Holiday Logistics for Stepfamilies

Learn how to compromise during holiday season, to respect everyone in the family.
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Holiday Logistics for Stepfamilies

So who's gonna spend the holiday where? Sometimes holiday plans are predetermined by custody agreements, but sometimes there's flexibility built in. If you've got some options, discuss them with the kids and try to be flexible about their desires. Rigidity won't help.

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). Some people celebrate twice, once with each parent (this is more true for birthdays than holidays).

Don't Be Wicked

Rigidity makes you brittle, and if you are brittle you will break. Remain fluid, flexible, bendable (and forever young!).

In our family, because we're Jewish and Aaron and Rachel's mom is not, they do Christmas with her and at least one night of Hanukkah with us. Thanksgiving? Bill's ex is alone, so the kids celebrate it with her, and we do it with my folks. Later that weekend we usually get together for a second feast (this way everybody has two chances to pig out!).

I've even heard of families where he spends holidays with his kids at his parents' house, and she spends holidays with her kids at her parents' house. It doesn't matter how you divvy it up, as long as it feels pretty fair to everybody.

The Semi-Combined Family Holiday

Watch out for trouble on the stepsibling front when some of the kids have different plans. Stepkids can feel left out if there are “whole” kids in the picture. Try to keep the presents even, and have as much of the major festivities take place when all the kids are around. Lots of discussions (and hugs of welcome) are definitely in order here.

Creating New Holidays

If all the holidays seem to be taken up with stress and other people's claims (“But Thanksgiving is mine!”), you can always select another one (Cinco de Mayo, Arbor Day, Stepparents Day) to become an annual blow-out holiday. Give gifts! Decorate the house! Host a party! Host two!

Adult Stepchildren and the Holiday Season

The more adults in the family, the more confusion and chaos there is in terms of holiday logistics. When stepkids partner up and start their own families, the number of adults who aren't quite related and who have their own family holiday traditions will grow incrementally. Talk about logistical nightmares! Once you get it organized (“Joe is doing Christmas, Anthony and John are having their annual midnight Solstice candle lighting, we're all piling over here for the first day of Kwanzaa, and Molly and her kids get to do New Year's brunch this year”), you'll probably have a very merry and very busy time.

When there are lots of subfamilies, there's a tendency for people to sit together in cliques at large family parties. And in every family there's at least one diplomat who probably talks too much but who serves as the cross-over member, making everybody feel welcome (or at least united in their annoyance at the diplomat).

Stepping Stones

If your partner is without the kids, he or she will feel lonely. Create an alternate festivity for yourselves. Don't just stay home and mope. Don't force false cheer. This may be a time for the bear skin rug, the sexy underwear, and the champagne toasts. If you celebrate Christmas, put the “ho ho ho” back into Santa Claus' laugh.

Guilt and Loyalty

Holidays can be brutal for the children of divorced parents. Kids very often feel incomplete. If they spend the time with you and your partner, they'll no doubt feel torn about not being with poor Mom or Dad. Try to respect the fact that the kids are thinking of their other bioparent and that their nostalgia for the past is not a direct shot at you. Yes, it's true, you don't picture into their fantasies of parental togetherness. It's nothing personal.

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.

If the kids spend the holiday with their other bioparent, they will be missing your partner—and they may even be missing you!

Special Days to You

Mother's Day, Father's Day, your birthday—there are lots of opportunities for agony and martyrdom for stepparents! But don't succumb; a bad attitude will get you nothing but grief. Moping around because nobody remembers your birthday isn't fair. You have to tell people, “Hey, my birthday's on Friday and I want us to all go out to dinner.” Tell your partner that birthdays are important to you, and strongly suggest that your Love talk to the kids about at least making you a card.

Mother's Day and Father's Day, “Hallmark” holidays or not, can feel like particularly high hurdles to cross, especially the first one. Don't leave it to chance; discuss your feelings with your partner before you get disappointed. Then it's your partner's job to get the kids to call you or make you a card.

Before special events or days that mean something to you, take the initiative:

  • Be clear about your plans. Anticipate problems and discuss them with the kids.
  • Tell them your expectations. They aren't mind readers. Talk with your partner.
  • Don't expect a major deal about Mother's or Father's Day. The kids feel conflicted enough as it is. Acknowledging it is important, but celebrating it may be too painful.
  • Yes, of course it hurts to be ignored or snubbed. Try to understand the positive intent behind it. It's not meant to hurt you; it's about guilt and loyalty to the other bioparent.