Handling the Holidays Like a Stepparent Pro

Christmas Decorations

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of light, love, and happiness, or not. There are so many complicated layers to stepfamily life. We not only deal with the stressors everyone else does (hosting family dinners, staying on budget while finding that perfect gift for the mail carrier), but then we can often add on sudden changes to visitation and access, appeasing demanding and unaccommodating exes, angry and demanding kids, financial constraints, extended family, in-laws, ex-in-laws and the list can go on. It sometimes feels like you can barely keep your head above water.

This time of year we place extra pressure on ourselves to make everything so perfect. There are so many expectations, and without realizing it, they can be unrealistic. So, how do we care for ourselves when we barely find time to breathe? Here are a few tips to help:

1) Expectation Management

Buying the perfect gift, needing to be in 2 or more places at once, being unable or unwilling to say no to please others – sound familiar?  Shave down your list of must do’s and focus on what’s critical: quality time with your family and friends and slowing down to enjoy the lights and the company of those in your home. Prioritize the top 5 things. The rest should wait. Otherwise, the turkey won’t be the only thing being burned.

2) Self-care is Critical

Small things can make a big difference. Find time to have a cup of tea in a sunny spot or by the roaring fire. Or, kick it up a notch and have something extra yummy in your hot chocolate. Taking a breath of air that fills your lungs and shaking off the burden like a rag doll, releases stress. Watching funny movies or a brisk walk outside with the kids can help shift your perspective. But more importantly, do these things ahead of time so you are not trying to top yourself up when you are already in crisis mode because then, it’s much harder to do.

3) Don’t Bump Your Partner to the Back Burner

We take each other for granted. All the time. We expect our partner to just hang in there. One. More. Minute. One. More. Day. There’s no urgency in connecting with our partners to contend with the dog who just ate a box full of poisonous chocolate thus requiring a trip to the emergency vet. But don’t let those minutes turn into days or weeks, then months without any intimacy or turning towards each other. It’s dangerous! You need your partner to manage the stepfamily chaos and turbulence WITH YOU. He/she is on your team! Carve out time for the two of you.

4) Make a Plan

It’s easy to talk the talk… “sure I’ll take a bubble bath and drink wine…” but it’s harder to actually do it. “Damn the dog just ate the tinsel!” But put it on your daytimer/calendar. Put an alarm on your watch. Tell your partner in crime you are taking some much needed recoup time. Fight, hiss, and claw your way- if you must – into some time on your own. After all, you have to have your cookie jar filled so you can share it with others, right? Add your couple connection time into your daytimer, too. He/she will thank you for it. 😉

5) Stick to Your Plan

I’d say enough said, but really, you are your own priority. If not you, then who? If not now, then when? So make it now.


Ali Wilks HeadshotAli Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach, the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business and Wellness Editor at Stepparent Magazine. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.

Handling the Holidays Like a Stepparent Pro