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The Stepmom’s Guide to Holiday Gifts

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Three years ago, my stepdaughter’s mom’s family lived with us during the holidays. You might remember that I’m a little crazy for Christmas… so I put up a Christmas tree in nearly every room of the house. One of the trees was designated for their Christmas presents, and one for ours.

As more presents were wrapped, I began to notice just how many more presents they had purchased for my stepdaughter. And how much larger they were.

I reminded myself we’d purchased items my stepdaughter would love, and that it was the thought that counts. But in that moment, it felt like our celebration would pale in comparison.

How could we compete with all of those presents? We were outnumbered and outsized. In the battle of my stepdaughter’s two homes, we had fallen short… or had we?

Is it really a competition? Holidays in a blended family are definitely more complex than for first families. From the holiday visitation schedule to traditions and presents, it’s all just a little more complicated.

Let’s talk through all of your questions about gifts for the holidays as a stepmom.

The Stepmom’s Guide to Holiday Gifts

Earlier this week, I posted a question on the Stepmomming Instagram page to ask what kind of holiday questions you have, and how I can help this year. Overwhelmingly, your questions were centered on presents.

So, buckle up. This one’s going to be a doozy. Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about gifts during the holidays as a stepmom:

  1. Gifts for my Stepchildren
    • Do you set a budget?
    • Who should buy the gifts?
    • What if you don’t want presents from their other home adding to the clutter at your home?
  2. Coordinating with their Other Home
    • Do we need to coordinate gifts with their other home?
    • What if it’s a tense, high-conflict situation?
    • What if you have different budgets?
    • Will Santa know which home the child is at?
  3. Gifts for my Partner
    • Should you help the kids buy/make a gift for your partner?
    • What if your partner’s ex wants to buy a gift for your partner from the kids? From herself?
  4. Gifts for my Stepchild’s Other Parent
    • Should you help the kids buy/make a gift for their other parent?
    • Should you buy a gift for their other parent from you?

Gifts for my Stepchildren

Do you set a budget?

Yes! Each year, Kevin and I sit down at the start of the season and set a budget for the remainder of the year. We factor in gifts for every member of our families, decor, parties, family photos, and festive pajamas. (Yes, I really do have a budget line for pajamas… #worthit)

If you have the financial means to not worry about budgeting, this may not be relevant for you; this is simply how we prepare for the holidays.

Who should buy the gifts?

In our home, I tend to be the more savvy shopper, so I keep a running list of gift ideas for everyone we buy for and snag a good deal when I find it.

The only exception to this is that every year, I encourage my husband to buy a gift for my stepdaughter, Krista, that is just from him. She knows the scrunchies and nail polish are from me, but the build your own rollercoaster kit? That’s definitely from Dad.

It’s important that she sees he’s involved and hasn’t shifted that duty to me.

If you’re asking this question because you don’t want to be responsible for purchasing gifts for your stepchildren and you want that to be your partner’s responsibility, that’s a reasonable boundary you can absolutely set with them.

What if you don’t want presents from their other home adding to the clutter at your home?

In our home, we definitely have a “stuff” problem. One of the ways we’ve started combating the amount of toys (aka, clutter) my stepdaughter is given is to request experiences (like the Pogo Pass) as gifts instead of toys. It gives us the opportunity to go out as a family and make memories, and it alleviates the “stuff” problem. 2 birds, 1 stone.

When the clutter is coming from Krista’s other home, I simply send it back at the end of our custodial time. Before I came into the picture, Krista’s parents had set an expectation that Mom’s toys stay at Mom’s house and Dad’s toys stay at Dad’s house. It has worked well for us.

Coordinating with their Other Home

Do we need to coordinate gifts with their other home?

No! Absolutely not. If your stepdaughter ends up with two Elsa dresses, one for each home? That’s okay.

Can you coordinate gifts with the other home if you both want to? Sure!

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to stepfamilies. If you all get along, and you want to discuss gifts, go for it. If you don’t want to, that’s okay too! This is simply another example of co-parenting vs. parallel parenting, and there’s no right or wrong answer, just what works best for your family.

In our home, we will often coordinate on bigger items. We’ve often discussed if it’s time to get her a phone or watch that allows calls, and we all want to be on the same page about when that gift is age-appropriate for her.

Her mom has told us in the past she plans to buy her an iPad for Christmas. We asked if she was okay with us gifting Krista getting her ears pierced. We have a good working relationship, so it makes sense we can coordinate on these things.

What if it’s a tense, high-conflict situation?

Then my answer is a definitive no. Less communication is better when things are high-conflict.

The holidays will not be ruined if you don’t coordinate gifts, so let this one go.

What if you have different budgets?

A stepmom wrote to me and said she feels guilty because they set a certain budget for gifts each year, and she knows it is way above the other home’s budget. What should she do?

It’s similar to my story in the beginning, right? This is not a competition. Each home should do what they feel comfortable with for the holidays. You shouldn’t feel bad either way.

The holidays shouldn’t be about the quantity or price of gifts. It should be about making memories, spending time together, and the love behind the gift more than the actual gift itself.

I didn’t go out and buy more gifts to exceed my budget when I saw that my stepdaughter was getting more gifts from her mom 3 years ago. I knew the gifts we purchased were meaningful, useful, and wouldn’t contribute to our “stuff” problem. It wasn’t a competition for us, and it shouldn’t be for you.

When you give meaningfully, no one else is a factor. It’s not about the ex, so don’t let her situation determine your holiday celebration.

Will Santa know which home the child is at?

Yup! In my experience, if you write Santa a letter telling him which house you’ll be at, he will deliver your gift(s) to that home. If you don’t tell him, he usually delivers to both homes.

He’s the best.

Gifts for my Partner

Should you help the kids buy/make a gift for your partner?

Sure! If that’s something you want to do, I think that would be really meaningful.

Each year, I help Krista pick something out for her dad. Sometimes it’s something simple but special like a framed photo of them. Other years, we’ll go to the store and she can pick something out that she thinks he will like or an activity they can do together.

It works out well for us, but I also recognize not all stepmom/stepchild relationships are like ours. Trust your gut and do what feels right for you.

What if your partner’s ex wants to buy a gift for your partner from the kids? From herself?

I often hear this question around the holidays, Father’s Day, and a significant other’s birthday. While I get that it can feel like a slap in the face or like she’s trying to exert power, you have to evaluate if this is truly worth your peace.

Does it harm anything if she purchases a gift? Likely not.

At the point that it impacts you, you can set boundaries around it. Otherwise, don’t let it rob you of another second of joy.

In our family, my husband’s ex doesn’t purchase a gift for him from Krista. The year that they lived with use, we all exchanged gifts with each other.

Gifts for my Stepchild’s Other Parent

Should you help the kids buy/make a gift for their other parent?

If you really want to and you have a good relationship, then you can absolutely help the kids buy or make a gift for their other parent. But always give with zero expectations. She doesn’t have to appreciate it or thank you for the gift.

If things are tense or you know that you would be disappointed if she didn’t thank you, then I recommend not helping the kids with this task. Someone on the other side of the family (grandma, stepparent, etc.) can take that on.

Should you buy a gift for their other parent from you?

If you genuinely want to purchase the other parent a gift and you’re on good terms, then I don’t see an issue with it.

If it’s meant as an olive branch, I’d reconsider. If it’s meant to prove a point, definitely don’t. If you’re doing it for any other reason than you want to give a present to a friend/someone you enjoy, then you should not buy a gift for the other parent from you.

Don’t Overcomplicate things.

The holiday season is already chaotic. Add in a global pandemic and stepfamily complexities, and it’s beyond.

My hope is that I was able to simplify the gift-giving process for you so you could focus on other more important things this holiday season.

Wishing you peaceful, merry holidays!

P.S. Don’t forget about yourself! Share this list of gifts for stepmoms with your partner. 😉

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