Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix

Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas follows shortly after. Will your stepchildren be with you or their biological parents? Holidays get tricky when two sets of parents claim the kids, shuttling them back and forth according to the terms of custody agreements.

I feel for the children. Back in the days before Fred’s youngest turned 18, he was always coming or going. For years, his mother lived in Texas and we were in California, so he flew back and forth, often arriving with headaches and an upset stomach from the stress of traveling alone and facing a different family.

When he came to San Jose, we would take him to my family’s holiday gatherings, but the poor boy didn’t know half those people, and suddenly he was expected to call near-strangers Grandma and Grandpa or Aunt and Uncle. Here are your cousins, kid. No, they weren’t.

If he stayed with his mother, then he had to deal with her boyfriend’s people and he didn’t get to see his dad. After he moved in with us, his mother would take him away just when he probably wanted to stay home with his friends and his toys. She and the kids partied together while Fred and I cooked a turkey for just the two of us.

Meanwhile, looking at it from the view of the childless stepmother, having Fred’s son with us at family parties gave me a certain legitimacy, especially if his older siblings joined us. See, I’ve got the whole package, the husband and the children, just like everyone else. When they were with their mom, we were the childless ones who didn’t fit in. Sometimes we all got together, bio- and step-families. That was weird, all of us making nice and pretending we were family.

The best Christmas of my life was the one where somehow we had all the Lick children and grandchildren, plus my parents, at our house. I don’t remember why, but nobody had to leave for another party that day. I remember music, laughter, wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere, and smells of turkey and pumpkin pie. I remember little ones calling me “Grandma” as we sat at the piano singing “Rum pa pum pum.” It never happened quite like that again.

When I was growing up, everyone came to our house, both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles and their kids. No one was divorced. Nobody had anyplace else to go. My mom said grace and thanked God for everyone being there. Dad plagued us with the bright lights of the movie camera, and we celebrated as one happy family. Things are so different now. Complicated.

Step-relationships are often troubled. Has anyone heard, “Leave me alone! You’re not my mother (or father)!”? Who hasn’t? Sometimes it’s easier to get through the holidays when the kids are somewhere else. Sometimes it just hurts. You buy presents and get nothing back. You watch the bio-parents get all the love. You hug the dog and wish the holidays were over. Right?

Of course sometimes, the holidays are great. The kids are great. You feel blessed.

So, how is it for you? If you have stepchildren, how do you handle the holidays? What are the best parts and the worst parts? If you were a stepchild, what was that like? Feel free to vent here in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix

  1. Sue,

    I know exactly where you’re coming from. That’s the one part of the holidays that I dread. I put on a smiling face and act happy. Dying on the inside. I deserve an Oscar. The holidays and Father’s Day are when I feel like chopped liver.


  2. What a lovely Christmas memory for you to have. Our blessings are all around us, even if only in memory (sometimes).

    I don’t have much to add to the Step situation as it doesn’t apply to me. However, I’m doing my best to gear up for a great holiday season.

    I refuse to believe that I’m less of a human being because I don’t have a child to share this with.

    I refuse to feel like I “have” to do the things I usually do. Bringing special toys and crafts for the little ones in the family always made me feel better, like I had more to offer. My heart isn’t in it this year. Those little ones will solider on without my lame crafts, believe me.

    I refuse to feel like I should have some sort of rocking body just because I haven’t given birth. I refuse to compare my figure with the mothers in the room and feel guilty that some of them look way better than me. That’s NOT what this is all about.

    I refuse to let memories of the past behavior of annoying and hurtful family members make me bitter. I will ignore some without apology and focus on those who love.

    I really have no idea how I’m going to accomplish any of these things but there will be a peaceful weekend after the storm of Thanksgiving and I intend to treat myself nicely.


  3. I was always resentful that I missed out on the whole Christmas morning with children. This was my mom’s most favorite moment in the entire year. She made a HUGE deal out of Christmas mornings, and I always wanted to do that for my child as well. My husband’s son ended up having two younger half-siblings and we both agreed that although we really would have enjoyed seeing him on Christmas day, we couldn’t imagine taking him away from his siblings. My siblings are a huge part of my childhood memories of Christmas day and I couldn’t imagine ripping that away from him. His mother cheating on his father was not his fault and these were his siblings regardless. I was always on the outside and only got to enjoy “pretend” Christmas mornings which did not include setting out cookies for Santa because obviously this wasn’t really Christmas morning. Fast forward 20 years, and my husband’s son and fiancee want to move and live near us, get married and raise a family. I had so many mixed emotions!!!!!! Part of me wanted nothing to do with being a pretend grandma. How can one be a grandma when you’ve never been a mother??? But then I realized that in that little child’s world, I would be the grandma that was around all the time. Enjoying all those moments. All the other grandparents would live 3,000 miles away. So I started to get very excited about it and even embrace being on the “inside” of this child’s life. I would be the grandma that this child would be comfortable with and hug on. And of course–I will be honest here–I couldn’t wait to post thousands of pictures of me and the baby on Facebook with hopes my husband’s ex would see them all and be jealous. (I know. shame on me). Well, things didn’t work out as planned. The move to be hear us happened and the wedding happened. However six months after the wedding, my husband’s son went back to his drug abusing ways and the wife started sleeping with a co-worker. They are now divorced and we have all moved away. So, in the end I got jilted again, but it was a reminder that just because you have a child (like my husband did) it doesn’t mean you will always have a Walton’s family Christmas.


  4. As the holidays roll around again, I just wanted to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Sue for providing this forum for us to come and talk to others in similar situations and also to everyone who is brave enough to share their stories. I honestly don’t know what I would do without this community. I am grateful for you all! I hope we can all have peaceful holidays and find ways to be kind to ourselves. Hugs to you all, I am thinking about you! x


    • M2L, thank you so much for your kind words. I am grateful for all of you. This blog blossomed out of my book and took on a life of its own which amazes me every day. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.


    • I second this sentiment. I do find myself coming here more during the holidays. It’s tough but we’re all here together and that helps.


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