Ah, the Holidays… the time of “peace on earth” right? Not for many families. The holidays are notoriously hectic for everyone, but for those of us with non-traditional families, this time of year can have an added layer of stress and drama.
Like lugging an extra 40 lbs. around, it’s an extra burden that we carry throughout this season. This is because families who deal with split households, co-parenting, and blended families already have strained relationships. The holidays amplify tensions that are already present. In my experience, there are two major factors that turn up the stress dial in an already tense situation. It all boils down to our two greatest commodities: time and money.
Everyone feels like they don’t have enough time to go around. The problem is, in non-traditional families, you no longer have 100% control over when you get to have your kids. Even custodial parents who have most of the control don’t have their kids for the entire holiday season. Blended families are extra stressful as they could be juggling 4 or more family schedules, not including the extended family. And since the holidays put extra pressure on gathering your loved ones (assuming you generally love your kids), then essentially everyone’s holiday expectations ride on your schedule which you only have partial control over. Never mind the fact that the kids double that craziness since they also have holiday celebrations on their other side of the family.
When you try and schedule your time with the kids, and then coordinate that with your various families, communication with your Ex gets testy and the kids can get pulled in the middle. When this situation brews, here are a few tips to help keep it from boiling over:
- Be kind to yourself. Relax a little. You are doing the best you can with the situation you have, which by its very nature is not ideal. How you treat yourself will inevitably affect how you treat your kids and others. Take a deep breath. Most things can be worked out.
- Communicate in writing, via email and/or text and only communicate about factual scheduling concerns. Do not engage in battle by throwing out historical hand grenades or demeaning opinions. If it contains “always” or “you never…” it’s out of bounds.
- Communicate requests in advance as much as possible so people can make plans.
- Never discuss these stresses with the kids, nor assign any blame. Instead, work things out as adults and then inform the kids of the plans without any emotional baggage. The kids will thank you for this later in life.
- What goes around comes around. I recommend being cooperative, with exceptions to the schedule, and helping one another out, within reason. It benefits your kids and comes around when you need a schedule adjustment.
The stage is set like a monopoly game. One of you is either in need of child support, or is paying child support. Either way there is tension. The most heated text message rants get started because one person thinks the situation is not fair and lobs text grenades into enemy lines. It’s not pretty, and the kids should never see this. Better yet, we should learn to avoid this scenario altogether.
To add to the tension, it’s now the time of year to spend the money, which you don’t have because you live in two separate households and are either the payor or the one who needs it. Now you ask the ex, “what are you going to get the kids for Christmas, so that we don’t duplicate gifts?” And you move your monopoly piece down a few squares and are fully wrapped up in the game. You wonder what the kids will think of you if their other parent gets them an iPhone, and you get them something less exciting? Do they get stockings at both homes? How do you explain that Santa either left presents at one house because he knew they were there, or he left presents at both houses and they are twice as lucky as normal kids? And that’s not to mention the extended family.
My kids celebrate 6 Christmases (some of which we combine). Have we become so concerned about keeping up appearances and making sure that we have gifts that compete in the competition and show that we love them (as if Christmas gifts are the way kids know they are loved)? And while we are moving pieces on the board, the kids make out like bandits at multiple Christmas events. It’s gotten as ridiculous as Black Friday boxing matches.
Here are some tips on managing the financial side of things:
- Follow the cardinal rule of co-parenting: never bad mouth the other parent. It only puts the kids in the middle and actually lowers the kids’ respect for you and eventually backfires.
- Focus on your own Christmas with them. Time and attention are more valuable than material presents.
- Be a creator of experiences together. Host family gatherings, involve them in the preparations, go cut down a real tree together. These are the things they will remember.
- If your kids are old enough, have a general budget conversation with them in the new year. We drew it up on a white board, money going in, and roughly what bills we pay each month and how much is left over. This helps with discussions when they ask for extra things (milkshakes, Starbucks, etc.). It also helps them better understand that discretionary money comes from the little we have left, and forces us all to choose how to use it.
Hopefully these tips will help bring a little more peace on earth, or at least peace in your home this year.
Do you have a blended family? What has helped you navigate the holidays?