Blending Families for Christmas

As Christmas approaches, many Australian families are avidly putting together their plans, including family meals, gift exchanges and Christmas movie marathons. However, this time of year can be incredibly complex for blended families, who often have to navigate challenges such as agreements, fitting in extended family visits and differing holiday season expectations.  

Many enjoy quality time with their loved ones during this period, and it’s normal for blended families to feel overwhelmed with planning Christmas. As a counsellor, I deeply understand how complex Christmas can be for blended family units and have experience helping families navigate this period for a seamless holiday season. 

In this guide, I’ll share insights into the blending process and tips for making the transition smoother for children and adults alike this Christmas.  

Is it hard to blend families?

Divorce is becoming an increasingly common experience for many Australians. As of 2021, there were approximately 2.2 divorces for every 1,000 residents, the highest number recorded Australia-wide since 1976. Going through a divorce and blending into a new family can bring many complicated emotions to the surface, especially when children are involved.  

If the divorce is relatively fresh, children may struggle with not seeing both parents simultaneously on Christmas morning. This change in routine brings huge upheaval. They may feel extreme loyalty to the original family unit and struggle to integrate within a new, blended family environment.  

New relationships bring differing routines, traditions and expectations. Your children may be used to distinct parenting styles and struggle with the new dynamic, especially if there are cultural differences to be aware of.  

It’s essential to take steps to make the transition smoother, especially as children may be struggling with feelings of loss and grief during this period.  

Recognizing your child’s emotions, validating and listening to their worries and anxieties, and acknowledging that feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, guilt, and anger are entirely normal is crucial to successfully blending families during Christmas. 

Creating an atmosphere where children feel comfortable expressing emotions and raising concerns without judgement is essential. Your children may be meeting your new partner’s extended family for the first time, which can increase the need for a supportive, collaborative family environment. 

Are blended families common?

Traditional family structures in Australia are rapidly evolving. As divorce and remarriage rates continue to rise, there’s been a shift away from the traditional nuclear family unit. Diverse blended families are normalised and accepted, and most Australians recognise that families come in many shapes and sizes.  

Having a blended family is completely normal, and you shouldn’t feel any shame or stigma if you are a part of one. Blended families are typical in Australian society; many are navigating the complexities of blending this Christmas. You aren’t alone, and there’s a growing emphasis society-wide on embracing the unique dynamics blended families deliver.  

Many of the challenges you face and any worries you feel around the Christmas period are shared by other blended families. As a counsellor, I’ve worked with many families like yours and have a wealth of experience navigating the feelings, challenges and realities of blended families.  

One of the first steps to successfully blending a family is recognising that you are not alone. Many people, friends and professionals alike, are readily available to support you.  

What percentage of families are blended?

The prevalence of blended family dynamics is more common than you may think, with data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimating that approximately 12% of children live this way. That is 612,000 children in Australia, highlighting the importance of addressing the unique emotional challenges that may arise during the holiday season. 

How do you blend families successfully for Christmas?

You can take steps to ease the transition of blending families, vastly increasing the success of your new family Christmas. Here are some of my best tips for setting your blended family up for success this Christmas: 

Communication is key: 

Open and honest conversations as a family will help create a safe, shared space of mutual understanding. Your children may feel reactive and angry, especially if this is one of your first Christmases as a blended family.

Remember to take a deep breath and actively listen to their feelings and anxieties. Assure they are loved, and make an actionable plan to help them feel supported during this time. 

It will help if you share thoughts and expectations around the holiday season with your kids in an age-appropriate way. Don’t load them with your problems, but share how you’re feeling and how you want the holiday season to look. Ask them if there is anything they need to make Christmas more seamless.  

You may find that older children prefer to have some autonomy in their schedule; this is completely normal, and it’s important you allow it. If they want to choose who they spend Christmas morning with, and it is safe for them to do so, it will be beneficial for them and your relationship with them for it to be okay.  

This is important to use only on a case-by-case basis; it works well if you have a flexible custody agreement with your ex-partner. As letting your kids decide how they want the day to go can help them feel listened to, respected, and supported – while being safe. 

Having these open conversations ensures every family member’s feelings are validated. Questions should be encouraged to help children feel more in control of the situation.  

The aim is to reduce everyone’s anxieties about the holiday season. It’s a good idea for everyone to share their expectations for the holidays, including any traditions they want to celebrate and how they plan to celebrate them.  

Sharing these creates a bond and allows the entire family to be on the same page to reduce feelings of uncertainty and anxiety about how the holiday will look.

Establish new traditions as a family:  

Involving everyone in creating and enjoying new traditions within the blended family is a great way to foster a sense of unity. Traditions can be incredibly fun and help bring everyone within the new family together. You don’t have to go out with new traditions; both families should share some of their favourite traditions with the new members.  

Let children actively participate in creating these traditions, ensuring that they feel like valued contributors to the new family unit. For instance, you can have a ‘decorating day’ where everyone picks their favourite decorations throughout the house. 

Perhaps you can have a Christmas movie week, where each night, a new family member gets to pick their favourite Christmas movie and snack for the family to enjoy.  

Some other ideas include: 

  • Volunteering as a family at a shelter, charity or other organisation.
  • Making shoe boxes together for Operation Christmas.
  • Enjoying a Christmas movie marathon together.
  • Making homemade hot chocolate.
  • Hosting a family games night with activities that cater to all age groups.
  • Hosting a Secret Santa or other gift-giving game.  

Set realistic expectations:

Blending families takes time, and it’s okay if things are a bit messy at first. It’s important to recognise individual personalities and their backgrounds and experiences.  

Focus on the excitement of bringing a family together for Christmas, including creating new traditions and making shared memories. Focusing on the positive aspects will help make the holiday period more stress-free and a much happier experience. 

Seek professional guidance when needed: 

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Professional counsellors are judgement-free and will provide tailored advice to help you navigate the challenges of blending your new family.  

Our counsellors can provide strategies and support to help children and parents navigate the emotional challenges of blending families during the holidays. By working together, we can help you manage the complexities of blending families and make the holiday season more seamless for your family.