A step parent can make or break a successful family holiday.

Impudent step daughter, unreachable video gaming step son, and your spouse’s ex who doesn’t help the situation at all. No one told you how hard step parenting would be, but they should have. I always tell my clients considering marriage to a person who already has kids, it’s going to take a huge heart and nerves of steel to be successful at it.

With a blended family and you will have problems that intact families do not have. Step kids – or steps – can vary widely in age – some involve babies and toddlers and others, teens or even grown children. Therapists know that relationships between the non-bio moms and non-bio dads and their step kids are likely to involve land mines of sensitive feelings and resentments, no matter the age. Combine that with immaturity, and, well, I’m about to help you with that.

First, understand that being a step parent is a choice, and if you decided to take this difficult challenge on, you must bring your best self to the table, no matter how old the kids are. Whether you are older or younger than they are, you must be the one, the adult, who sets the standard of respectful behavior toward the ones who gained you as a family member through marriage. Steps can and will stoop to low levels of behavior, though you must not.

Now, think about what it is like for a child to have his or her parent bring a new person into their family. Most children would like to have their parent to themselves, without that intrusion, but they tolerate the step parent because they want their mom or dad to be happy. It may take years for a child to feel comfortable and warm to this new person being around, or it may never happen. The only thing a step parent can do is be graceful, let it be what it is, and don’t try to force things.

Now, with that in mind, here is a list of step-dos and don’ts that will help you now and throughout the years.

General step do’s and don’ts that will ultimately help you through the holidays and other times:

Don’t make them call you mom or dad, don’t have expectations. If they are blatantly ugly to you, simply tell them that these words are hurtful to you and you are always open to a warmer relationship.

Don’t talk about their mom or dad or the divorce. Whether it is your spouse or the ex, don’t infer, insinuate, or say directly anything at all about their parents. Most steps are fiercely loyal, so nothing good will come from it. Allow them to display photos of their parent in your home. If they talk about their parents to you, validate them and stay neutral. If the parent is deceased, allow them to honor that parent however they see fit.

Don’t bribe. If you think you can buy a step child’s love, you’re wrong. They will be happy to take what you offer, but then they will only think of you in terms of what you can give them. Let them get to know you, the person, so they can bond with that instead.

Do adopt the stance of a kindly friend and inspirational coach. If the children are older than 9, a stepparent should let the natural parent do the parenting, and the two of you can discuss what that is going to look like when the children aren’t around. Stepparents must be respectful, gentle and kind with the children that are not theirs. Even if the children are not responsive in the beginning, keep maintaining an adult, respectful stance. If they are unkind and land an arrow through your heart, tell them so: “Wow, you refusing to talk to me really hurts my heart. I so want to be your friend. I am ready and willing when you are.”

Treat stepchildren equally even though it is impossible. Just do your best to treat every child the same, be attentive and interested in who they are. Try to learn what scratches each child’s itch when it comes to love languages … usually it’s quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service or gifts. Little ones may love hugs. Make a point to pay attention to them when they speak, to comment on what they say, to point out positive things you hear, and to be a fan of who they are becoming. Within the home, create a space for each child that is theirs and is made special for them.

Now, for a holiday idea that will help blended families get off to a great start.

When everyone is together for any length of time, begin with a family meeting. The tone of this will be fun and friendly. Bio and step parents should be in the best of moods and express their excitement and appreciation of the opportunity to be together. Each spouse could present a small token gift to each stepchild with a short comment about how and why they chose the gift, and what it means to have that child there today. (Keep it under $20). Once the parents are done, have each child do the same – if the children are young the bio parent can help. The children could present something they made or even a drawing. This will be a wonderful icebreaker and family ritual you could do each year. After the ritual, have a friendly discussion of rules and expectations – stress respect, and tell them what that looks and sounds like. Tell them things such as, bring your best self to the party or remove yourself to a place within the area where you can work out your bad feelings if you have them. Reassure everyone that your goal is for everyone to enjoy themselves.

The step parent role is one of the hardest any person could have. Patience and grace will serve you well in the long term. I have seen the most stubborn rejecting step children melt over the years and finally embrace their step parent as someone they love and cherish, simply because that person was persistently patient, interested and caring.

Doctor Becky Whetstone is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and former journalist, writing for the San Antonio Express-News. She specializes in marriage and mid life crisis, individual struggles, and helping people learn how to have healthy relationships. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Avoiding in law holiday disaster: Your spouse visiting your family’s house.

If you take your partner to your family’s house for the holidays, you better have their back.

One thing young American couples have in common is that in the first years of their marriage, they usually continue past Christmas traditions with each other’s families, often going back and forth from year-to-year or in one day if they live nearby, as the young bride and groom have not yet stepped into the stage of life where they become the matriarch and patriarch of their own family. Since our families come in all shapes and sizes, we will be dealing within a range from the most un-regimented, accepting, free and easy families to the rigid, nasty, boundary-less, rule-filled and judgmental kind. So, each new spouse needs to have an awareness of what they are dealing with, and that is why a pre-visit conversation should take place between the young pair that includes:

1. Understanding home family customs, traditions, expectations, and foibles. What are the family’s quirks and eccentricities? What do they love, what do they hate? Are they generally accepting of others? Should certain subjects be avoided? A discussion on how the visiting spouse can have the best time and have the most successful visit should be discussed.

2. Will we stay in the home with the family? If there is any question of how the new spouse will be treated, hotel, Air BNB reservations, or a request to stay at someone else’s house should be made. Protecting your new spouse from your family is a huge bond builder and is what any spouse hoping to have a thriving marriage must do. Think this way: I value my spouse’s comfort over my family’s, because when your married, your spouse comes first.

3. Home spouse must lay the groundwork prior to the visit with their family. The home spouse should speak with his/her family prior to the visit and get the lay of the land, set expectations and boundaries, and if necessary, let their family know that no family funny business will be tolerated when it comes to the visiting spouse. Treat the spouse respectfully, period. Once there, if the family blames, judges or negatively interacts with the new spouse, to their face or behind their back, the home spouse will always protect, defend, and side with the new spouse. If anyone talks to the home spouse about the visiting spouse negatively, the conversation is immediately shut down.

4. Do not succumb to home family pressure and control. During the visit, the couple should make decisions together about what they want and are willing to do, and then the home spouse is the spokesperson who sets the boundary. I strongly believe that if you are not able to set boundaries based on your partnership’s best interest, you aren’t ready to be successfully married.

5. Remember the Golden Rule. The wise old biblical rule of, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is a wonderful guide to use when in doubt of what to do.

6. If it doesn’t go well. If, despite all your efforts, you and/or your spouse have a miserable time, don’t return a second time. Seriously. Part of growing up is to be able to stand in opposition to your family when they do not treat you and your family right. When you can do this, it means you are growing up.

By now it should be obvious that in a new marriage, a new spousal unit must be protected at all cost. A visiting spouse must have certainty that no matter what goes on in the home spouse’s family, he or she will have their back. At the same time, a home spouse also needs to know that the visiting spouse will also be kind, open, friendly, pleasant, respectful and helpful to his or her family while there. If you married someone where this is a concern, then good luck, because personal self-control and diplomacy are two qualities that help make marriages work, and lacking those qualities is a predictor of bad things to come. Also, I have seen spouses in my practice who insisted on the holidays being spent at their family’s house always, and they were not flexible on the subject. This presents all sorts of problems that are deeper than just the holidays alone and speaks to the person’s emotional immaturity, so sometimes the holidays show us who are spouse really is, or isn’t. Luckily, immaturity is a fixable thing.

Like many women, I have my own Harvey Weinstein-like stories.

Most women have been sexually harassed many times in their lives.

Although the story of Harvey Weinstein misusing his power and influence to sexually harass and abuse women is shocking to many, the pattern of his obnoxious and unconscionable behavior is nothing new to our culture. Indeed, most women can name more than one time in their life when someone like Weinstein tried to pressure them with unwanted sexual talk, physical contact or advances, including me.

One incident that comes to mind is when I worked for the Hearst-owned San Antonio-Express News  and was a very green and inexperienced reporter who was eager to learn and please. A managing editor from a Midland Hearst-owned paper came around the newsroom to meet everyone and see what the San Antonio paper was doing. He kept coming by my desk to chat throughout the day, and finally asked if I would go for a drink with him after work. I was a single mom, it was not my night with the kids, I thought I might learn something from him, so I said yes.

We got together and soon he began touching and trying to kiss me. I refused. We were having dinner in a restaurant and luckily I saw another reporter and her husband walk in, and I begged them to come sit with us. He continued his obnoxious and unwanted pursuit right in front of them. I was terrified to be too mean to him because in essence, he was a boss.

As soon as I took him back to his hotel I called my managing editor and told him what happened. Human Resources was brought in the next morning, the man completely admitted it, and what his punishment was going to be was all that needed to be decided. The paper begged me not to encourage his firing, as he was beloved by his staff in Midland. They promised they would demote him and see to it that he did not advance in his career, so I agreed.

A few years ago I checked to see what he was doing. Yep, he was editor of the newspaper – a huge promotion. So much for justice. I was told back then that I could sue the paper for all of this and expect to get about $40,000, but I would never be allowed to work in the newspaper business again.

I was labeled a troublemaker – shame on me for wanting a better world.

So you might understand why I had a reaction when reading that NBC quashed correspondent Ronan Farrow’s reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. By all accounts, Farrow had women ready and willing to tell their stories, and also had the damning secret recordings of Weinstein doing his ugly sexual bullying. At one point NBC told Farrow to stop pursuing the story altogether. Finally they released him to report it elsewhere, and the rest is history — like the Berlin Wall, Weinstein came tumbling down, and deservedly so.

Reading all of this caused me to remember numerous incidents in my own life like the one above, and still another one while reporting as a features writer and columnist at the Express-News in the late 1990’s. For two years as I was chief reporter for Fiesta, a 10-day long party fest and festival with numerous events and parades from morning til night. I knew almost everyone involved in every aspect of events.

There is a Fiesta King each year, crowned by a group of men known as the Texas Cavaliers. The Cavaliers is a by-invitation-only organization and at that time consisted of mainly privileged white men who were conservative old rich, though I know they have since sprinkled in some men of color. They wear outfits that are bright sky blue with red trim, that look eerily similar to Nazi uniforms, and organize a River Parade during Fiesta that is world-renowned.

A huge Fiesta tradition is collecting Fiesta medals, and King Antonio has medals he or his assistants pin on the public he encounters.

This particular year I was getting a lot of voice mails and emails (mainly anonymous) claiming that old King Antonio was using pinning medals as an excuse to stick his hands in women’s bras and cop a feel or a pinch. The more I looked into it, I found women who said it happened to them, and that their boyfriend or husband saw it and was furious and it was all they could do to keep their partner from throwing King Antonio a purple shiner to go with his fancy red plume. One woman who talked to me was a local news anchor.

I took it to the editor of the paper, and each time he told me to gather more information. Whatever I had was never enough. Finally, a man called me who was a Cavalier insider, and he told me that the King had commanded that all flat-chested women be pinned by his assistants, and big-bosomed women reserved for him. Another woman called and told me that the Party Pix guy, who roamed many of the events, had snapped a photograph of her with King Antonio pinning a medal on her, and in it you could see The King’s hand far inside her dress, which was a tank-like garden dress. I went to the Party Pix store, and after roaming through several hundred photographs, found the one she told me about and a few others.

I bought those photographs and the editor said it wasn’t enough. The story never ran, and I was pretty disgusted and disillusioned about it. This sort of editorial omission has been going on forever. Every reporter has seen it. If the editor rubs elbows with the people you have found some unpleasant truths about, the chances of the story running can be small.

I hope we are entering a new era where women can courageously speak out against any sort of violation perpetrated on them by men, and especially the ones who abuse their power and position, and find a media with the equal amount of courage to report it. How else will we ever change this dark piece of our culture?

In the end, I had gotten to know many Cavaliers because of my reporting of their many Fiesta events and participation, and we had an extremely cordial relationship. When word spread that I was working on a story about their King that wasn’t so positive, many criticized me to my face, and I was shunned by the organization and the men in it. So the person doing the investigating risks isolation or personal and professional damage. Something all whistleblower types know a lot about. This is why so many women don’t speak out. The finger gets pointed at us. We become trouble-makers and lose friends and goodwill in the community and workplace.

As for me, I am grateful that this may be coming to an end. We all have to have to have the courage to fight for what is right, and men need to learn to treat us with respect, without exception. http://www.texascavaliers.org/