Four years ago I wrote a post about what celebrating the holiday season is like in a combined family. At the time, I had two stepchildren, one daughter from before I met my husband, and one daughter we’d had since getting married. Since then, our family has grown to add one more daughter.

So if you’re counting on your fingers, yes, that is five total kids. With parents, grandparents, and other siblings that live outside our home unit, planning for the holiday season (that begins around Halloween, really) takes some major strategizing on all sides. It’s worth it though – our kids, all of them, end up with a holiday season other families should envy.

Here are some examples of how holiday living may be a little different in our combined family than in a nuclear one:

Splitting Time

Having to share your kids on major holidays may sound dreadful, but I believe it makes our family unit more purposeful in how we spend our holiday time. We don’t pack it full of activities, but we are mindful that our time is usually abbreviated as one group. We plan our whole-family traditions for the time that all five kids are under our roof and then enjoy a quieter atmosphere when we’re down to three, or two, kids. I’ve found that we often do things during “off” times but that usually means less crowds and more of an “all to ourselves” kind of feeling.

Shared Traditions

Having many family traditions that are celebrated between all of our kids means that my husband and I celebrate more ways too. My husband, me and our two littlest are often invited to the parties of the other families in our kids’ lives and we attend when we can. We all get a look at how our other families celebrate the holidays and we shape our own family-of-seven traditions from there.


When I decided to write an update to this post, I started noting some of the strategizing it takes to make sure everyone has a big, happy, family Christmas. My original thought was “Oh, people will see that it really isn’t that bad.” Well, it isn’t bad, per se, but I guess when I actually pay attention to all the shuffling, texting, to-and-fro, and more… it IS a lot.

We have essentially three sets of kids: his, mine and ours. Two of those sets have other sides to their families that plan holiday activities and want them there – and they aren’t the same families, so instead of just coordinating with one parent, we’re coordinating with two sets of them. I’m usually the central hub of information. I keep track of who is doing what and when and come up with logical places and times we can all meet up that makes sense for everyone.

Doing this for several years has meant that the other two sets of parents have also become friends with each other and will sometimes drive a kid or two farther to help the other out (which ultimately helps me out). We’re all pretty conscientious of the others – sometimes I drive further if I’ve been off work since 3 p.m. but everyone else worked til 5 p.m. Sometimes they come further if I’ve got two little ones who are sick or cranky. Sometimes we meet somewhere like a theme park or outdoor play area and all hang out for awhile before going our separate ways. It’s nice. It keeps us in touch with each other as parents and people — and I get to know my kids’ siblings and families even better, which I appreciate.

So yeah – it’s more work to make the holidays go smoothly on all sides and every adult compromises a little. The result is a fantastic holiday experience for every kid involved though, and that makes it all totally worth it.


This year was the first one where gift giving got a little tricky, mainly because my two youngest are getting a little better at keeping score. The three older ones get their gifts from us, from Santa, and from their two sets of shared grandparents. THEN they go to other homes and get showered with even more gifts, many of which make it back to our house.

My younger two stay with us and that original set of gifts. We’re still at a slight advantage now because at age 5 and 3, the quantity of their gifts outweigh the higher-ticket items of the older ones. Some of the other family members buy gifts for our younger girls too, so even though it’s not the same amount of items, they get things from other people too. My husband and I plan something fun for the girls to do when it’s just the two of them as well, even if it’s as simple as heading to a special playground. Still. It’s not exactly “even” and I’m not sure it ever will be. That may be something we just have to be okay with as the years go on and find a way to explain it to them so they are okay too.


Every holiday season I’m more and more inspired by the great people in my kids’ lives and how I benefit by proxy. I’m sure there are combined families who face challenges in keeping it all together during the holiday season but if you’ve got a solid arrangement for the rest of  year, Halloween through New Year’s will fall into place too.

What tips for spending holidays as a combined family would you add? Leave a comment!


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Category: Christmas

Tags: Christmas