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Blended Families: Celebrating the holidays

How do you celebrate the holidays when blending families? With sensitivity and creativity, you can develop new traditions and routines. Read below to gain perspective and ideas.

Blended families: Celebrating the holidays

Today's ParentBy Dawn Calleja | Today’s Parent

 love Christmas. Yup, I’m one of those people: belting out schlocky tunes in the car, searching for the perfect ceiling-scraper of a tree, bawling my way through It’s a Wonderful Life. But the emotional and logistical strain wrapped up with the holidays at our house – courtesy of my husband’s four kids from two exes, in addition to our own two little ones – can bring out the Scrooge in me.

There was the time my husband’s then-five-year-old son called to tell us excitedly about the Pokémon toy Santa had delivered – the exact same one waiting for him under our tree. Or the year a tipsy ex-number-one called in the middle of our Christmas Eve party to shout that there was no way she was driving downtown to pick up the kids the next day. You get the picture.

Even for the most happily married couples, the holidays can be fraught with conflict and compromise. It can be exponentially more complicated for the approximately 776,000 Canadian parents who are divorced or separated and raising kids without a new partner. Then there are the blended families – almost 13 percent of Canada’s 3.7 million two-parent families are stepfamilies, like mine. Negotiating how to share the kids is never easy, but this is a time of year when it can be hardest to let go. “Christmas is a tough time because there is a lot of tradition and ritual around how the holidays are managed,” says Deborah Moskovitch, author of The Smart Divorce, a book she was inspired to write after her own acrimonious split. “But you have to share it. That’s how you have to look at effective co-parenting.”

Here’s how to ensure your festive season is filled with merriment – not resentment – this year. 

Make a plan

If you haven’t set a holiday schedule by the time you read this, do it now. “You don’t want the kids to have any angst about what they’re going to be doing at Christmas,” says Moskovitch, who also founded a divorce coaching service. Sit down with your ex and bring a calendar (and, if necessary, a neutral third party, like a professional mediator or trusted mutual friend) to figure out exactly how you’re going to divvy up the holiday break, right down to whether the kids are being picked up or dropped off, at what time, and the things they’ll need to pack. “It can be fluid and change, but it gets rid of any miscommunication,” says Moskovitch.

Trevor Pereira and his ex-wife made their Christmas schedule part of the separation agreement they drew up seven years ago. In even years, he has their two kids for Christmas Eve and morning, then hands them off at noon. In odd years, he picks them up from their mom’s house, still in their pyjamas, and takes them home for brunch and more presents. (To help avoid the aforementioned Pokémon scenario, Pereira and his ex go over the kids’ wish lists together each year to decide who’s going to buy what and how much they’ll spend.) “It’s sad either way,” admits Pereira, an IT specialist from Brantford, Ont. “Either you don’t have them in the morning or you don’t have them in the evening. But at least we both still see them on Christmas Day.”

Luckily for Pereira and his ex, they live in the same town. For co-parents who live in different cities, or even different provinces, it’s not so simple. If you have to kiss your kids goodbye for the entire holiday, says Moskovitch, “make sure you can call and talk to them. They’ll want to know you’re OK.”

To read the whole article click here

How did you blend your family…..please share your new traditions, routines and ideas.

Wishing you all the best for the holiday season!

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Don’t Divorce Me! Kids’ Rules for Parents on Divorce

Have you watched the new documentary on HBO – Don’t Divorce Me!  If you haven’t already done so, I strongly suggest you do.

This is the most incredible program providing a voice to children of divorce.  They share their do’s and don’ts of what their parents are doing right and wrong throughout the divorce process and beyond.  The important tips they share are:

  1. Don’t use your kids as messengers
  2. Let them know that the divorce isn’t there fault
  3. Don’t fight
  4. Love your children (too much)
  5. They want to spend time with both mom and dad
  6. Keep the kids out of the middle
  7. Try to make sure that your parents get both kids kind of equally
  8. Don’t ask me to spy

These kids are smart are tell parents in such a powerful way what they could be doing better.  Children are the ones that live out the divorce… let’s give our children the best chances and listen to their message.

If you’re having trouble coping emotionally, understanding the importance of putting your children’s best interest first, healing through the divorce process for a happier, healthier future, then you will definitely want to check out The Smart Divorce ToolKit – a cost-effective and valuable divorce support resource.

I’ve written previous blog posts about The Children’s Best Interests.  Check them out:


How to Become the Most Awesome Dad

Becoming the Most Awesome Single Dad

Becoming the most awesome single dad is our new episode of The Smart Divorce with Deborah Moskovitch. Dads often get under played in society and the media…..Disney dads, born again fathers, dads that disappear from their children’s lives…..and then there’s our guest Joel Schwartzberg.

Joel is an award-winning humorist, personal essayist and screenwriter whose work has appeared in NewsweekThe New York Times MagazineNew Jersey Monthly, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, The Star Ledger,, and in the flimsy pages of regional parenting magazines around the country.  He’s the author of The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad, a unique and award-winning collection of funny and personal essays that examine how divorce reinvents relationships with kids and one’s own sense of Dadhood.

Joel offers great tips and insights on being a part-time Dad in a full-time life — a meaningful interview for any parent, particularly the millions who’ve gone through divorce with their senses of humor intact.

Topics include:

  • Putting a spin a heart wrenching situation and finding the humor in life
  • “Lazy Dadurday” offer a glimpse into those special moments and new routines with dad after a split
  • Top Ten Things Divorced Dads Need to Realize
  • What Remarried Dads Owe Their Stepmom Wives
  • And so much more….

More about Joel’s book, The 40 Year-Old Version can be found at:

To hear this most awesome interview, click on the link


How to avoid blended family break ups

Blending families without thought are one of the most common reasons for marriages to fail. This article appeared on The Huffington Post and

Do you remember The Brady Bunch? Mike Brady marries Carol Martin; they each bring into this second marriage three children (three boys, three girls), and this blended family of eight live happily ever after. And don’t forget Alice, the live-in housekeeper, keeping it all together and running smoothly. Little conflict, lots of love, and always fun.

But alas, that was the early 70s. It was a time of love, light and humanity. Four decades later, people still yearn for love, but we’ve become a fast food culture where decisions are made at lightening speed, and consequences are an afterthought.

Case in point: my friend Annie. Divorced for seven years and raising two children on her own, she was at a New Year’s dinner party when she met Gary, who had been divorced for three years with two children. Eleven months later, after an incredible whirlwind relationship, they were in the judges’ chambers exchanging wedding vows. Within 30 minutes a new family unit was formed. Sounds wonderful, but the Brady Bunch union it was not.

When Annie and Gary pledged to be together forever, a new family dynamic was thrust upon their children. The children now became step-siblings, barely knew each other, and were used to different households. This was not one big happy family; there was conflict, chaos and frustration. The children did not get along well, were used to different sets of house rules, study habits, and different monthly allowances.

Sandy Shuler, a social worker and certified Canadian family educator in Calgary (, advises clients that when blending a family, the first thing they should do is not to have preconceived ideas and unrealistic expectations about what the family is going to look like.

“Every family is unique in terms of the way it looks and the way it operates. Expecting that there is going to be an instant connection and bonding situation when there are children involved can lead to disappointment and challenges,” Shuler says. “Just because the adults are thrilled about the idea of merging does not mean that the children are, so the adults need to go into the situation realistically with their eyes wide open.”

Shuler advises couples act proactively, and tackle issues before blending the family: “Prior to blending, go to a counselor and finding out what the likely hot spots are going to be.” (If money might be a hot spot – and it probably will be – here’s what to consider about blended family finances.)

New family relationships require time to form, making patience key. “It can take up to seven years for this new family to gel and bond, especially if the children are older,” Shuler says. Time, commitment and patience are required of all family members if the new family unit is to succeed; Shuler says, “For some families, the best outcome is simply a cooperative co-existence.”

Tips for successfully blending families

Help kids adapt to the new family configuration Children will belong to two households/families; they need guidance to adjust to different set of rules, expectations, and systems.

Bonding takes time Don’t expect children to love and adore each other or your new partner right away. In some cases, the best case scenario would be working towards courtesy and respect. Building caring relationships between children and their new step-parent/family is a process that requires time and patience.

Be open to discussion Creating opportunities for family discussions, problem-solving and negotiation helps children manage.

Prepare the family for a change
Establishing new family patterns, rituals and traditions help children feel a sense of belonging and shared memories.

Understand the new relationship Clarifying roles, responsibilities and expectations in the blended family serves as a “road map” with strategies for building relationships and a solid framework for the family unit.

Develop a conflict resolution strategy Conflict is a part of all families. Combined families have more complex and diverse needs and emotions in dealing with conflict; a solid conflict resolution model helps to address these issues.

Demonstrate your love Children need reassurance that they are loved and are still a priority to their biological parent, as loyalty issues can arise.

Discipline your own, and step back for his children The general rule of thumb about discipline is that the biological parent is the one who guides the discipline for their own children when there are step-children living together. But within one household the rules need to be consistently applied for all children who live there–and there should not be two sets of rules.

Given that a high proportion of marriages end in divorce, a large number of people in their middle years again become available for marriage. It’s a no wonder that almost half of Canadian families are “blended” and more than 81% of these families have children from the current union.

But the bottom line is what ever you call it–a step family, blended family, combined family–it’s a newly reconfigured family unit. It takes time to bring this new family together, and it takes effort–just remember to resolve conflict, demonstrate love and find the fun.

This article first appeared on

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Remarriage: Avoid the blended family breakdown

Before you say your vows for the second time, get expert tips

for blending your families

Did you know that the divorce rate rises with each subsequent marriage?  The divorce rate rises over 60% with a 2nd marriage and skyrockets to over 70% with a third time marriage.  One of the contributing factors to the lack of a successful partnership is avoiding the discussion about merging two families together.

Please click on the click to read more about tips and strategies as to how to connect two new families.

I wrote this article for More magazine’s online edition. More magazine is a publication which celebrates women over 40.  Men should also feel comfortable reading this article as it offers great tips that apply to both men and women.  If you would like to browse through this magazine click on the following link:

But the bottom line is what ever you call it—a step family, blended family, combined family—it’s a newly reconfigured family unit. It takes time to bring this new family together, and it takes effort—just remember to resolve conflict, demonstrate love and find the fun.


Mapping out a prenup

Many people think a prenuptial agreement is for the rich and famous.  However, there are many issues that the average person needs to consider and discuss with their new partner.  It’s an excellent opportunity to understand his/her financial perspectives and expectations before you get married.  Many people are afraid to have this important conversation as they fear it might ruin the relationship.  But, if you can’t talk about the important things and expect that things will just “work itself out” when married, it doesn’t always happen that way.  Don’t you want an understanding of how each other thinks, and ensure you are on the same page?

  1. Think of it as marriage/divorce insurance.  You want the marriage to work, but if it doesn’t you’ve protected yourself.
  2. The blended family dilemma.  You want your children to support your new marriage; however you want them to feel protected as well.
  3. What if you die? Without sounding morbid, it is a consideration……how you want your assets to be divided between your new partner and your children.

There are many other obvious considerations. A recent article in Canadian Business answers this very important question:

I’m about to get married for the second time. How do I ensure that my children and my new wife won’t ever have to duke it out over my estate after I’m gone?

Mapping out a prenup – Canadian Business Magazine


If there is nothing to fix, then it’s not broken……

My home is run down, but

it’s not broken…

The cabinet door in my kitchen has fallen off the hinge, the hot water tank just burst, the fridge door won’t close properly and I need a new roof. But while my home is in need of physical repair, it certainly does not need emotional repair.

I wrote about this in my book, The Smart Divorce: Proven Strategies and Valuable Advice from 100 Top Divorce Lawyers, Financial Advisers, Counselors and Other Experts



You wouldn’t believe how many people it resonated with.

I’m divorced, but I don’t have a

“broken home”

Perhaps I’m sensitive, but I don’t consider my children to be growing up in a “broken home.” When I talk to my children, we call ourselves a family because that’s what we are.

We do not compare ourselves to more “traditional” families with two parents living at home. Divorce may change a family’s structure, but we’re still a family. All families ­­– so-called “traditional” families and the rest of us – all have challenges, no matter how our living arrangements are configured.

Make life work for your kids

As a parent, your challenge is to make life work for your kids. Ensure they don’t view themselves as disadvantaged or as “children of divorce.” They’re regular children.

When I glimpse into families with two parents living at home, my home often appears to be working wonderfully well.

I may be a bit more frazzled than someone in a home with two parents living there – but that’s because of the practical everyday exigencies of life with three active children. (And who really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Just because there are two parents, does that always mean both parents share all the responsibilities? Don’t compare!)

There’s no one to share the driving with

I often have to be in two places at the same time. I run a business, but I still have to manage my personal affairs – on my own. So while I might be a bit more stressed (Did I mention I’m an A type personality?) my children are growing up in a healthy and loving environment.

I have house rules, set curfews (although I have been a bit lax at times), my children must get their homework done, and I’m always there to kiss them goodnight and listen to their worries.

Think about a few things…

What about blended families? Does blending suddenly unbreak “broken homes”?

What about the blended families where the culture is more like oil and water?

How about a family where both parents are living together but constantly fighting?

Or a family where both parents live together but one parent is never at home? Always working, always away on weekends and never around for the kids.

Constance Ahrons ,author of the highly praised books, We’re Still Family and The Good Divorce calls a single parent household a binuclear family –– a much healthier way to view a single parent household.


So, what do we call ourselves – FAMILY. A wonderful, supportive family, that is who we are.