Holidays with Stepfamilies: Learning to Struggle Well

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The knot in my stomach began when the familiar but unfriendly question once again invaded our Holiday preparations: ”Are we with you or Mom this year for Thanksgiving?”  Thoughts of school concerts, church celebrations, the upcoming Christmas Day “Shuffle,” and those awful-awkward photo ops with three parents and two kids, challenged my hopes of a more joy-filled season that year.  Holidays have brought new stress and struggle to our stepfamily of six for years!

Second families and the complexity that follows them is not a recent discovery.  In fact, the Old Testament contains many of them and records the struggles that these families experience due to the “extras” second families create.  Remind yourself of the trouble Abraham, Moses, and David suffered because of stepfamily complications!  Regardless of your family structure, the tension or struggle in life is likely not going away.  Jesus clearly stated that struggles would be a part of choosing Him.  It seems unproductive then to battle the struggle itself… maybe we need to consider how to struggle well?

Holiday joy and celebration is certainly attainable within the second family system!  It does require “extra” steps and considerations that will allow you to struggle well.  The suggestions listed below are taken from our experience as a stepfamily.  Some were discovered post kiddos (all of our four have graduated) and some with great sweat equity during the early years.  They have been truth for us and can have a positive impact on your holiday joy!

Step-coupling Strength / No Wondering Relationship

Rest in your love and commitment as a couple.  Maintaining the oneness in your marriage will be paramount during the holidays as the focus is placed on your children.  Choose to believe each other… adopt a “No Wondering” sense of trust and togetherness.  The marriage relationship is always the foundation of a family; it may not always be the priority. This is the core principal that sustains and enables couples to struggle well!

Review Priorities

Remind yourself that the holidays are a reflection of God’s grace and provision.  Talk about Emanuel, God with us, often!  Decide to make the children your priority.  Filter your decisions to consider their emotion and struggle first, yours second.  For example, it’s okay to compartmentalize in stepfamily life.  Go shopping with your biological kiddos for the absent parent’s gift!

Plan, Organize, Negotiate

Often, this gets overlooked or excused away.  Communicate early and often with all the adults involved…begin now!  Confirm every major decision with the other parent and negotiate for the children’s best interest.  Always consider the bio-parents plans and extended family when dividing out time.  Your children benefit from being in relationship with grandparents from all sides!

Involve the TEAM

There’s no room for secrets during the holidays when it comes to schedules or commitments for the family!  Make every effort to communicate the “who, what, where, when, why” information to the whole family, and always use discernment and share appropriate details only.  Recognize the divided loyalties the children will be feeling and give them room to struggle.  Keeping the hard issues in the light will lighten their load during the holiday “shuffles”.

Adjust Your Expectations

The kids may not be exactly “thrilled” at the prospect of attending several Thanksgiving meals. At Christmas, they may not bounce and giggle under your tree when they have been at two other gift events earlier in the day.  Resist the urge to take it personally… it’s not about you!  Holiday celebrations are by very nature family orientated and will tend to magnify the fact that your family is not the same.  It’s not the same.  Be honest and truthful and embrace the struggle this statement brings… you may find your second family enjoying the time you do have this holiday season.

God’s redemptive power was sufficient for Abraham, Moses, and David, and is still able to conquer stepfamily struggles today!  Second family Holidays will be a challenge… I pray that you will be encouraged and sustained as you struggle well together!

Dan Johnson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of REID Counseling Group PLLC located in Katy, TX.  His passion is “Making second families first” and preventing re-divorce for couples in this station of life.  Contact Dan at 281-968-9119 or  Learn more at


Staff Writer

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