When should you bring a new partner into your family Christmas? And how should you broach it with your kids? These parenting tips from blended families will help navigate tricky situations, says High50.
Deciding what to cook for Christmas lunch is hard enough, even when the decision is merely whether to stick to the tried and tested Nigella turkey or go completely off-piste with something spicy and Ottolenghi inspired.
But when the conundrum involves whether to bring a new partner to the festive table, especially when there are children involved it becomes a far more complex hot potato.
And remember, all children -- whatever their real age -- are kids when it comes to Christmas -- my son (aged 20) was horrified when I mooted the possibility of him having grown out of having a stocking!
How To Have A Successful Melded Or Blended Family Christmas
'Melded Christmases' are a growing reality for many of us, though fraught with complications and probably carrying unreasonably huge expectations.
"Start by lowering your expectations," advises BACP Skype-counsellor Ellen Waldren. "Society puts so much pressure on us, so try to diffuse it a little. Take a deep breath and say to yourself that you are only hoping to have as good a time as you can with those that you care about the most around you."
At What Stage In A Relationship Do You Suggest A New Partner Joins Your Family Christmas?
It is certainly not wise to introduce them for the first time to your children over pulling crackers. The partner should already be familiar to your off-spring as being significant in your life, having been talked about, introduced and ideally having already shared less weighted meals together.
Most critically how best do you suggest the idea to your child, especially a teenager? Ellen advises that you include them in making the decision, couching the suggestion along the lines of "how would you feel if Richard joined us for Christmas?"
On the day itself, especially if it is a first melded Christmas, resist the temptation to share too much affection with your partner -- children will notice -- they too can never have too many hugs. A friend, Gill, recalls that when her then nine-year-old daughter Natalie first shared Christmas with her now Step-Dad Stephen, she would physically squeeze herself between them to share the cuddle.
If teenagers are involved, be sure to give them space to do their own thing in case they begin to feel uncomfortable.
It is important to acknowledge too that it is inevitably a time with many memories of Christmas past for both children and adults. Everyone is bound to reminisce, there's likely to be sadness especially if one partner does not have their children there and thinks back to those Christmases when they were happily all together in a marriage.
How To Split Your Time Between Families At Christmas
Older children, even well into their twenties and beyond, can be very protective of the other parent who may still be on their own and refuse to join you and your new partner.
An old friend Simon confided in me that his now 24-year-old daughter Kate had never spent Christmas with him and his new partner Rachel even though her ten-year-old half-sister Charlotte adored her. He explained ruefully "she doesn't feel she can neglect her mother even though she now does have a new partner too and her mother would be happy for Kate to spend Christmas with us."
Split-day Christmas can work for some. I spoke to several separated partners who explained how their children spent Xmas eve and morning with them and then moved on to their other parent for lunch, alternating each year.
Personally, and having consulted my son, we prefer a much clearer demarcation. We simply take it in turns to have our son for the whole of Christmas Day though living close to his father makes that simpler.
It did mean that last year I spent the big day with friends rather than family. I had a hugely enjoyable, if different time delaying our own family celebration to Boxing Day. It really can be spread out over several days.
How To Cope With Stressful Divorced-Family Christmases
Some families are adamant that the best of both worlds in a day is what suits the children best.
For a number of years Louise Chunn, founder of Welldoing, has been taking her children from her first marriage to their father for brunch, then collecting them (pausing for a convivial drink) for a late afternoon Christmas lunch at her home with her new partner and their younger daughter. "At this time of year, I do my utmost not to keep any vendettas going and be as generous-spirited as possible."
In the earlier years of change, Louise invited her former husband to the festive meal in her new home to avoid needing to ferry the children around.
"It was what they requested. I didn't love it, but was prepared to be tolerant and put up with a little discomfort and show my vulnerability in order to do the right thing for the children and make it as good as possible."
And making it as "good as possible" is the most many of us can achieve.