News Release: School of Medicine

Dec. 3,  2008

Tips on Blending 'Blended Families' During the Holidays

News Article ImageDr. Nadine Kaslow

Holiday gatherings can become very complicated and confusing to children when there are moms and dads, step-moms and step-dads, and stepbrothers and stepsisters, not to mention a few extra grandparents to take into consideration. 

Nadine Kaslow, PhD, family psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, has some tips to help relieve the tension.

Kaslow advises that the adults, particularly the parents, speak with each other ahead of time to work out how things will be handled.

Below are some suggestions from Dr. Kaslow that may help with holiday planning:

  • Try to create different sets of rituals in each family and/or create rituals that everyone does together in a neutral place. 
  • If stepchildren are spending the holidays together, find ways to incorporate both sets of family rituals. Have a family talk and borrow from each to create a new tradition.
  • Make plans that are realistic. You may not be able to please everyone.
  • For stepchildren who are only together for special occasions, be realistic and have a low-key holiday. Don't expect everyone to connect. Be respectful and don't force it.  Plan to do things both together and separately, so that each child can have time to spend alone with the biological parent.
  • Involve the children in preparations such as making cookies, trimming the tree, putting up the lights, playing spin the dreidel or other Chanukah games.
  • Do not compete on the gifts -- collaborate. It is okay if children get different gifts, but be sure they have equal value to each child.
  • If the child and a biological parent have to be separated on the holiday, the parent should call the morning of the holiday and often again later in the day.
  • If it's practical, children can split the holiday by spending one week with one parent and one with the other. Or they can spend part of each holiday with both parents.
  • Resist the temptation of bringing up longstanding family problems or criticizing the ex-spouse/partner.
  • In some families, former partners and family members continue to get along well after the break-up. If that is the case, consider having a large gathering that includes everyone. This is particularly helpful to older children who have their own families and are conflicted about which parent gets them on which holiday.

"Most importantly of all, make children feel loved, wanted and comfortable in their surroundings," says Kaslow. "Keep the holidays as simple as possible, and give yourself the joy of having quality time with your family."

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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