Beating the Holiday Stress, Stepmom Style

The holidays are fast approaching. I can hear the chaos and calamity right behind me now, can you? My instinct is to find a deep, deep hole to hide in until the festivities have passed, but if memory serves, someone always finds me, and I have to come out anyway. Maybe I’ll do better this year….

The holidays are traditionally a time of presents and parties, decorations and dinners, but in a stepfamily where the only constant is change, they can also be times of tempers and traumas, anger and annoyances. The stress can be paralyzing. You can adopt any strategy you want for the holidays, but the one that will bring you the most calm may be one of compromise and ingenuity. Try to keep a cool head and a warm heart, and remember that January will indeed come, and put all of this another year away!

Try these coping strategies, to help you beat the stress in dealing with those around you:

Accept the fact that you won’t please everyone.

Some parent,grandparent, in-law, or child will be upset by your plans. With so many people in your life, there is probably no way around it. If you try to please everyone, you will only compound the stress that the holidays naturally bring. Give your plan your best shot, and then follow through. It’s one holiday, not your entire world.

Make all the plans that you can as early as possible, just to make the subsequent plans as easy on yourself as you can.

Just knowing *what* is supposed to happen *when* can alleviate some of the stress associated with the holidays. Don’t put off this discussion with your stepchildren’s other family. Start the dialog now, and you’ll have a better chance of accommodating more wishes than if you wait too long.

If one particular date or event is special to you, speak up now.

No one can plan around something they don’t know about, so be up front with any specific requests you have. When you ask for a certain date, offer something in return. Compromise, remember?

Set the example of calm.

If you start no other family tradition, start one of making the holidays a time of peace and joy, not bickering and greed. Kids pick up on what you feel. If you feel relaxed, unhurried and calm, so will they. If you are stressed, ill, and selfish, they will be, too. If they see you compromise and adjust with grace and generosity, they will learn how to do the same. If they see you argue and complain if you don’t get your way all the time, they will learn that, too. It’s your choice.
Your level of calm may be stressed severely as plans that you thought were fairly safe get canceled or changed.

Be prepared for that, by having some alternate plans if your original plan dissolves. Holding on too tightly to your plans will only put more pressure on an already difficult time. Make the best plan you can, and then consider it tentative until it actually happens. There are so many factors that can change it. Allow yourself to handle those factors, without letting them spoil your holiday.

Discover what kind of personality and style your family — the family of your husband and all of your children — has, and do your best to honor it.

You have to work around everyone else, but make the holiday season uniquely yours by choosing to celebrate in the way that best fits your family. What has worked in the past in your other family, may not work now. That’s okay. Build something better. Build your own traditions in the time you have. Don’t fight the confusion and complications that your family brings to the holidays. Instead, adapt to it, and work around it. You won’t be disappointed.
Take a breath, and remember to save some of your energy for *you.* When you add the stress that a stepmom feels every day into the anxious mix of holidays and family ties, you can create a blend of frustration and anxiety harder to get rid of than leftover fruitcake.

Take the time now, today, to get prepared with these tips to help yourself:

Accept imperfection.

Even if you were a member of a traditional family, your holiday season wouldn’t be perfect. Remember that when you feel the urge to blame all your problems and inconveniences on your marital status. Granted, the complications are doubled or tripled, the strategic planning may resemble a lunar landing, and even with the best of plans, things will go wrong. It’s okay. It’s normal. Your family will survive.

Let everyone else accept the imperfection, too.

Don’t stress yourself even more by trying to solve everyone else’s problems. If a parent or in-law is unhappy with some plans you’ve made, you can’t help that. If you have to miss a function, offer your regrets, and then do what you have to do. Focus on what *can* happen, not on what *can’t.*

Reduce your work load.

If you’re feeling a lot of stress because of all the extra work you have to do, choose not to do it, now. Buy instead of bake. Decorate half as much. Buy gift cards. Don’t worry about impressing anyone. Strive for peace and serenity. Add a chore to your day only if it will bring you more happiness or satisfaction in some way. Don’t feel obligated to meet anyone’s standards except your own, and those are always negotiable.

Lower your expectations.

When we think about the holidays, we see Norman Rockwell pictures in our heads and anticipate complete banishment of the Grinch. In our reality, sometimes the pictures are more Norman Bates and the Grinch moves in to stay. Expect some confusion. Expect some tension. Expect some disappointments. But also expect some surprises. Expect some harmony. Expect some joy. Expect some amazing gifts of your family and the spirit it holds. Then let the holiday unfold as it will, and enjoy the season you’re given. Expect to survive the holidays with grace and humility. That’s what will happen.

Decide what you want from the holidays.

Decide what memories you want to have when it’s all over. Try to keep those objectives in mind, as you work through the hustle and bustle. When the holidays arrive next year, you’ll look back on this year and remember just a few things clearly. What do you want those few things to be? Keep your focus there. Let everything else go.

Don’t forget to laugh.

There may be days when you want to cry, kick, and scream. We’ve all had them. But hidden amid the chaos will be some moments of pure joy that the holidays always bring. Find them. Enjoy them. Laugh and smile every time you get the chance. Put those moments on your list of memories. Take the time to stop the work and enjoy the wonder of the season.
The holidays will pass, and soon we’ll resume our routines and continue to grow our families the best we can. The holidays are important for all families, but you have opportunities all year long to bond and blend — you don’t have to do it all at once. You don’t have to create the perfect holiday for your family. Instead, work on building your family for the holidays and beyond.

Karon Goodman is a mom, stepmom and writer from Alabama. Her book, “The Stepmom’s Guide to Simplifying Your Life,” will be released next spring. Visit Karon’s monthly newsletter, The Stepparenting Journey, now online

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