Five Tips for Fostering Healthy Relationships in Blended Families During the Holiday Season

The holidays are a stressful time of year, and they can be extra stressful for blended families trying to plan for pick-ups and drop-offs, attempting to maintain sacred traditions while creating new ones, and hoping to respect the emotions running high while prepping for big gatherings. It can be hard for parents to do it all as they try to keep their sanity, but it can also be hard for kids who once cherished something that is no longer their reality. Even though time passes and hearts heal, there are some memories, traditions, songs, and other things that might spark some big emotions in your child.

As you consider how you’re going to be more mindful about navigating this holiday season, here are five parenting dos for blended families during the holiday season.

1. Do make new traditions together.

The holidays are about family, spending time together, and connecting. What better way to connect than through a new family tradition? This is a great way to invite input from the kids and have all members of the family invested in what happens next. It doesn’t have to be something grand like decorating the tree together or a themed family photo session. It can be something as simple and organic as cooking together more often or singing your favorite holiday songs together.

Note: If the kids aren’t ready to start something new, that’s okay! Instead, pay close attention to the little things you notice them doing like humming a specific song or noting a snack you’ve seen them reach for since the holiday season began. It’s those little things that will make a world of difference for them.

2. Do allow your kids the space to share favorite memories from the past when they come up organically.

As a former classroom teacher, one question that came up a lot during the holidays was, “What’s one of your favorite family traditions?” While well-meaning, the question can bring up a lot of emotions for kids, even our older ones who swear they “don’t care.” If it comes up organically, acknowledge the beauty of the memory that they so openly shared.

Be mindful of asking follow-up questions and instead opt for something a little more open-ended like, “I’d love to hear more about that if you’re open to sharing.”

3. Do hold space for big emotions such as anger, frustration, and sadness.

Notice that your child is having extra big emotions or behavior that seems out of the norm during the holidays? It may be the holidays triggering something, and it makes sense. The holidays can bring up a lot for our kids such as fond memories of what was or an unpleasant reminder of abandonment by another caregiver. Their memories of the past might be completely different from yours, so tread carefully in trying to make a case and instead hold space for them to share and feel.

Allow them to let those emotions out. If able, hold them if they’re open to it, validate the emotion (“You’re angry and I get it.”), mirror their facial expressions, hum their favorite tune, do something that lets them know they are in a safe space with you to feel what they need to feel. If it brings up something for you or from your own childhood, make sure to give yourself the space you need to feel as well.

4. Do seek professional support if you need to.

I truly believe that when it comes to raising a family, it takes a village. Sometimes that village is outside support and that’s okay. If you notice that your child is in distress or is displaying an emotion much more intensely than they have in the past, talk to your healthcare provider about next steps, reach out to a local therapist, or connect with your child’s school counselor/social worker for guidance and support.

5. Do tend to yourself and your needs as well… I’d even say tend to yours FIRST.

Being a parent is HARD, and not much gets easier as kids get older. Remember that you cannot hold space, be your authentic self, or have enough to give if your capacity is low. Seriously… what would you have left? Just the bits and pieces that are left before you lose your mind. (Been there, done that.) Give yourself grace during the holidays and put your sanity and needs on the front burner.

Practice some deep breathing, go for a walk by yourself if you can (or with your little ones in the stroller), listen to a song you like with your eyes closed, dance, ask for support from a friend or family member, take something off your plate, literally anything that prioritizes YOU. If you need a reminder that your needs matter, watch this short reel.

BONUS TIP: Don’t take things that are said/done by the kids too personally.

It’s easy to think that whatever they did or said was about you, but it’s not. In fact, it likely has nothing to do with you and has more to do with the emotions they’re experiencing, the internalized beliefs they may have formed from the situation, the thoughts they’re believing (because they’re kids and we all know how negative thoughts can take us in a downward spiral… even as adults), or even the context of the situation.

Hold space for them (like mentioned above) and explore with them at a calmer time when they’re ready and open to sharing with you.

Jeri-Ashley (she/her/ella) is a proud San Antonio native and mama to multiples (Charlie-2021, Ofilia-2019, Mia-2010). She holds her B.A. in Sociology from St. Mary's University and an M.S. in Education from Johns Hopkins University. Jeri-Ashley is a parent coach, small business owner, full-time educator, and community advocate. She has worked with school-aged children, parents, and educators for over 10 years, focusing on providing each with the tools to be more mindful in creating strong, healthy relationships, while also maximizing each individual's strengths. Her love and passion for serving others goes beyond creating change in education and into service in the San Antonio community where she has served on the board for New Leaders Council SA, works on community-driven initiatives through Latinx Noise, and provides workshops on mindful parenting through her small business The Mindfulness Co. You can catch her on the daily over on her IG @JeriTheMindfulMama sharing parenting tips, mindfulness practices, and raw motherhood experiences. Favorite Restaurant: Panchitos (Zarzamora location) Favorite Landmark: Woodlawn Lake Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Dia de los Muertos weekend