We set ourselves up for disappointment sometimes without knowing we do it. EXPECTATIONS. And when is the ultimate time of year to have them? Family holidays! And the Christmas season in particular. It comes down to our memories of what we had as a child. Either we want to relive the memories or reinvent them. Based on that, we want the outcome to be perfect or as close to that as we can. When children are involved it has to be magically perfect. “Everybody will be included and feel loved and we will all be one big happy family the entire time!! Weee!!” That is an unrealistic expectation for first time families let alone second time families. Because second time families aren’t like first time families. There are more players involved on the field and many more dynamics to those relationships. AND you as a stepmom may not be in a position to exert your thoughts, plans and values during this time of year. In fact there may be a lot of sacrifices on the part of a stepmom. And sacrifices are part of the parenting job description but those sacrifices are harder to make if the children haven’t been born to you. Maybe you tend to over do it. Expectations can cause an incredible amount of stress for everybody: the kids, the dad the stepmom, and even the members of the other household. Holiday stress is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve but bending and forcing people to behave and be the way you want them to is exactly the way to achieve stress. It can turn the warmth, sharing and love of the season into dread, anxiety, resentment, and disaster. Attempting to control the outcome is dangerous.
Set the bar low- if creating a schedule for visitation is causing battles and stress and anxiety then make sure your plans fit the needs of the children. They cant be in two places at the same time so somebody has to give. If it’s your home this year then make it hers the next. I’ve heard time and again from adult children of divorce talk about how the juggling back and forth made them dread the holiday season and how that dread spills over into their adult experiences of Christmas. It is always good to have a plan but understand that things don’t always go according to plan. At least if plan A doesn’t work there are 25 more letters in the alphabet.
Find room for negotiation- don’t let the Christmas season become the back drop for World War 3. You may be new to this version of Christmas or well versed but putting the kids in the middle depletes them of their self worth reserves. Loyalty binds are real and someone usually ends up on the short end of the stick- and it’s usually the kids. A lot of them already blame themselves for the divorce. Set your priorities and decide which hill to die on. It may take years to get into the Christmas season groove. It can take 7 or more years for stepfamilies to START to gel. Some may never get there at all. What are the non negotiable traditions? Can they be blended with your husband’s? Can you put them on hold –temporarily- for the greater good of your family. Or decreased stress for yourself. They don’t have to fade into the background or disappear all together but maybe they need to be adjusted.
For you stepmamas, set some clear boundaries. It’s important not to overextend yourself. Don’t over do it. Going back to work depleted after a break is dangerous for your mental, physical and emotional well being. Not only for just yourself but your husband as well. Of course we want OUR good guy to win but not managing stress is unhealthy. If you can provide a safe place of peace for yourself you can count that as a stepmom score. Taking care of yourself has a triple fold, trickle down effect: you, husband, marriage, and if you are lucky the children too. And if your husband doesn’t get his fair share, make sure you are creating your own magic for and with each other 😉