, they will appreciate the feedback and can do even better next time
  • Even if things aren't going that great let them know that you loved the effort they made.

Split Holidays

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This hub is based on my own experiences and how I dealt with certain issues within my family. Every family is different and if you decide to look at my advice you should adapt it to meet your certain needs and never do something that you are uncomfortable doing.

If you have any questions then please leave me a comment or personal message and I will do my best to answer your questions.

What are your experiences like?

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    • LetitiaFT profile image


      6 years ago from Paris via California

      This is excellent advice. I have neither children nor step parents, and it's still difficult to work out, compounded by the fact I live abroad and only get back once a year. Nevertheless your advice about making things clear ahead of time is helpful. I'm sure it makes it easier on everyone.


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