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Surviving your blended or extended family this winter break

30 Nov

If your family is a blended or extended one, navigating Christmas can be a minefield, here are my tips on how to have a good one.

Toy campervan with a toy Christmas tree tied to the roof

My parents divorced when I was two so I have no memories of a Christmas with them together, arguably this is easier as I didn’t know anything different. As a child, I loved the fact I got two Christmas’  but as I have got older, it has become more complicated. As the youngest in my blended family, once I was old enough to drive I spent many years moving between parents and trying to coordinate seeing my siblings over the Christmas holidays. This usually resulted in me driving around trying to see everyone and feeling exhausted. 

Now I have my own family, and to make things more tricky my husband's parents are also divorced, trying to see my parents, siblings, nieces/nephews as well as two sets of in-laws is certainly proving to be a challenge. Here is what I’ve learned (the hard way) about Christmas and how to navigate it. Not all of these approaches are easy to implement, expectations can be great and change is not something people relish but it is necessary in order to enjoy the festive period and enter the new year refreshed rather than worn out. 

Do’s and don’ts

Plan early. 

Planning is essential, don’t leave it to the last minute. Give people plenty of notice so you avoid causing disappointments in the lead-up to Christmas. We have been known to firm up our plan at the start of autumn. 

Ask yourself how you want to spend Christmas. 

As humans, we are prone to people pleasing and at Christmas, with more demands on your time than ever, it can be tricky to navigate. Remember it’s your Christmas too. Step back and ask yourself what you enjoy about Christmas and what you don’t. Then make a plan to include the things you love and drop the things you don’t. For my husband and  I, we realised we don’t like travelling around visiting family, so this year we have decided to spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day in one place and see family on the other days that fall on either side. 

Don’t get into patterns that allow for assumptions. 

Being the youngest I was able to learn from my older siblings and have deliberately avoided any pattern which sets expectations of who I am supposed to spend Christmas with. However, if you are already in a Christmas pattern and not happy with it, feel free to change it. Once you’ve decided what you want to do, tell everyone early so they can make other plans – be kind but firm. You will most likely be met with resistance in the first year, but it will be worth it for future Christmases.

Create your own traditions. 

An issue all families face, regardless of their shape, size or blend, is what to do when a couple gets together or has children. Suddenly the Grandparents become extended not nuclear and juggling two extended families' expectations can be challenging. However, it is also an opportunity for you to create your own traditions. Discuss with your partner, and if appropriate your kids, what they would like to do and make your own traditions using the best of both families. 

It is about a period of time, not one day. 

When your family is blended it is not possible to see everyone in one day so make arrangements to see them on other days over the festive season. 

Don’t over-commit. 

Space it out and don’t over-commit, the festive season can be as long as you want to make it – one week, the whole month of December or simply the day itself. And if some people have to be moved into November, or the New Year, so be it. 

Make time for yourself. 

Whilst making your plans for Christmas make time for yourself, there is nothing worse than running around non-stop seeing family only to return to work for a break. Don’t start the New Year exhausted, get in some me time, treat yourself, get outdoors, have a bath, meditate – whatever works for you. It will also help you deal with family events without losing your cool. 

Woman walking away down a snow covered tree lined road

Set boundaries. 

Family can be overwhelming at the best of times, but Christmas seems to take that to another level. So, if you know you love your [insert family member] but only in small doses, create some boundaries and plan accordingly. Don’t put yourself under pressure to meet others' expectations, it is better to see them for a short time and enjoy it than having a prolonged period of anxiety. 

I hope you find this helpful and that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. 


Nichole x

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