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New families and traditions

Are you in a new relationship or newly married? Transition in the formation of a new family creates a unique challenge. Which family do we spend our traditional holidays with? This time of year is full of tradition and nothing brings traditions into question more than a family transition. New families will be facing big questions about how to merge traditions from each of their families. Where will we spend the holiday? What will the kids do? How do we go about negotiating these traditions? Here are two things to consider.


Couples should be clear with each other about their expectations and what they feel is important to them for the holidays. Communication with all family members is important so that each partner’s own family knows that as much as they want to spend time with one family, they also want to spend time with the other.

Parents should also be clear with their children. This is difficult if you have not communicated with your new partner and especially the child’s other parent. Once everyone has come to an understanding, include your children in the conversation. Tailor the conversation to their stage of development. Make sure to let them know:

  • Where you are going.
  • When they will see their other family.
  • What the differences might be at a new family member’s house during the holiday.
  • Any other relevant details.

If you are a single parent and plan to create your own traditions, use this time to talk to your children about where your family traditions came from. Your children may offer some ideas of their own as to which traditions should be continued and which could be established moving forward.

Negotiation and compromise

Family traditions rarely work themselves out so there is zero conflict for the newly formed family. You will not be able to be in two places at the same time. If distances prohibit seeing both families within a two day time period, consider an every other year approach.

At some point, you may come to a decision that it is important for you as a couple to have your own traditions. You may wish to spend that time at home with your own family. Open communication with your extended families is important if you are changing your involvement in long established traditions.

If you are the parent or other family member of these couples, recognize their dilemma. You can make it easier for them by being flexible and understanding. Holiday traditions have expanded and rather than one day, the holidays seem to have become a “mini season.” If one takes this approach, there are plenty of opportunities to create new times to spend with family.

Consider your children’s needs in these conversations. Maybe taking them to your new partner’s family would mean not allowing them to see their other parent the day before or after a holiday. What do the children need during this stressful season?

You may also be interested in Suggestions for stepfamilies.

Minnell Tralle, Extension educator in family resiliency

Revised by Eugene Hall, Graduate research assistant in family social science; reviewed by Ellie McCann, Extension educator in family resiliency.

Reviewed in 2018

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