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 Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.

Are you a childless holiday orphan?

Holidays are tough. We often find ourselves surrounded by families full of parents and children and feel left out because we can’t share in the talk about kids and babies and pregnancies. We may come up against people who bug us about when we’re going to have children or why we don’t have them. They may even make wisecracks about us being the ones without children.

The only way around this is avoiding those people and either spending the holidays alone or spending them with people with whom you feel more comfortable. If you have to do the family thing, try as hard as you can to forget what you don’t have and enjoy the good parts of the festivities. You do have things to be thankful for, I promise. And hey, there’s pumpkin pie.

Another holiday challenge kicks in when your mate has children from a previous relationship. If they live with you, they will most likely be with the other parents for the holidays. If not, they may be with you, or their time may be split between parents so you only get a taste of parenthood. And sometimes, it’s harder being with the stepchildren than it is being without them. Hang in there.

In our situation, the older kids were on their own by the time we got married, but they mostly spent their holidays with their mother, and the grandchildren were hustled back and forth between Grandma and their dad’s family, so we didn’t see much of them. Michael, the youngest, lived with us from age 12 to 20. Before that, we got him on the holidays, but after he moved in, his mom claimed him. Most Christmases, we had limited kid time and felt pretty left out. Once we had all three and the grandchildren at our house. That was the best Christmas ever. Unfortunately, it only happened once.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are special days, but try not to dwell on what you don’t have or what doesn’t happen on those days. There are 363 other days in the year to do something special just for yourselves and invite whoever you want.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I’m on the road this week, but I hope to post again on “black” Friday. I am thankful for all of you.