It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Isn’t it?!
To the stepmother struggling at Christmas – I know that yuletide cheer may well be completely eluding you this year.
You might be stressed beyond all measure, trying to navigate ever-changing schedules.
Or manfully heaving all of the pressure to make it a special time right on top of your own shoulders.
Maybe you just feel out of it – out of the gang and out of the decision making, and you’re wondering how you’re ever going to get through it looking from the outside in.
It’s a really difficult time of year. I know it is, and there isn’t always much you can do about the external factors that are causing your stomach to flip or your mistletoe to droop.
However there are some things you keep at the front of your mind, and which may help you to look after yourself regardless. Here are my top tips for not just surviving the festive season, but enjoying it too.
1. It’s time to run your own damn race.
Here’s what’s NOT in your own race:
- the traditions which pre-date you and which make you unhappy;
- the family relationships which pre-date you; and
- any of your stepchild’s mother’s bad texts, or emails, or general nasty not-niceness.
Here’s what IS in your own race:
- whatever makes you happy.
That is literally it.
The traditions which pre-date you
Now this is not to say that the old traditions need to disappear now that you’re on the scene, but there’s certainly some wriggle room to tweak, or try something new as well as honouring the old.
This is something to enlist the support of your partner with – let them in on your ideas, let them be your partner in crime (who doesn’t like being a partner in crime?). There may be reasons you didn’t expect behind certain traditions needing to stay, but your partner probably also hasn’t thought about how to do things differently.
It’s a chance to show the children that change can be fun. In a couple of years’ time, your own traditions will be well and truly bedding in, and I can guarantee that any teething problems will be relegated to the yuletide history books of yore.
However, I caveat this with if there is a lot of pushback from the kids, you might decide that this isn’t a battle that is worth your peace. As I say, the traditions which pre-date you are “not in your own race”, and if you don’t enjoy them or they make you genuinely unhappy there’s no harm in sitting them out. You and your partner can create some of your own, intimate little traditions (wink wink) without the kids – don’t forget that…
The family relationships which pre-date you
I’ve received messages from women who are struggling with their stepchildren’s mothers spending time with their partner’s extended family over Christmas – and they, as the stepmothers, are not necessarily invited.
Now this is so much easier said than done, but please, do not take it personally.
I’ve actually been there, and it’s not at all pleasant. The feeling of injustice is all-consuming (‘how DARE they?!”), and it’s all you can do not to march over there and demand that they acknowledge your presence.
“They can’t ignore me to me face!”. Wrong – they can and they will if they want to. If things aren’t hunky dory with your partner’s family the rest of the year, having a Christmas face off isn’t going to magically change anything.
Take it from a girl who sat in her mother in law’s kitchen for three hours last Boxing Day, staring pointedly at the back of her head. Laser-sharp precision, and she met my gaze not one. single. time. Dammit.
All you can do is remember that it’s actually nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the relationships which evolved and the way things went down before you arrived.
And if you’re being excluded, and your partner sadly isn’t going to be with you this year, the best thing you can do is to remember who your tribe was before your partner came on the scene. Find them, go to them, be merry with them. Be you again.
I’m a massive advocate for stepmothers remembering who they were before they became stepmothers – it’s just as important for us as it is for biological mothers. Not losing yourself in relationships which don’t serve you, no matter how enmeshed you are in your partner’s world now, is the best advice I can possibly give you.
I listened to an episode of the Squiggly Careers podcast this week, which talked about the research-proven importance of maintaining hobbies outside of a busy work life. This goes for you, as a stepmother and/or a mother, too.
Perversely, nothing in your life gets the best version of you if you give all of yourself to it. Counterintuitive perhaps, but true.
Your stepchild’s mother’s bad texts, or emails, or general nasty not-niceness
It’s also time to let your partner deal with their ex. Actually, this is a pretty good habit to get into all year round (a new year’s resolution perhaps?). However, if that’s just not the dynamic you have right now, then by all means just give yourself a break for a month. You will feel like a new woman, I promise.
[For extra inspiration, see also my tips on dealing with high conflict.]
2. The fun doesn’t have to start and stop with you.
This is a second caveat on the Christmas traditions point above.
It’s incredibly tempting to be the sole purveyor (the peddler) of fine, brand new Christmas traditions, but you don’t have to be the only one putting ideas forward or organising the fun. You also don’t have to go completely overboard…
You should see our house right now. It’s a sparkly, Christmas grotto of monstrous proportions, and it could well be because my own anxiety got the better of me.
No, okay, be honest Stilettos – my competition got the better of me. Towers of golden pine cones measuring the height of my love. It’s our Ours Baby’s first Christmas, and it also the first year that my stepdaughter fully grasps what’s going on. Making it perfect somehow feels more important than usual this year.
I feel that I have a lot to prove, as a stepmother, as a mother, as a fiancé.
But here’s what I know deep, deep down, and what you probably know too – the size of your Christmas isn’t going to dictate the extent that your stepchildren want to spend time with your family. Actually, it’s the time outside of the festive period that impacts this (although I know that’s not necessarily a comfort).
My point is, that you shouldn’t be feeling additional pressure to be “the perfect wifey” just because it’s Christmas. You shouldn’t feel the pressure to be “the perfect wifey” full stop, but particularly so right now. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself too, didn’t anyone tell you that…?
I’m sure the children have an idea of what they want to do to make Christmas special this year. Try engaging them in conversation about it; the family thrives when everyone is heard, and it will take the pressure off you somewhat.
3. It’s okay to feel sad.
Oh my god, I wish someone had said this to me during our first Christmas together.
We all know that negative emotions are amplified tenfold during the festive season. It’s a beautiful time of year, but it can also be bloody lonely and downright sad for many people.
I remember my partner sobbing in my arms during our first Christmas. He hadn’t seen his daughter in six months by that point, and his family had shut their doors against us.
At the time I felt like a failure for not being able to keep my partner deliriously happy 100% of the time, but I see now that it was completely impossible and the sadness had to be, and deserved to be, felt. What we were going through was awful, it just was, and ignoring that was never going to help.
But you know what my partner remembers when he looks back now? He remembers the incredible meals we had, the way my family welcomed him into their home, and the dress I wore on our Christmas cocktails date night at The Connaught… he remembers that we had each other, and that it just got better and better.
Now I’m buying matching pyjamas for our babies, and talking to my stepdaughter about her present list (some of it is even just about doable…). This was inconceivable four years ago.
Stepmamma, let the pain in. It really doesn’t last forever.
And remember, there’s every chance that you’re grieving your own preconceptions of your Happily Ever After. That doesn’t just go away because it’s Christmas, and your feelings are completely valid.
Ultimately, everything you’re worried about in your day to day stepmother existence becomes amplified a thousand times over in the festive microcosm.
You can’t deal with it all in one go, but each year you will find your way around the issues specific to your situation in new and better ways.
In the meantime, find me on the socials, drop me a message about whatever it is that you’re struggling with this Christmas, and sign up for blog updates.
And finally, a very merry festive season to you, however you’re celebrating.