In my first marriage, I knew exactly how to get ready for the holidays. Our traditions were set in stone. We went to the same Christmas tree lot every year. Our kids left food out for Santa. We ate scrambled eggs and English muffins for breakfast and a lamb roast for dinner. Planning for the holidays was easy!
When my first marriage ended, I spent a couple of holiday seasons solo while my children visited their dad.
Then I met and married my husband. As a stepcouple, we had custody of my two children and his three. Our first Christmas was challenging; we had different expectations. When we went to get our Christmas tree, I wanted to go to my favorite lot; he wanted to chop his own tree down. When we decorated the tree, he brought out the tinsel. I hate tinsel! We clashed on several issues.
Years later, the kids have grown, and we’re grandparents. We still don’t agree on everything about the holidays, but we’ve learned how to make the holidays special for us and our family.
Some tips stepcouples can use to enjoy the holidays as a stepfamily:
1. Plan ahead
As a stepcouple, plan early. Talk with the other biological parents who will also be sharing holidays with your children. Be realistic. It’s simply impossible for a child to be at both parents’ houses at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Guard against spreading yourselves and your children too thin. If possible, coordinate gift-giving with your ex-spouse. Cooperation, not competition, is in your children’s best interest.
2. Keep it simple
Don’t stress yourself out! Be reasonable. Perfection is not the goal; peace and serenity are. Be realistic about your time and money. Your kids need you – NOT twenty-five gifts that you can’t afford and don’t have time to wrap. Don’t overload on activities, food, or drink. Your emotional health is far more important to your family than stressing out by trying to do too much. Keep your priorities simple.
3. Be flexible
Cultivate flexibility and a sense of humor. You can’t control fate or what other people do or don’t do. Some of our Christmas disappointments and chaos make up our most memorable Christmases. One Christmas, the roast tumbled on its way out of the oven, spreading grease and Yorkshire pudding across the kitchen floor. That was our dog’s favorite Christmas. Another year, the seven of us ate Christmas Eve dinner at a greasy-spoon restaurant when we got stranded out of town. And many times, our ex-spouses were hours late to pick up the kids.
Be open to and enjoy the wonderful surprises that can happen in stepfamilies around the holidays. That special surprise from your stepchild or an offer of help or gesture of kindness from a child who normally turns his back can be what makes the holiday truly special.
4. Keep old traditions and establish new ones together
His, hers, and theirs – respect each other’s traditions, and create new ones for your stepfamily. Include the children’s input as you develop holiday rituals. Early on, we established a tradition of the seven of us window shopping downtown and seeing Santa Claus. Each child chose a Christmas tree ornament. To this day, those ornaments, inscribed with each child’s name and a year, still adorn our tree. The simplest traditions come in the form of favorite holiday recipes that are enjoyed year after year.
5. Allow for stepcouple time
Don’t forget about each other while you’re getting ready for the holidays. It’s a stressful time, so you need to rely on your partner for support. Plan some couple time without the children – a dinner out, a private shopping trip, a movie or just time for talking. Make it happen.
For you, your stepcouple and your stepfamily, I wish you a peaceful and pleasant holiday season.
How do you want your holidays to be remembered?
Susan Wisdom LPC