Balancing Holiday Traditions with Extended Family

Use these five tips to balance time with extended family.

Parents are expert problem solvers. There are endless pieces to the parenting puzzle to fit together in a way that benefits your family. Sleep and feeding routines need to be worked out, but you may be surprised that some of the biggest decisions won’t be those directly affecting baby’s development.

One example that illustrates this is the holidays. Establishing new traditions while incorporating extended family takes work.

With the holiday season right around the corner, this is the perfect time to decide how you’ll establish new traditions, let go of the ones that aren’t working, and learn to balance time with extended family.

How to Establish Your Family’s Holiday Traditions

Establishing traditions is a great way to solidify your marriage and create family bonds.

As you look at establishing traditions for your family, you’ll want to decide:
● What new traditions do I want to have with my own children?
● What traditions do I want to continue from my childhood?
● What new traditions do I want to begin with my children’s grandparents?

A few ideas for holiday traditions with little ones include making cookies together, reading a special story each year, making a certain food, and putting up kid-friendly decorations. One of our kids' favorite traditions is having a meal where there’s no requirements for eating certain fruits or veggies.

While it may seem like there’s a lot of pressure to start the perfect holiday tradition, my advice is to begin small. Something fun and special doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, but rather a chance to spend moments together truly enjoying each other. Traditions become special because they’re shared amongst family members.

Avoid Possessiveness over the Past

You and your spouse likely have ideas about the perfect (or not so perfect) holiday traditions that you grew up with. Perhaps a family gathering, certain food, or specific location are what define the holidays for you.

When baby enters the family, you may want to continue these traditions so she’ll also experience these special moments. Before you sign up to be a part of every family gathering, ask yourself the following:
● What traditions from the past are non-negotiable and we want to continue?
● What traditions from the past can be modified to fit our family better?
● What traditions can we gently let go of, or incorporate in a different way, for our children?

The biggest shift between traditions with extended family before baby and after is your focus. Your focus needs to shift to your home and your family’s needs and away from what you’ve always done. Prioritizing your family’s needs will set you up for success as the holidays approach.

Tips for Visiting with Extended Family

Visiting with extended family (especially while meeting the needs of a baby and holding onto emerging traditions) can be stressful. Dennis and Barbara Rainey, of FamilyLife, suggest five no-nonsense guidelines for visiting extended family around the holidays: 

Extended Family Tip #1: Be Flexible
Timing of holiday visits often need to be flexible. For many years we’ve celebrated holidays with our kids (and with extended family) on days different than the holiday. Try to set aside quality time for spending with extended family instead of rushing from one family to another on a specific date.

Extended Family Tip #2: Be Proactive
Plan ahead and let extended family know what you will and will not be able to attend. If you can’t make a scheduled gathering, try to plan how you’ll spend time with your extended family at a different time.

Extended Family Tip #3: Be Brief
If visiting with extended family means an overnight stay, opt to keep it brief if possible. A few days and leaving happily always trumps overstaying.

Extended Family Tip #4: Be Firm
If your extended family is pushing for visiting at a certain time, be firm with what’s best for your own family. Keep in mind your family’s needs and kindly ignore pressure or guilt-trips.

Extended Family Tip #5: Be Kind
Model for your kids how to demonstrate kindness towards extended family. Avoid over-analyzing visits or re-hashing mistakes. Choose to remember the positive and comment carefully on anything you’ll change for the future.

If you’re unsure how to balance your family’s new traditions while incorporating extended family, make a plan for this year and try it out. Some of the best new traditions with extended family are formed after trial-and-error.

What traditions will you pass on to your little one?

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Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.

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