When Sheree became a stepmother, she discovered that the holiday season was now three times as hectic. "Try coordinating schedules, dinner plans and Christmas gifts with the parents of three households — most of whom don't care for each other very much," Sheree says. "Everything is more complicated."
If you're a stepparent, you probably are facing similar challenges. To minimize the stress, it's important to proactively manage family dynamics throughout the holidays:
Because your celebrations will require coordinating with multiple households, get an early start on your holiday schedules. Advance planning eases stress later on.
Maintain simple rituals of connection
Amid your hectic schedule, don't forget to nurture your family relationships. Give hugs before the kids leave for school; enjoy family dinners or Friday night movies with popcorn and cuddle time. Don't neglect your date nights either — take much-needed time to reconnect with and enjoy your spouse.
Promote positive communication
Work on your co-parent relationship throughout the year in order to improve holiday negotiations, but realize that ultimately you cannot control the other household. When stuck in tough situations, appeal to difficult family members with, "For your son's sake, let's put our differences aside and resolve this matter." Hopefully this will be motivation enough to make any necessary concessions.
Modify old traditions to include stepfamily members. Be willing, for example, to open presents a day before or after Christmas in order to ease between-home transitions for children.
One stepfather found himself disappointed year after year because his stepson had to rush off to his father's house in the middle of Christmas Day. This dad was never able to fully enjoy the day with his wife and stepson because everyone was watching the clock.
As it turned out, his stepson's biological dad was also discouraged each Christmas and was open to changing the visitation agreement. They settled on an alternating arrangement that gave each home an undisturbed Christmas while the other home had an undisturbed Thanksgiving.
Your situation will be unique, but do what you can to make the holidays a sweet time of connection for all families involved. And for those things that don't come together, set what you cannot change at God's feet.
Ron L. Deal is the founder Smart Stepfamilies and director of FamilyLife Blended for Family Life. He is also a licensed marriage and family therapist, a popular conference speaker, and author.