Stepping Carefully with the Stepchildren at Christmas

little blonde girl hanging an ornament on a small Christmas tree not much bigger than she is. There are boxes and toys under the tree on a wooden floor.

Today’s post may not apply to everyone here, but quite a few of us are in love with partners who have children from previous relationships. In most divorces, arrangements are made for who gets the kids on the holidays. Fred and I traded back and forth, which is common.

It could be that this isn’t your year. It’s just the two of you. That can be sweet and wonderful, unless your partner is depressed about not being with the kids and the family is bugging you about not having any children. Maybe you enjoy their company and wish they were with you. Or maybe you feel relieved but don’t dare say it out loud.

Perhaps it’s your turn to have them for the holidays. You’re not quite comfortable with each other, and you probably have different ideas about how the holidays are supposed to go. You have different traditions, eat different foods, and have different religions or none. Their mom opens gifts on Christmas Eve; you wait till Christmas morning. You prepare an ethnic feast that they refuse to eat. You go all out buying gifts for them and get nothing in return. Suddenly your Christmas is all about his/or her kids, and you resent it.

On the other hand, having these children around gives you some legitimacy among the parent crowd. You can freely say, “our kids,” “my daughter” or “my son.”

Of course, plans can change, and you might be left with a pile of presents and a ton of macaroni and cheese with no one to give them to.

But let’s say you have them this year. Holidays usually include the rest of the family, too. Do your parents and siblings accept your partner’s kids as part of the family or treat them like strangers? It’s not something you can control, but it hurts when your stepchildren get the cold shoulder. I remember when Fred’s youngest called my mother “Grandma” and she didn’t respond. Poor kid. What was he supposed to call her? Mrs. Fagalde?

The age of the children makes a difference. Little ones are more adaptable and more easily accepted while sullen teens will not be so easy. But you brought them here. It’s your job to try to make them as happy as possible.

What can you do? If you and the ex and your family are all on speaking terms, a little preemptive diplomacy might help. Ask the mom what foods they won’t eat, what she’s getting them for Christmas and what you might buy them. Ask whether it’s all right to take them to your church or out of town to be with your family.

Ask your own family to accept the kids, let them call them Grandma or Auntie, and treat them like the other children in the family. After all, if you are not having children of your own, these are the children you have. Stand up for them, even if they drive you nuts.

Do your best to include them in all of the holiday activities. Let them help you bake cookies or put up the decorations. Hang a stocking on the mantel with their name on it. Remember that they are not at “home” and that can be as hard for them as it is for you.

Will they give you big hugs and call you Mom or Dad? Maybe. Maybe not. They might hide in their room and refuse to speak to you, but it’s worth a try.

Dear readers, what advice can you offer to those dealing with stepchildren during the holidays? What has worked well for you? What has turned out to be a disaster? I look forward to your comments.

Photo by Cottonbro Studio at

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6 thoughts on “Stepping Carefully with the Stepchildren at Christmas

  1. Sue,

    Once again you pulled my card right out the deck ! You ought to go to Las Vegas ! I’ve had to navigate with stepsons and how well I know how awkward they can be with stepfamilies.
    Civility and proper decorum should take place. Many times they don’t.

    I believe healthy boundaries need to be established. But I can’t tell you how to do this. Like we say in Texas, “Beats my two pair “.


  2. Hi Sue,
    Here, the children spend Christmas with us and New Year with their mother, so for Christmas we go to my mother-in-law’s, and many times I feel the odd one out (but not only for Christmas). As for my family, they don’t exactly give the children the cold shoulder but they don’t try to get to know them either, except for my nephew, who is the same age as my stepson and they became sort of friends. As for giving advice, I don’t know, maybe if you’re not the designated driver drink a lot of champagne? 😂


  3. Adult steps here so we don’t have to deal with sharing holidays. Very different situation.

    The challenge I run into is the stepkids insist that bio Mom be included in all holidays, Mother’s Day, Christmas etc

    So she and I suck it up and spend the day together. We get along fine but how can I ever bond as a stepmom when BM is around? I gave up on bonding years ago and just focus on being the best wife I can to my husband. And protecting my heart around chronic boundary tramplers. I’ve read that honoring and respecting the husband’s ex (the BM) will win the respect of the stepkids and it does help.

    My #1 advice is the same as for a baby shower. Plan something special for yourself afterwards. Spa day. Road trip. Lunch or dinner with a friend. Whatever is special to you. That way you have that thing to look forward to during the challenging stepkid time.


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