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.

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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.