Christmas. A time to celebrate the birth of our Savior with those we love.
What happens when “some” of those we love aren’t with us at the holidays?
For homes who co-parent, the holidays can bring extra stress because schedules and finances are often impacted by the other home — without consent.
This time of year stepmoms flood my inbox with requests on how to handle the holidays when mom changes the schedule or won’t let the kids come over and spend time with dad. It’s heartbreaking for all — most importantly for the children. We have to remember this isn’t their decision and they shouldn’t be put in the middle.
I recently received a question from a frustrated stepmom whose heart hurts for her husband because her stepkids are with them for a limited window at Christmas. I’m sharing with you (with her permission) and offering advice that will hopefully bless all who read.
This year my stepdaughters’ mom has them the four days before Christmas, we get them at bedtime Christmas eve, and then they have to go back to her on Christmas afternoon. We have a 50/50 custody. My husband’s dad will be here from Michigan. We haven’t seen him in a couple of years. Mom won’t budge. I’m so frustrated for my husband. What can I do? The kids are are tweens. – holiday stepmom
A few things we all need to keep in mind while navigating the holidays with another household:
- We cannot control the other house but we can control our response. Make the most of the time you have rather than lamenting on the time you are missing with the kids.
- The kids want to enjoy their time with both households. Make the time you are together peaceful.
- Create activities with no expectations. Print out a blank December calendar and write out things you could do on the days you are all together. Plan to do things and invite the kids if they don’t participate — do them anyway. They may eventually join in. Just watch. Also schedule in “be still” time. It’s good to be home together and just “be” at Christmas.
- While it’s nice to celebrate on Christmas an amazing gift you can give everyone is celebrating when you are all together. The absence of stress will light up the time you are together.
- You are a family and families have traditions. Consider creating a new tradition or two with your family –Christmas even traditions, Christmas day traditions AND ones that can be done any day of the holiday season.
- Remember — toys end up in landfills but memories and traditions stick with a kid. It’s the time you spend together that is the true gift.
Having said that, here are some tips for this stepmom and hopefully you can use them too!
Choose to make the most of your time. Take that calendar I referenced above and brainstorm things to do. These can be things you do in your home. Google free events in your area – tree lighting or caroling or volunteering. Have fun nights at home. Our family does a Polar Express night during Christmas. We all get in our PJs and we make reindeer kiss cookies. We eat them along with our holiday popcorn (popcorn with red/green M&Ms) and drink hot chocolate while we watch the show.
I will share that there have been times over the holidays when one or two kids did not want to participate. We didn’t force it and interestedly about 20 minutes into the movie we had some “visitors.”
Do an impromptu Christmas lights drive. Pile the family in the car, make some hot chocolate to go and drive through neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights.
Recognize that being still — together — is a blessing. You don’t have to be busy to enjoy each other. Pick up a Christmas puzzle and set it out for everyone to work on this month. Collect all Christmas books and place in a basket were anyone can pick up and read.
Ask your father in law what his favorite Christmas cookies are and then bake them with your stepkids or have your husband bake them with the kids. Get the family involved in preparing for Grandpa to arrive.
One idea that I just saw on Pinterest that I absolutely LOVE is to wrap up all your Christmas DVDs then each time you have a Christmas movie night let one family member pick a wrapped DVD to watch. They are all wrapped so it’s a surprise each time as to what will be watched and no arguing over whose “favorite” was chosen.
Consider creating Christmas eve traditions. When the kids get back surprise them with gathering around and asking Grandpa to read the Night Before Christmas. Perhaps, purchase the book and everyone can write a Christmas memory on the inside cover that can be added to each year. Purchase an ornament that represents something about the child from that year to give. Christmas PJs are always fun to unwrap. If you like to sew consider making a simple pillowcase for each child and use it to wrap their Christmas PJs or a small gift on Christmas eve. I choose a fabric for each child that is unique for them and the idea is for sweet Christmas dreams.
Give grace to the kids and to yourself when they return from Mom’s on Christmas eve. The back and forth can be hard on the kids for many reasons.
Consider making a breakfast bake on Christmas Eve so you can just pop it in the oven and save time cooking breakfast.
You may want to design a Christmas lunch menu that will minimize time in the kitchen. One year I ordered deli trays for dinner because I knew our time was short and the kids (who were so little) didn’t care that I didn’t get out my fancy Christmas china. They had rolls, turkey, pickles and a mom who was peace filled and present all day — it was probably their favorite Christmas dinner and I didn’t loose time in the kitchen cooking.
Take photos during the season and create scrapbooks of the kids and one for grandpa.
These are some practical suggestions yet the greatest piece of advice I can give you is enjoy the time you do have.
It can be hard. My kids come back on Christmas eve late each year and they go to their dad’s mid day on Christmas. Legally, I have them all day on Christmas yet I’ve never stuck to it because I know they want to and they NEED to see both parents. I’m grateful to watch them wake up Christmas morning and when they leave on Christmas day I go upstairs and have a cry in my closet — they are tears of grief and of gratitude. I miss them. My flesh misses them yet I know that the gift of both homes is the greatest physical gift I can give them on Christmas.
My prayer is that all families feel peace and joy at Christmas and beyond. Please share below any questions you have about your stepfamily Christmas. Feel free to post tips on what you do to make the most of the holidays. Together we are wiser and stronger.
Here is an article I wrote on the best gifts to give your stepchildren at Christmas time.
Click here to purchase and download my Christmas playbook for stepfamilies written with Gayla Grace — Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace. It’s a $2.99 download and is full of practical tips, new holiday traditions, recipes and personal stories of stepfamily life at the holidays.