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Stepparent Holiday Blues: Navigating Stepfamily Holiday Logistics

Being a stepparent can make holidays hard. Learn how to make new family traditions, schedules and gifts work in your blended family.
Stepparent Holiday Blues
Updated: October 19, 2023
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Are you ready for a holiday season filled with joy, love and a little bit of chaos?

Blended family holidays are usually challenging for both new stepmom/stepdads and stepkids. 

From balancing multiple family traditions, scheduling time to celebrate with difficult co-parents and figuring out the best gifts for your new extended family members, navigating holidays as a stepfamily might make you say “Bah Humbug!”

But bringing family together is what the holiday season is all about. With our tips, new stepparents can overcome even the stickiest stepparent holiday challenges.

Related: How to Find the Best Co-Parenting Classes 


Understanding the Holiday Blues in Blended Families

Your first Thanksgiving or Christmas as a stepparent can be nerve-wracking. If you’re worried about being an outsider at the celebrations, it’s important to be aware of the most common issues blended families face this time of year. 

Holiday Schedules Challenges

Conflicts in holiday schedules are one of the main causes of anxiety and stress during the holidays for blended families. Managing holiday schedules is difficult because it involves multiple households. Sometimes, custody arrangements have already divided the holidays. 

However, parents may not always like the custody arrangements. Also, children may prefer to spend the holidays with both biological parents causing them to act out if they do not get what they want.

Conflicts with Step-Parents 

Stressed stepmother struggles during christmas season
Image source: Pexels

Step-parents usually have problems during the holidays because they typically spend more time with stepchildren during that time. Step-parents may have to face their stepchildren’s behavior problems or attitudes. 

Rivalries Between Stepchildren

Rivalries among stepsiblings are common, especially during the holidays because they expect everything to be the same. Here are some of the most common reasons why siblings and blended families crash: 

  • Jealousy especially when their parent shows love towards their stepsibling.
  • Anxiety because of the new situation they are put in.
  • Anger due to them blaming the new family for the breakup of their old family and not being able to spend the holiday with their old family.

Different Holiday Traditions

It is common for families to have specific holiday traditions. However, when two families combine to make one, some practices may have to change. This can cause a lot of problems for some family members specifically stepchildren who expect certain things to stay the same after the transition into a new family.

Tips for Stepfamily Holiday Peace this Year 

The holiday blues is just a temporary feeling and can be overcome by following a few steps. To enjoy a great holiday as a blended family, some changes must occur in the household. Here are the best tips to combat each stepfamily holiday challenge.

  1. Plan ahead of time 

Holidays for blended families are known to be stressful; therefore, waiting until the last minute to figure out things is the worst thing to do. Co-parents should have a clear discussion about where are the kids going to spend the holidays weeks or months before the actual events will prevent any last-minute fights and disappointments.

Ask your partner what their co-parent’s family is planning for Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, and mark dates on your calendar to try and steer clear of hosting conflicting parties. Talking to all family members involved in the situation before the holidays will help prevent conflicts during the holidays.

  1. Assign holidays to each parent or celebrate twice 

Managing holiday schedules is important before the holidays arrive. That is because managing holiday struggles is the main cause of holiday stressors. Sometimes holiday plans are predetermined by custody agreements, but sometimes they are not. 

Some families split up the holidays each year (“I'll take Halloween, you take Thanksgiving”), and some try to do both (Christmas Eve with Mom and “Uncle” Morrie, Christmas Day with Dad). 

If either parent is upset about not getting a certain holiday with the kids – another option is to celebrate twice, once with each parent. You may do your big Christmas dinner and unwrap gifts on Christmas Eve and then bring the kids to the other house on Christmas Day. 

3. Address small things from the beginning

Combining households is not an easy task. Small things need to be addressed from the start. For example, all family members should know how to address each other. Titles for family members need to be discussed to keep the environment respectful. 

Also, each family member should play a role in the household and the house rules should be clear before all family members are home on break from work and school. 

Being around each other for a long time can be stressful and overwhelming. Addressing small things would help prevent trivial matters from causing stress among the family members.

4. Be friendly with your new extended family members 

One of the biggest hurdles that new stepparents often face is figuring out how to interact with new extended family members like your partner’s aunts, uncles and – of course – your in-laws. If you’re nervous about not fitting in with other family members, talk to your partner about what your role is.

Should you bring a side dish to the dinner? Do you need to get a gift or the annual white elephant gift exchange? Being prepared will lessen the stress/pressure around the event. 

It's also important to make an effort to connect with new family members. Start by making small talk and asking them about their other holiday plans, their favorite holiday memories or even something as simple as what football team they’re rooting for! 

5. Do not ignore kids’ mixed feelings about the holidays 

Holidays can be brutal for the children of divorced parents. Kids very often feel incomplete. If they spend time with only one biological parent and a stepparent, they'll no doubt feel torn about not being with poor Mom or Dad. Parents must try to respect the fact that the kids are thinking of their other biological parents. 

Virtually all kids have these fantasies, especially around the holidays. They like the idea of their parents together, even if in reality their parents can't spend two minutes in the same room without making the children want to run off to Katmandu and drown their sorrows in Tibetan yak butter tea and ganja.

Don’t dismiss their frustrations as temper tantrums – talk to them about the changes and stress they’re experiencing, and acknowledge that kids’ resistance to their stepfamily is normal.

6. Combine holiday traditions or start new traditions 

Traditions bring happiness to children, especially during the holidays. If the children are used to a specific holiday tradition, continuing to do it with the new family would usually help children transition better. Families can have one holiday tradition and traditions can also be adapted to suit new people! 

Keep in mind that some children may not appreciate doing a family tradition with their stepfamily. Therefore, parents should have a conversation with their children about sharing family traditions with their new stepfamily and whether they would rather create new traditions with them.

7. Stay calm in conflicts with step-kids and exes 

Step-kids are known to cause problems during the holidays, especially with the new partner. Stepchildren usually act out because of the major change they are going through. They also feel that by liking the new partner, they are betraying their other biological parent, according to Psychology Today. 

Step-parents should be understanding towards stepchildren when they. With time, stepchildren will realize that their step-parents want what’s best for them.

Difficult exes and co-parents may also cause you and your partner problems during the holidays because of jealousy, loneliness or not getting what they want. Treating them with grace in arguments and working to understand their side – even if you disagree - can help minimize the issues that arise during the holidays.

8. Make gift-giving fair for all kids 

Step-kids can feel left out if there are “whole” kids in the picture. Parents should try to be fair by treating all the kids equally, keeping the presents even, and having as much of the major festivities take place when all the kids are around. Lots of discussions and hugs are definitely in order here.

Holiday Gift-giving Rules for Stepparents 

Daughter gives christmas gift to her father and step mother
Image source: Pexels

Gifts can cause trouble during the holidays. Therefore, these gift-gifting rules should be followed.

  • A parent should never buy and give a joint gift together with their ex-spouse. This can cause children to believe that their parents may get back together.
  • A parent should never intentionally try to out-do a gift from their ex to try and “win” favor with their children. 
  • Step-parents and stepsiblings should give gifts to each other and the gifts exchanged should be appropriate to the type of relationship they have. Gifts could also play a role in the bonding of stepchildren with their stepparents.
  • Bio parents should tell each other what they bought for their kids to avoid getting the same gifts or selecting gifts in wildly different price ranges. 

Blended Families Overcoming the Holiday Blues

Celebrating the first holiday together as a stepfamily would be difficult even if parents plan ahead of time. Stress and anxiety will be present, especially among the children.

All in all, blended families can enjoy a wonderful holiday by planning ahead of time, being organized and embracing everything and everyone with love. Sometimes, conflicts may still arise during the holiday even with preparation.

Just remember, the priority of spending time with family and creating new memories should triumph over all conflicts. Remember, every positive memory counts. So, create great ones with your new family.

For some ideas of new holiday traditions to try with your family this year, check out some of our favorite Christmas Traditions and Holiday Activities

Sources +

Family rituals: What are they?. Raising Children Network. (2023, April 5).

Larson, J. (2020, December 18). Stepsibling rivalry and bullying: 11 tips for blended families. Healthline.

Martin. (2009, October 15). The Real Reason Children (and adults) hate their stepmothers. Psychology Today.

Segarra, M., Thomad, S., & Nguyen, A. (2022, December 12). When to let go of old family traditions - and create new ones. NPR.

Halimeh Salem

About Gemma

Halimeh is an experienced teacher who has worked in a variety of US classroom settings. She is… Read more

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