Tip 1: Plan in Advance
It is often the ‘unknown’ that causes stress, so sit down with your partner and make a plan – be sure to coordinate with the biological mom.
Tip 2: Loosen Schedules (a little bit)
We can get very ‘schedule focused’, especially when we see kids part-time. Remember that they are on vacation too, so loosening the ‘reins’ a little won’t do any harm. “Okay, one more Christmas movie!”
Tip 3: Give Yourself a Break
Have you seen National Lampoons Christmas Vacation? A Christmas Story? Home Alone?? Things may go awry, and all you can do is plan and prepare. And have a sense of humor. And beware BB guns. And count your children. And stock up on wine…
Tip 4: Respect Old Traditions
Keep some consistency for the stepkids by working some of their favorite traditions into your new family dynamic. Choose what works for you too, as outsider feelings for stepmoms can be strong at Christmas.
Tip 5: Start New Traditions
New family dynamics need new traditions! We started giving the kids a Christmas Eve box with new PJs, hot chocolate and a movie which we watch together that night. It’s a simple thing, but it helps define our little family.
Tip 6: Side-by-Side Activities
For a new, or not particularly close relationship with stepkids, side-by-side activities are great! You can bake cookies, or decorate the tree. The kids and I still decorate the tree each year (and when they go to bed I rearrange the ornaments… don’t judge).
Tip 7: You don’t have to be Santa
If you do not have a close relationship with your stepkids, let your hubby do the shopping for them. You can do things for the family – baking, organizing charity donations – but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t play Santa.
Tip 8: Remember your Marriage
You’re a stepmom for a reason – you fell in love with a man with kids. In all the holiday rush, take time for the two of you. He might be upset if he doesn’t see his children much, so remind him of your support and that you’re a team.
Tip 9: Self-Care
This is important 365 days a year, but especially at Christmas when we can get overwhelmed with shopping, wrapping, hosting… Carve out time for you – a quiet night in, a date with a friend, long walk in the snow. You can’t pour from an empty vessel!
Tip 10: Get out and have FUN
It’s not all about gifts! Family time is precious. We love to toboggan with the kids during the holidays – getting bundled up, racing down the hill, trudging back up to the top… over and over! We come home cold and exhausted and it’s wonderful.
Tip 11: This year is NOT last year
Repeat after me – this year is not last year. Do not start planning with a sense of dread over what did or didn’t happen before. THIS year has not happened yet. Fresh year, fresh tree, fresh slate.
Tip 12: Practice Peace
There can be a lot of tension and stress for stepfamilies around the holidays. It can benefit everyone (especially you) to practice peace. Try to see the positive, do not buy into drama, and take care of yourself.
Happy Holidays from my stepfamily to yours!
Erin Careless is the founder and owner of Steplife – Stepmom Coaching and Support where she works one-on-one and in group settings to support blended families. She is a contributing author to Stepparent Magazine, and has been published in The Divorce Magazine and Huffington Post. She is a wife, stepmom of two, and mother of one baby girl. See her blog at http://blog.steplife.ca.