When the Night Isn’t Silent: Christmas in a Stepfamily
“I’m struggling to know what to do about the upcoming holidays,” Vicky, a stepmom of two years shared.
“My husband has two children from a previous marriage that are 11 and 8. He and I want the season to be fun for them but also spiritual, and filled with the true meaning of Christmas,” she continued. “The children’s mom has a completely different view. For her it’s about giving them as many presents as possible.”
“How can we teach them the reason for the season and to be appreciative for little things, if they are lavished with so many gifts?” She sighed. “If we object, it appears that we are attempting to ruin their fun. We come across as the bad guys, when all we want to do is raise responsible, grateful kids. It’s so frustrating.”
When I am asked to present an event for stepfamilies or single parents I share that one of the most difficult aspects of divorce is that parents lose control over many things in their child’s life. How the child will celebrate, or NOT celebrate, a holiday is typically one of those things.
I often ask the crowd to repeat after me, “I can NOT control what goes on in my child’s other home.”
Unless something is going on in the other home that is abusive, violent or breaking the law there is not much you can do to change it. This is the harsh reality of a child living in two homes.
In a situation such as this stepmom is facing, the best solution is for the dad (not the stepmom) to speak with mom directly. In a calm, approachable, humble manner he should share his concerns. If the other parent is unwilling to communicate and work toward compromise, the dad has no choice but to accept her decision.
If the stepmom takes the lead, the kids and the mom will likely view the whole problem as her idea, not the dad’s. And it’s very likely she will be labeled as controlling and manipulating the father. This is why it is crucial that the biological parent address the issue.
The next step is for dad to have a one-on-one talk with the children. It’s best to do something fun such as taking them out for ice cream, or a Starbucks pumpkin, whatever! This is a pivotal sacred moment between the parent and child where he can explain why he feels the way he does.
The worst decision dad can make is to preach at the kids, quote tons of Bible verses, or say negative things about mom. Instead he could say something along the lines of, “Brittany and Brad, as your dad I want the very best for you. I love you, you are my precious children. I know you have heard your mom and I discuss our differences on Christmas. I understand it’s confusing and I am sorry that our divorce has caused stress for you. I wish I could take the hurt away.”
“As your dad, a huge part of my job is to teach and protect you. You know that in our home with your stepmom we like to focus more on the spiritual side of Christmas, and why Jesus was born. That doesn’t mean your mom is sinful or bad; we just have a different perspective on the celebration. If we don’t buy you as many presents as she does I want you to understand that it doesn’t mean we don’t love you as much.”
“If you want we can discuss it further, however I wanted you to know that I’m not mad at you, and I love you as much as ever. I want us all to have a great time this Christmas, and I don’t want you to be upset or worried that your mom and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on every subject. I promise to communicate with her the best I can.”
This is the wisest step for dad to take. He and stepmom need to understand the things they can control, and the things they cannot.
A common mistake that stepparents make is to step into the parental role. This is very hard for those outside of a stepfamily to understand. However, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is for the biological parent, the one who has the bond and loyalty of the child, to be the one to address fragile and potentially combative areas of concern. The stepparent’s (stepmom or stepdad) role is to stand alongside the biological parent in unified support.
If the stepparent takes the lead, the chances of the situation exploding into a bigger problem is much greater.