Christmas in a blended family isn’t always all about holiday cheer. Sometimes it’s about making sure your ex-husband, your children and your new boyfriend don’t feel neglected. Sometimes it’s dealing with being left out of the festivities yourself. The holidays for a new “unconventional” family can be just as special as Christmas time for a more traditional unit.

Life coach Valorie Burton says suggests a few ways to have a successful holiday in a blended family is to be realistic and to plan ahead. Check out her insightful tips on how to be one big happy family this Christmas.

Keep a Positive Attitude
Don’t bad mouth your ex to your kids. While this is a good rule to follow year round, it’s even more important to adhere to during the holidays, when tensions run high and parents can find it hard to spend quality time with everyone.

Act Like An Adult
“It’s really important for stepparents to reach out to their significant other’s children and to maintain a positive attitude even if those children aren’t immediately receptive,” Burton says. Don’t get irritated if you don’t bond with your new man’s kids right away. They’re still getting used to you and the big changes in their family unit.

Plan Ahead
Planning can eliminate a lot of stress. Jot down the things that you’re worried about and then create a game plan. “Rather than just feeling anxious, think, ‘what can I do to address the problems that I am anxious about, what can I do to reduce any problems?'” Burton suggests.

Change the Game
Part of planning ahead is making adjustments to your schedule so that things work well. “Celebrations might not all happen on Christmas, maybe you have some time on some other day. Part of blending a family is being flexible.”

Don’t Wallow
If family changes mean your kids, siblings or other family members are spending the holidays away from you, you can start to feel lonely and sorry for yourself. Embrace your alone time. Treat yourself to something special or–Burton suggests–do something nice for someone else.

Start Something New
“Starting some kind of new tradition can be helpful,” Burton says. “The kids won’t focus on what they’ve lost because there’s something new that they gain.” Burton suggests that you try to get everybody on the same page as opposed to dictating a new family custom. Call a family meeting or chat with members of the fam individually to come up with something that everyone will enjoy.

Watch Your Wallet
Blended families mean bigger families. Cut everyone’s cost for the holidays down by pulling some names from a hat. You could even do away with material gift giving all together, Burton says. “You have to give yourself permission to change the rules. Maybe you can give gratitude letters to each other. Or maybe you give each other non-gifts: maybe it’s time or babysitting or you can host a dinner. Do things that create connections between family members. That’s a gift that you’re going to remember. Break this whole cycle that Christmas has to be about gifts.”

We recognize blending a family has its bumps, but it’s good to remember that a growing family means more love. We hope these tips help you have a truly merry “unconventional” Christmas.

Catch more of Burton’s helpful advice on her blog “Life Coach 911.”