It’s been 25 years since our first holiday season as a blended family, but I remember the tension and heartache well. Blending four young children, managing a harried schedule that included two ex-spouses, competing with the other households for time together and gift exchange, and coping with emotions on overdrive ignited a simmering blaze that burned throughout the season and left behind a trail of hurt feelings and unmet expectations.
I learned some valuable lessons that season on how to negotiate with others and compromise on details that didn’t have to go my way. I resolved to take proactive steps the next time around to help relieve some of the turmoil and division. And I committed to create lasting memories and enjoy time together as a family instead of simply survive the season.
If you’re aiming for a peaceful stepfamily holiday, here are a few suggestions.
1. Walk closely with Jesus.
As the curtain closes on another year, our need for the Lord’s help grows. We’ve all walked through our own heartaches this year. And holiday months for blended families bring additional stress, tension, and confusion.
But God! You don’t have to walk this road alone. Search your Bible for verses that highlight how God rescues those He loves. Here’s one of my favorites: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Let Him be your strength this season.
2. Manage your expectations.
I wasn’t prepared for the chaos and heartache that accompanied our first Christmas together. Combining different traditions and the stress of outside family members shattered my Pollyanna expectations.
The next year I came prepared. I expected tense conversations with a stepchild who yearned for the way it used to be when Mom and Dad were still married, and I didn’t take things personally. I showed up early in the season to negotiate a visitation schedule with my former spouse that worked for our family. And I navigated the bumps and potholes with greater ease since my expectations looked different.
3. Recognize and respect grief.
Stepfamilies are created because of loss—the ending of a relationship from death or divorce. The grief from that loss lingers and regardless of the time lapse, holidays can resurrect that grief. Sadness shows up or misbehavior with your kids appears when least expected. Allow grief in as part of your holiday and be mindful of the role it plays. Cry on hard days. Ask for help from those who love you. Make self-care a priority when you need it. And look to the One always ready to offer comfort (Psalm 34:18).
4. Give the gift of grace.
When your stepchild scowls at their gift or refuses to show up for that important family gathering, choose grace. You’re opting to build a long-term relationship. Maybe that relationship doesn’t look the way you want this year. But turning your back and giving up is the easy button. Persevering takes work. When you feel your stepchild doesn’t deserve grace, consider this—we don’t deserve the gift of grace God offers us, but He gives it anyway (Ephesians 2:8).
5. Be flexible.
Stepfamily routines rarely go as planned. Maybe your stepchild asks for a teacher gift at the last minute the other parent had agreed to provide. Or your name gets left off the school holiday program. Commit to do your part to maintain peace without a fuss. Be willing to make sacrifices when necessary. Christmas can be celebrated on a day other than the official holiday and still be a special day. Gift exchanges can be altered for the sake of togetherness.
6. Create memories together.
Press pause on the hustle and bustle of the season and spend time together—away from technology. Start new traditions and celebrate old ones that fit. Traditions offer a sense of belonging and cement relationships when carried out year after year.
Brainstorm with your stepchildren for ideas. Maybe it’s a movie marathon night of your favorite Christmas shows with wassail and popcorn or an afternoon of baking holiday treats together with festive tunes in the background. Get creative and have fun together!
7. Consider your children’s needs.
Holidays are stressful for your kids and stepkids too—especially if they’re pulled between family members. Allow them the freedom to love their other parent and go to that home without a guilt trip. Help your stepchildren buy gifts for other family members. And forego the rules of where gifts must be kept—let them take that favorite new toy with them when they leave for Mom’s house. Trying to control how gifts are managed adds stress to a child and creates a barrier in your relationship.
8. Take time for date night.
Prioritizing the marriage relationship in a busy holiday schedule takes effort! But a late-night rendezvous or Saturday morning coffee date can recharge your relational battery. Make a pact to keep conversation focused on your coupleness without any mention of the kids or former spouses. And end your special time by praying together for your family.
It’s likely your holiday season will include tense moments and stressful days. Don’t fret. Holidays can be joyous and memorable even if they’re not perfect. Rejoice on the good days. Ask Jesus for help on the hard days. And partner with your spouse to create a holiday season that celebrates the birth of a Baby who offers hope and peace to every home.
Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Gayla Grace serves on staff with FamilyLife Blended® and is passionate about equipping blended families as a writer and a speaker. She holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling and is the author of Stepparenting With Grace: A Devotional for Blended Families and co-author of Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Gayla and her husband, Randy, have been married since 1995 in a “his, hers, and ours” family. She is the mom to three young adult children and stepmom to two.