Blended family holidays amplify the already-complicated dynamics stepmoms navigate everyday. You’re thrilled to have the kids in your home on your custodial time, but the house feels eerily quiet when they’re at their other home and the holiday commotion slows down.
These feelings of longing for normalcy are compounded when we look around and everyone else is celebrating their holidays without worries of custody transition times, whose holiday it is, etc.
Our holiday custody schedule was intentionally designed around my stepdaughter’s parents’ celebrations. She’s with her mom until 7pm on Christmas Eve celebrating with her mom’s parents, then she’s with us until 1 pm Christmas Day while we celebrate as a family of 3 and with Kevin’s parents, and then she goes with her mom to her maternal great-grandmother’s house to celebrate with all of mom’s extended family.
While it works out perfectly for Krista to celebrate with each of her family members, it means that Kevin and I consistently celebrate Christmas afternoon and evening as a couple, instead of as a family.
After the rush to finish celebrating by 1 pm before her mom picks her up, it can feel too still in those later hours.
Getting Creative: A Christmas Staycation
In past years, we’d spend Christmas evening ordering Chinese takeout (that took way too long because we weren’t the only ones with that idea) and watching movies together on the couch. It wasn’t un-special, but it also wasn’t something to write home about.
Our lack of plans caused me to do the mindless social media scroll more than I’d like. I saw friends and family posting photos celebrating with their kids all day, and it felt a little like salt in an already open wound. We knew the quiet existed in our home; we didn’t need to be reminded it was still loud and festive for everyone else.
Last year, knowing that I preferred to be gifted experiences instead of things, my husband planned a staycation for the two of us in Downtown Dallas. He researched the perfect hotel, made dinner reservations, and planned a scenic route to walk to the restaurant.
Instead of thinking about what Christmas would have felt like for us if we were a nuclear family, we found a way to make the most of our time together as a family and then later in the day, our time together as a couple.
I know that many stepmoms struggle with those same feelings of emptiness on a too-quiet holiday, and while I know it gets easier with time, I’ve also found a few other tips I know will be comforting.
It’s truly not about the date.
We get to assign value to dates. December 25th is special because we’ve decided it’s special.
But if you don’t have your stepchildren on December 25th this year, then maybe December 23rd or December 28th is special this year. You get to decide which date is special by determining the emphasis you’ll place on it, instead of letting the calendar dictate how special your family celebration will be.
You’re likely dismissing this advice. “But Kristen, the calendar clearly says what day Christmas is!” There are other factors like when local events are happening you’d like to take the kids to, when the kids are off school, etc.
But imagine if you decided to put your tree up in November instead of waiting for the kids to come back home mid-December. Is it possible it could be more fun getting to have non-rushed time together?
What if you chose to open presents on December 23rd instead? There’s no competition to see whose gifts are better, no wondering if you gifted more or less presents than their other home, and you get that special novelty of being the first to give them gifts. The first is always the most exciting—365 days worth of anticipation leading up to its unwrapping.
Does December 25th actually matter?
It’s about how you spend the time you get.
Not having your stepkids on December 25th provides the perfect opportunity to create new traditions in your stepfamily.
Make gingerbread houses together on the first Saturday of December. Visit your in-laws the weekend before Christmas. Plan your annual family movie night to watch Elf at the end of November.
You can get as creative as you’d like. This is your holiday to create however you dream it.
And remember, it is not the date that matters; it’s how you spend the time you have.
It’s also about with whom you spend your time.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I do want to remind you that your stepchildren aren’t looking forward to December 25th because the calendar calls it Christmas.
They’re looking forward to celebrating with YOU. They’re eagerly awaiting making memories as a family.
Don’t let your focus on when you celebrate (or rather, when you don’t get to celebrate) distract from what is most important: being present and enjoying time with your family.
Choose to cherish the moment and stay focused on what truly matters.
I get it.
I know this is all very simplified, and much easier said than done. I get it. I truly do.
When I’m disappointed in the reality of constraints created by my stepfamily, I often refer to my favorite Maya Angelou quote.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
When you can’t change the date your family will be celebrating the holidays, choose to transform your attitude. Don’t give the ex or the custody schedule that kind of power over you.
Rise above the disappointment and make this an incredible, memorable holiday. We deserve it after all 2020 has put us through, don’t we?
P.S. If you need help getting organized sooner rather than later, check out our sanity-saving Christmas Organization Binder!