When you’re blending a family, or joining what feels like a ready-made family, the holidays can seem daunting.
You need to find a balance between respecting old traditions, creating new ones and honouring traditions of your own.
All while navigating a holiday schedule that can often make it feel like there isn’t time to fully enjoy the holiday season.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. Those early stepmom years can feel hard. You’re still trying to find your place, and the holiday stressors may trigger you in ways that you don’t expect.
And before I get into any tips, please know this is normal, and it won’t always feel this hard.
As with everything in stepfamily life, navigating this requires communication, compromise, empathy, mindset shifts and patience. (The patience part has always been a struggle for me).
Most importantly, it requires time.
1. RESPECT OLD TRADITIONS
For the first couple of years, your new family may be holding on to the ways that they have always done things. This is more than just about their holiday traditions. Like you, they have gone through a major transition in their life. When we go through these things, we often hold only things that mean the most.
It’s important to honour the old traditions that they have, even if they don’t align with yours.
2. SHARE YOUR TRADITIONS TOO
That doesn’t mean you can’t honour your traditions or even create new ones together.
Share your traditions too! The kids may be receptive, and they may not. Either way, you have every right to do the things that you love to do around the holidays too.
Growing up, my favourite tradition was to make and decorate a chocolate house (kind of like a gingerbread house but made with chocolate moulds).
Our first Christmas, I introduced the kids to the fun.
BUT one of my stepsons doesn’t like chocolate. He wasn’t into it. He likes gingerbread and it was a tradition he didn’t want to give up. So we did both! One chocolate, one gingerbread.
3. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER
In December, my husband and the kids LOVE to watch Christmas movies at night. It’s their favourite tradition. I like Christmas movies, but I don’t want to watch them several times a week, and truthfully, I only really need to watch Home Alone and Love Actually, and I’m good. I’m not a huge movie buff.
Spending nights watching movies isn’t my thing.
They still do this, and I join when I feel it. After we had our own daughter, she started to join them. It’s a great opportunity for me to wrap presents, putter around the house or dive into a good book while my husband gets alone time with the kids.
On that same note, my husband doesn’t love to decorate chocolate/gingerbread houses. The process is painful for him. He doesn’t care about placing smarties on the roof to make patterned shingles.
This is something I do with the kids. He comes in and out.
If you have traditions you don’t want to give up, don’t give them up. I’m not just talking about chocolate houses and watching It’s A Wonderful Life either.
If you always go home and do something with your family, but the schedule doesn’t work for your partner and the kids, you can still go. There is no shame in doing your own thing. It’s all about finding the balance.
Let’s talk about the tree for a second. Growing up, we had two trees. A kid’s tree and a tree that my mom decorated. I love decorating a tree and am quite particular about how it looks. I don’t want to do this with anyone else. I want to pour a glass of wine, put on some Mariah Carey and make it happen.
At the beginning, My husband did not understand this. “So the kids can’t help you decorate that tree?” he questioned.
“No they cannot” I responded.
He didn’t get it. He did not have this tradition growing up. But the thought of the kids decorating the upstairs tree with me made me feel like I was going to break out in hives. I wanted to place the twigs and balls on the tree alone.
My idea of Christmas decorations involved natural colours, lights, greens and some pinecones.
My husband and the kids were used to tacky trains, bright coloured bulbs and random stuffed figurines that I personally feel belong on the shelf at Goodwill. (No judgement if that’s your style… it’s just not mine).
We HAD to find a compromise. They needed the bright colours and the trains that were traditions year after year and I really needed my perfectly decorated tree. So we got two.
The basement looked like Santa’s Workshop barfed all over, and the upstairs was aligned with my own traditions and aesthetic.
I don’t understand the tacky decorations and he doesn’t understand the sparkly twigs, but we found a common ground.
We decorated one tree as a family, and I had my special night on my own.
5. BE FLEXIBLE ON THE SCHEDULE
Our schedule for Christmas goes like this:
Every other year, we have the kids for Christmas Eve until 3:00 pm on Christmas Day
then their mom has them from 3:00 pm on Christmas Day onto Boxing Day.
The holiday schedule trumps the regular schedule.
This back and forth really throws a wrench into scheduling Christmas with our extended family.
But it’s a court-ordered schedule… so there is no sense in spending time pissed off about it. It is what it is.
We had to learn to be flexible about celebrating.
Sometimes, the kids can come to my family Christmas, sometimes they can’t make it.
We celebrate with Darren’s family a couple of weekends before Christmas.
6. REMEMBER, KIDS ARE PEOPLE NOT A TIMESHARE
On that same note, we try and be flexible whenever possible. If their mom needs some extra time in December to accommodate her family traditions we give it to her. And vice versa. We don’t want the kids missing out on things that they would otherwise get to celebrate.
This is their Christmas too!
For example, this year, we needed an extra day early December. In return, the kids are going to go back to their Moms earlier on Christmas Day.
Give a little, get a little.
Growing up my Dad always said “The day on the calendar doesn’t matter. Christmas is when I get my kids”.
I’ve reminded myself of that mentality since my early stepmom days.
Play the long game and remember what Christmas is really about. It’s about spending time with people that you love. You don’t want the kids to look back on their childhood and remember the tensions and fighting between parents about the schedule.
You want them to remember feeling excited, safe, spoiled, grateful etc.
We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the traditions that don’t actually matter.
It may not feel like it now but those early years with your stepkids on Christmas are precious.
They go so fast. They may not feel that Christmas magic forever. When they become teenagers they may not be as excited about the marshmallows in their hot chocolate, the gingerbread houses, the Christmas movies and the amazing Christmas lights down the street.
Now that the kids are older they couldn’t give two hoots about me decorating the upstairs tree on my own.
Don’t get so caught up in the stress that you lose the magic. Don’t forget what Christmas is all about.
If you feel a little out of place, that’s normal. Be patient. As time goes on, you’ll find your grove.
P.S If you want to treat yourself (and your family) to a gift that will help support you in our stepfamily journey this year, check out The KICK-ASS Stepmom Community. There are workshops on boundaries, disengaging and improving your relationship with your stepkids. Plus live calls, exclusive podcast episodes a private chatroom and more.
Click here to learn more. When you join, be sure to say hi in the Ask Jamie section of the chatroom. I can’t wait to connect!