Holiday Season Strategies

Adele Cornish, BSW

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Step or blended families present a fresh beginning for a couple and their children. Blended families provide new opportunities to build family traditions after the loss they have evolved out of (death, divorce or separation).  A single adult or parent can again enjoy the support of another adult alongside them and their children acquire another role model and possibly step siblings. 

With little information available to tackle the unique needs of step or blended families, it’s easy to see why these couples often find themselves unprepared to cope with the complex challenges they face.  When children are around home over the holiday season the challenges are often highlighted. 

During the holiday season many children in blended families are faced with the turmoil of transitioning from one parent to the other.  These little people have been through the devastation of losing their biological parent’s relationship through divorce or separation and need help and reassurance to cope with constant change.  As parents, stepfathers or stepmoms we need to empathise with their experience.  They have to process their feelings and emotions while adjusting to each family every time they visit.

Children in a shared custody arrangement will go through a “settling back in period” when they come to stay after being with their other parent.  Each child can react differently; some may be generally quiet or subdued and others may be overactive and attention seeking.  Allow them time to adjust, usually 24 hours.  Show extra grace while they settle in.  You may also find a child withdraws emotionally before making the transition back to their other parent’s house (the ex-partner).  This can be their way of coping with the process of having to say good-bye. 

Smooth the transition between homes

Form a routine so your children/stepchildren know when, where and how things will happen during the transition period.  When a child arrives for a visit, have a room or area ready where they can put their belongings.  Organise a snack time and use the opportunity to talk about what will happen during their visit.  If the visit is for the course of a weekend, try to stick to a similar routine each visit for example, have set times for meals, sleep, rise times, and activities.  Activities might include going for a walk, a picnic, hot chocolate at the local café, visiting friends, attending church or playing a game.  Allocate time for a family activity and time for a child to spend alone with their biological parent so they don’t feel the need to compete with the stepparent for attention.

Make time to enjoy activities together as a blended family

These activities will provide terrific opportunities to build relationships and form positive memories or reference points to look back on.  Encourage children to help with planning activities you can all do together.  Beach holidays or outings are examples which cater for a vast range of ages.  Develop some new traditions; they’ll help build your blended family into a great supportive team.

Towards the end of the access visit, arrange a meal together as a family where you discuss what you’ve done and what will happen during the child’s next visit to give them something to look forward to.  These routines will provide points of reference for children and become an anticipated part of your family tradition.

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