Help for the Holidays

The holiday season can be a challenging time, regardless of what you celebrate. Here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them and make this holiday season a happy memory for all.

Creating New Rituals:

In the lifespan of a new family, you and your partner may be just establishing yourselves as an autonomous family unit. Perhaps this will be your child’s first holiday season or the first time you break tradition with your family or origin. Change especially in the face of tradition, is stressful.

Before having children, Kelly and Dave used to spend Christmas Eve with her family on the East Coast and they’d spend Christmas Day flying to the Midwest to make it in time for Christmas dinner with Dave’s family. “After Emily was born it was just impossible to cram it all in. We fought about it and it was challenging but in the end, having a baby helped us form our own identity as a family and now we are creating our own traditions for Emily.”

Kelly and Dave’s situation is not unique. Every couple, no matter how similar their family of origin in culture, religion and geography is a cross cultural couple, creating for the first time their own unique family culture. Effective couples work on negotiating holiday rituals that bring pieces from their family of origin traditions. This allows the meaningful creation of new traditions that will make up the memories of their own children’s holiday experience.

Structuring your vacation:

Holidays can mean a change in routine. Usually, there is time off from work and school. Often it means travel plans. The change in structure, even if there is no travel, can be stressful on a family. Children especially thrive with order and routine and suddenly having a week or two without the familiar pattern can be a challenge.

“Jack goes to bed at 7:30 and naps from 12-2pm. This holiday with all the family visiting and late night dinners was a disaster,” said, Stacie, mother of two year old Jack “All of his cousins are older and we didn’t eat until past his bedtime. Jack was a wreck and we all wound up cranky.”

Families who vacation well together have perfected the art of balancing the need for consistency and routine with the need for flexibility. Stacie learned that she needed to be consistent with Jack’s bedtime routine, but that she could be flexible about his naps. “Initially it was hard to stand up to the pressure from my family who rarely get time with him. Once my partner and I were able to agree we decided that Jack’s needs came first and the rest of our week went much more smoothly.”


It can be helpful to talk with your partner before the holidays, vacation or travel to discuss your expectations. If you are in agreement on what your goals are for yourselves and your children, on what you can be flexible about and on what you need to be firm, the disruption will be less challenging. Couples tend to revert back to old patterns and roles of childhood when they are around their families of origin. Managing expectations with open communication with one’s partner helps couples present a united front and a solid family unit more likely to be respected by extended family members.

Reconnect with your partner:

Holidays can be a time to connect with extended family or to catch up on projects but don’t forget to use your holidays to connect with your partner too. Go to bed at the same time and spend time sharing about your favorite part of the day, something funny your child did or said or a childhood memory you may not have shared.

With some extra planning and sharing of your ideas, the holidays can present an opportunity for young families to grow closer and create new memories together.

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