As many stepmothers and stepfathers will know, the holidays can be an absolute minefield — with children and adults alike struggling with the stress of belonging to a step-family. With the absence of one biological parent, children can experience a sense of loss — and, in much the same way, stepparents can feel as if they are being pushed to one side to make others (whether that be exes or biological children) happy.
We've asked Sara Davison, a life and divorce coach, to share her advice on the politics of step-parenting and stepchildren at Christmas.
Being a step parent can be especially tricky if...
You don’t have any children of your own and are not comfortable around kids: If you are not used to being around children, it can be hard to know what to do or how to act.
The children are unhappy about the marriage ending: They might not want you around and wish their parents were still together.
You and or your partner don’t have a good relationship with the ex: The children might feel guilty about getting along with you or even spending time with you if they know it upsets their other parent.
"There are things you can do to make Christmas easier for you all and as the adult it is up to you to take the lead," Davison says. "It’s important to be empathetic to the children’s point of view and make an effort over the Christmas period to put your differences aside.
If you are a stepparent, here are seven steps to follow at Christmas to make it run smoother:
Be yourself. Kids are very perceptive and will know if you are doing things just to impress them. Ask your partner in advance if they have any Christmas traditions with the kids that they would like to continue. It can make the children feel more at home and comfortable if you keep some familiarity for them.
Remember Christmas is a special time for children, so don’t be offended if your partner’s attention is more with their kids than you. Take a step back at times when they are around so they do not feel like you are a threat to their relationship with their mom or dad.
Respect the fact that they might be in a difficult situation and find it hard to build a good relationship with you. Sometimes, to encourage them to come forward and be comfortable with you, it is best to back off a little and allow them some time and space to approach you when they are ready.
Don’t take rejection personally — they might struggle to see their parent with you.
Keep calm and never lose your temper with them for rejecting you.
Keep public displays of affection to a minimum to avoid any awkwardness.
Never badmouth their other parent, no matter what the situation.
"The key thing is to remember to set an example to your stepchildren that shows them that blended families can work and are part of everyday society," Davison says. "Show them that just because a marriage doesn’t last forever, you can still find happiness, and it doesn’t have a long lasting negative impact on everyone involved. It is a great lesson for children to learn and set them on the right track for finding love when they get older."
This post was written by Kayleigh Dray. For more, check out our sister site Closer.