Schedules in blended families are complicated. Vacations and school breaks even more so. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years about handling holidays with blended families including travel.
Who gets the kids this year?
True story a few weeks before I wrote this my husband while on the phone with his oldest son said, “tell your mom it’s my year for Thanksgiving.” This kid is an adult and living on his own in another state. This is a long running joke in our house because every year neither house could honestly remember who had the kids the year before. As a joke every year my husband would just announce that it was his turn.
In this above example I want to share a lesson which is that while this is very hard … it does end. It ends when the kids are adults and old enough to live on their own and make their own decisions about holidays.
Same day holiday sharing in blended families
I was recently asked by a parent who is getting a divorce what I thought about splitting the days of holidays between the parents. I am a coach and so I try to coach and not give advice but I did I share my personal experience with this as a kid.
My parents were divorced and lived in different states. They fought a lot about holiday exchanges (and generally they fought a lot). The result as I remember it was that I was often miserable on the actual holidays because of the sharing process.
I mentioned above that my parents lived in different states. For several years I was actually forced to fly as an unaccompanied minor on an airplane between my parents homes on Christmas Day. As an adult, I think about this and it makes me angry because hindsight being 20/20 this seems like it was a terrible plan for everybody involved.
It was so unpleasant for me that — when I moved away from home to go to college I actually stopped going to either parent’s house for any holidays.
The next time I saw my parents for Thanksgiving or Christmas was when I lived on my own and they asked to be invited. I said fine but both parents are coming and I expect you to behave. They did… pretty much.
From that point on I hosted my own holidays.
I share this because at some point the kids will grow up and they will be able to choose if they want to spend time with you.
Coming together with the exes too as a blended family for shared holidays
As an adult I have met blended families who are able to come together including the divorced parents as a group even after divorce for the big holidays and I have to say that while I can imagine that this is really tough the kids do seem to enjoy it.
For a lot of the year sharing custody is about each parent getting their assigned time with the kid(s). Custody splits can really be a struggle but it tends to get worse with holidays and I think this is because this is when we repeatedly have to face the reality that you may no longer have a family unit where everybody automatically spends the vacations and holidays together.
This can be a super touchy topic.
I think each family is probably different in how they will choose to handle it.
My super non-specific thinking on this is try not to think of each holiday as a battleground. Try to keep the joy for your kids in mind. But also keep in mind your joy. You deserve to enjoy the holidays.
As a step-mom I’ve had the pleasure of shared holidays with my kids and step kids and the whole extended family. A few of these times we’ve taken trips together. With creativity and patience it can work out pretty well. Also with creativity and patience it can be frustrating and hard.
Skiing with my kids and step-kids
Today I’m going to share a hopefully funny story of one of my unfortunate holiday travel adventures with my step kids and my kids.
We live in Florida and so the opportunity to take my kids and stepkids skiing on a snowy vacation showed up and I took it.
Now in my family we blended religions when I got married but my husband’s ex is Jewish and so often if Hanukah does not overlap Christmas there is no issue of sharing for this holiday in my blended family. This was the case this year.
At the time of this story my stepkids were teenagers and my kids were young.
When we planned it out the idea was that it would be a family day of skiing. The teens would go off and ski because they already knew how. My husband and I would take lessons and play with the younger kids.
First … injury
The first thing that went wrong was that my toddler son broke his leg and so he couldn’t go. He was very small so he wouldn’t have been able to do much anyway. My husband decided to stay back at the house with him and I headed out with the kids.
We got there and headed to the rental equipment line. We get all the gear. It’s December 24th and they tell me over and over no refunds because it’s a holiday.
It’s very busy and truthfully I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m okay with that. The teens head off to ski … I might have set them up with some sort of group to start I don’t remember. They went and did their thing.
My daughter and I planned to do a kiddie class and meet up with them after for lunch or whatever. I pay for everything with a smile with visions of a fun day of family skiing and off we go.
This plan almost immediately went sideways.
Imagine me and my young kid wearing the boots but carrying skis and maybe poles for my daughter and myself as we try to find the starting spot of the kiddo group.
It was hard.
We get to where we need to be and I’m trying to get us snapped into the skis and it’s not working like I think it should. Not at all. I’m not a skier…but I’m trying my best here.
There is of course nobody around to ask or help.
So, we go back down to the rental place and sure enough something is not the correct fit. We get replacement stuff. Still in pretty good news but no fun has been had yet by mom and young kid.
Getting a young kid to hurry up
We go back up the hill this time in a hurry because we don’t want to miss the group. Hurrying a young kid is always very frustrating in my experience. It also in my experience doesn’t usually work so I’m stressed and she’s being a kid and still no fun is being had but we might be on time.
We get there and I can see the group gathering and I’m getting us all set up when my daughter says, “I have to go to the bathroom.”
I ask the leader where the bathroom is and they point to a few small buildings far away. They also share that they can’t hold the group for me.
But when a kid has to go they have to go. So I have no choice and off we head to try and hurry and go to the bathroom and get back.
This does not work. My kid had waited a little too long to tell me. So the situation is a little more urgent than thought. We go into the first building and it’s not where the bathroom is. By this time my kid is crying because she needs to pee and we end up with me carrying my kid and trying to run in the skiboots to the next building to find the bathroom.
The next building is still not the right building but Luckily a person takes pity on us and helps us get to the bathroom.
We are in snow pants and everything. This was a bathroom disaster. But I remember that we made it before she went in her snowsuit. This is no small victory. It was a big relief.
We go to the bathroom go back up the hill where our rental skis are still sitting in the snow where I left them and of course the kiddo group has moved on.
And at this point I don’t know what to do. I’m wearing ski boots but have no ski group. I can’t go home because the teens are happily skiing and there are still a couple of hours before our designated meet up time. I was stressed.
To recap, no skiing has been done, lots of money has been spent, one kid crying and we missed the lesson.
Where are the snacks, mom?
At this point my kid says she’s hungry.
Because of course.
Still hobbling around in ski boots and me carrying all 4 skis We head back down to the rental location where I plan to ask if there is any other group or instructor or anyway we can make this work.
When I get there it’s so much quieter than it was before because all the gear is rented out and everybody is skiing. I’m equal parts jealous of all the people having fun and feeling embarrassed and like a mom failure because I couldn’t make it work.
I swallow my pride and head up to the counter where instead of kids is an older gentleman. By older I mean he’s not a teenager. Earlier the staff had mostly been teens and what seemed like college aged kids.
I share what happened and I ask if there is any other instructor or anything we can do with the time we have left.
He tells me that it’s the busiest day of the year and unfortunately there are no other instructors or groups. And then he sees my rental receipt and he asks how old my kid is. I think she’s 5.
He says, did they charge you for the rental?
I’m thinking he’s going to remind me about the no refunds.
I say yes and they told me no refunds too so I know that.
He shrugs and he says it’s too bad I didn’t help you earlier because it’s pretty hit or miss with kids her age. He shares that a lot of kids here age just walk up and then decide they don’t want to do it.
Which is exactly what she did.
This whole time my charming kid is periodically chiming in asking for snacks.
He shares with me that when he gets kids her age and eager parents (that’s me) he normally tries to let them go out and see if the kid will ski and charge them when they come back IF it works for them. Which I think sounds pretty nice and I can also totally understand how it didn’t happen today on the super busy day. I did not expect special treatment.
He refunds what I paid for the rental gear for us and lets me know that the snack bar is open.
Pretty awesome guy, right?
He did not have to do that and it really rescued my morning.
We head to the snack bar where my daughter gets a hot chocolate and a whoopie pie (which is a giant chocolatey sugary snack) and we relax at an outdoor table. Without the ski boots on she’s running around exploring and much happier. About an hour later the teens show up having had a great time. They ask how our day went and I share the story. My step-kids aren’t sure how to feel and they ask if they are in trouble because they didn’t come down off the mountain earlier. I say … no way I mean how could they have even known?
I get them some lunch and we head back to the house where I share the story with my husband and he laughs and laughs and laughs. Then he asks my daughter about the day and the only thing she shares is that she got to have a cookie.
She had a great day.
I’m the only one who didn’t have a great day on the slopes. The teens skied. My younger daughter had a cookie and I put a ton of pressure on myself that was unnecessary.
Is there a travel lesson in here?
Yes. Sort of.
The lesson is perhaps to try not to put a ton of pressure on yourself. I do think this can be hard to do in the moment.
I have not tried to go skiing again since this event. Ha!
When the young kids in this story were early teens they asked to go to Colorado and go skiing and we were going to try to plan it but then the pandemic hit. I did share this story with them and told them that if we went they would have to carry their own skis.