Posted: Nov 13, 2013 9:00 AM
Blended families come in all forms. Whether you're divorced, widowed, dating or remarried — or a combination of the above — juggling holiday schedules can be stressful. These moms share four tips for enjoying the holidays and minimizing shared-holiday stress.

Tip #1^Provide consistency

Jennifer Williams grew up with divorced parents and remembers how her childhood holidays changed, "After my parents divorced my holidays were split every year. It was never consistent where I would be when." Jennifer, who writes at Jennifer P. Williams, wants her kids to have a different experience, even with a large extended family. "Now that I'm a mom, I make sure that every Christmas morning we are in our house, together. It's important to me that my kids have consistency."

Tip #2^Consider combining holidays with your ex

Mandy Dawson talks about one of her immediate reactions to her divorce, "When my ex and I decided to divorce, one of the first thoughts to pass my mind was spending the holidays without my children. I couldn't imagine not being there when they opened their presents in the pre-dawn of Christmas morning, lit by the magic of the colored lights on the tree. It was a physical pain more difficult to bear than the actual divorce."Mandyland Christmas morning

A conversation with her ex revealed that he felt the same way, and they made the — sometimes complicated — decision that's been their family's tradition since the divorce. Mandy says, "We made a pact to try to do all the holidays together so the kids never have to choose between the two of us, and we never have to miss out on those special moments. We're getting ready to celebrate our third holiday season post-separation and while it hasn't always been easy, nor graceful, it's all worth it when our son, at Thanksgiving dinner, says he's most thankful that his whole family is with him."

Mandy, who writes at Mandyland, knows that the holiday schedule she and her ex have worked to achieve helps to keep her kids happy during big days, but she's also forging new traditions with her children that don't include her ex. She says, "From decorating our tree to carving out pumpkins and baking cookies for our neighbors, we're making new memories every year."

Tip #3^Plan in advance for less holiday stress

Kerstin Auer used to have her daughter to herself during the holidays. Kerstin, who can be found at Auer Life, recounts, "The first 10 years of my daughter’s life my ex-husband and I lived on different continents, so contact during the holidays — or any other time — was limited to phone calls and email."

Kerstin Auer- mother and daughter

Things have changed. "Now that we are only a five-hour trip apart, it’s a given that we 'share' our daughter as much as possible."

Kerstin's best tip for stress-free holidays is planning, "The key to avoiding stress is to plan well in advance. I never start planning for my husband, our son and myself until we’ve figured out which holidays are being spent where. I guess I’m lucky — my ex and I have always maintained a good parenting relationship, with our daughter’s benefit in mind, and now we’re even able to celebrate some holidays together."

Tip #4^Spread out holiday visits

Greta Funk was widowed young and is now remarried. She has four young children, they have four sets of grandparents and she has one crazy holiday schedule! She says, "My family is a big, blended mess of people. Obviously, this makes traveling and the holidays really, really complicated. In the beginning, I used to stress myself out so much trying to figure out the logistics of visiting everyone for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but over the years I developed a system that works for us and doesn't stress me — the planner — out."

Greta Funk, blended family Christmas morning

As a gluten-free family — another spoke in the complication wheel — she keeps her immediate family nearby for Thanksgiving. Greta, who blogs at G*Funk*ified, talks about their laid-back Thanksgiving tradition. "We stay at home, make our own big gluten-free meal and have some of the grandparents over for the day. We spend the rest of the weekend relaxing and putting up Christmas decorations."

As for Christmas, Greta makes sure one thing is constant. "We are always home on Christmas morning — it's my rule." The rest of the month is a whirlwind of activity. She talks about the way her family manages to spread their cheer during the holidays, "We literally take the entire month of December and the first part of January to travel. One weekend, we'll be in Arkansas visiting grandparents, the next we'll be on the other side of Kansas visiting others. I plan around the big get-togethers at my grandparents' houses and work everything else into the empty calendar spots."

The Bottom Line^ Divorces, blended families and the holidays don't have to be a stress-inducing recipe for disaster. Try different scheduling techniques until you find the one that fits your family best, and everyone will find a little more joy in the holiday season.

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