As a family elder you can lead the way to a healthy blending of everyone's expectations and traditions. The key is to respect everyone's feelings, young and old.
- Pre-empt "That's not how WE did it." Have your family make a list of its traditions in the order of most to least favorite and ask your step-family to do the same. Compare notes and decide traditions to keep, based on practicality as much as sentiment. Keep the focus on what each family is gaining but don't ignore others' feelings of loss. Try to be flexible if you encounter strong objections to a tradition that's been eliminated.
- Find a new tradition to start as a blended family. Ask everyone for suggestions. Choose two - one from each family - by voting or holding a random draw. Some ideas: making ornaments or decorations; baking or volunteering together; learning a new song; going to a special show.
- Establish gift-giving rules. Different families may have different ideas about how many gifts to give and how much money to spend. Have everyone agree on gift-giving guidelines - including relatives who are not immediate family members - to avoid one-upmanship and the embarrassment of disparity.
- Plan a custody schedule, if needed. Give children time to celebrate in each parent's home and minimize shuttling them back and forth. Don't put the children in the middle of any controversy.
- Include everyone in making holiday plans to the greatest extent possible. Ask for volunteers to decorate, clean and do chores.
- Be attentive to mood. If you observe any family members who appear sad or angry, offer to discuss their feelings and let them know that what they're experiencing is normal. Determine if there's something that can be done to resolve their concerns. Share your feelings, too.
- Don't expect perfection. It's OK if something doesn't go according to plan. Find the lesson or humor in the snafus and have the happiest holidays ever.