As a child of divorce, my happy Christmas memories end around age eleven. My family splintered, and Christmas turned into shuffling back and forth from my mom’s house to my dad’s apartment, or, worse, my dad coming to my mom’s as though we were trying to prove we were still a family unit.
So when I became a stepmom, Christmas brought up, let’s say, some BIG FEELINGS.
My then-boyfriend and his daughter had stories of previous Christmases like the time they’d cut down their own tree together, and the time they had Christmas in Disneyland.
I joined them for their Christmas rituals, even though I was experiencing anxiety the whole time. At that point, my now husband and I had been together for around six months, and I didn’t even know if our relationship was going to work out. We listened to the Christmas Classics station as we drove to Agway to pick out a tree together.
I’ve had four christmases with my husband and stepdaughter since that first Christmas in 2017, and I’ve learned A LOT.
Here are some tips for how to make your blended family Christmas that much better:
1. CREATE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
That same day, when we got back to my husband’s apartment (where I didn’t yet live), and they got their holiday ornaments out, I realized I could share my own family’s traditions.
For some reason, I was sheepish, but I told them how my mom would always put out red and green M & Ms in a bowl to eat while we decorated the tree. And it was a ritual to play Charlie Brown’s Christmas album. When I told my husband and stepdaughter about the candy and music, they were excited. My husband went to the store for the M&Ms, and we’ve continued to do it for the past four years.
Passing down this tradition, as simple as it may be, helped me feel like part of the family unit. If you don’t have a childhood ritual like me, then make one up (or feel free to use mine).
2. OPT OUT OF EVENTS OR OBLIGATIONS
We put so much pressure on ourselves to be at every single engagement with a smile on our faces.
But do you REALLY have to be at the Christmas Eve party three hours early? Will the world stop turning if you don’t make the perfect breakfast casserole? I think not.
What can you forfeit this year?
3. IT’S OKAY TO HAVE THOSE BIG FEELINGS (AND TO CRY IN THE BATHROOM)
I was so overwhelmed that first Christmas that I remember going into the bathroom with tears in my eyes. Some were definitely happy tears—I felt lucky about my new relationship, but there was a sadness about not being a first family, knowing I’d missed many Christmases with my stepdaughter.
If I had to go collect myself in the bathroom for a few minutes and take deep breaths, that was OK.
4. DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
As we pulled the ornaments of my husband’s past out of a box, his daughter began showing me each one with excitement. There was one ornament heart with her mom’s name on it, and she began sharing with me the story behind it. It was a tough moment for me, but I breathed through it and survived (though I’ll always remember it).
5. CHILL OUT ABOUT THE SCHEDULE
For the most part, our co-parenting schedule is tight, but come the holidays, it feels like an ever-changing chaotic shit-show. I used to (and still sometimes do) OBSESS over the schedule, timing, and all of the details that come up around the holidays. I would badger my husband asking if he received any new texts or what the changes were.
But these days, I see things differently. It’s just a day called Christmas; and I don’t need to put SO much meaning on a day.
As blended families, we have to let go of the idea of the nuclear family sitting around in our pajamas all day.
Instead, my stepdaughter often spends the morning at her mom’s, and the second half of the day with us. We are often playing the waiting game. There is always driving involved.
But you know what? So we split the day on Christmas. There are many other days of the year.
Each year, as time does its thing, it bothers me less and less. So if you’re struggling this Christmas hang in there and know that it (mostly) does get better.
And if not? There’s always red and green M&Ms.
— Guest Post