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.

Reblogged from Marriage Crisis Manager on February 22, 2017

Guest blogger Tim Backes of CustodyXchange.com specializes in assisting divorced and separated couples as well as legal professionals and making their lives a little less hectic when it comes to the painful process of separation and communication. In this article Tim shares some great advice on how to talk to your kids about the family’s future.

Divorce is an agonizing experience. It’s tough on many things — your emotions,
finances, and most of all, kids.
While you can shield your children from a lot of things, divorce is one of those things
that needs to be dealt with head-on. If a potential divorce is brewing in your
marriage, kids will probably pick up on it . They feel the energy of an impending
separation or divorce as something large and looming in their lives.
When the day comes for you to address the issue directly with your kids, there are
ways to do it that are much healthier than other ways, and if you get one thing right
in how you divorce, you have to make sure it happens when dealing with your children.

Delivering the News
Once you have decided to divorce, and you know the date your spouse will move
out, plan a meeting together approximately two weeks beforehand. Both spouses
should be present with the children if at all possible, and both should approach the
conversation in an adult-like way. You will focus on the facts and know that blame
and shame will not be a part of this conversation:

1. Remember, the truth will set you free. Children are often more in-tune
with what’s happening than many parents realize, so don’t try to mislead
them or minimize. Let them know the divorce is due to a problem between
you and your spouse and not in any way related to them. Be firm that you
will divorce, and will not be reconciling. Tell them truthful, general things
like, we just aren’t a good fit anymore and we grew apart. If they ask
questions, answer them honestly. Take responsibility when necessary.
2. Put the kids first and remember the Golden Rule. Divorces can fall within
the range of an amicable split to a knockdown-drag-out. If you have children
you owe it to them to put your heated feelings aside and act mature and
reasonable toward each other and them. Promise yourselves you will never
speak poorly of each other to your children.
3. Express your willingness to be available. This does not mean dropping
what you are doing to run to your child every time they need. It has to be
reasonable. When it is your turn to have the kids, they need to stay with you,
and when they are with your ex, you will not rescue them when they are
disgruntled. When your child is upset with your ex just support them by
saying life is tough, and that they need to work out parent issues with the
parent they are angry with. Refuse to be in the middle. At the same time, let
them know you are available by phone should they need or want to connect.
Ask them if they would like you to call on a regular basis and even at a
regular time. If your child reaches out, be there. Listen to what they have to
say, even if it’s something simple like a short story about something that they
learned in school that day. This helps them maintain some sort or normalcy
in their lives, which helps make them feel safe.

Just because you are getting a divorce does not mean you will no longer be a family.
You will always be a family, and families exist in all sorts of configurations. It is not
divorce that messes kids up so much as does the consternation and anger expressed
between the parents. To have the best result you can possible have, control your
behavior with your ex, and always be respectful. You can bet that your kids are
watching, and they need to see you treat their parent decently and fairly.

Tim for more information on CustodyXchange.com.

Hi, all! It’s Dr. Becky’s assistant, Tiffany, back again with another guest blog! I don’t know about you but I’m ready for fall weather. I’m finally looking forward to the holidays. I wasn’t always so eager to embark on a new season, though. As I’ve stated before in my introduction to this blog, I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to being a classroom teacher before having enough sense to step away. During that time I looked at autumn with very weary eyes. Year after year when the leaves started to change color it meant that another stressful school year was underway and it would feel like an eternity until Thanksgiving break and Christmas vacation. Days feel like months when you’re spending most of your waking hours around children who are old enough to talk back. To add to an already bad situation, I never really enjoyed those coveted holiday breaks because I’d feel like I was going off to battle on another front. I would have to spend time with my family.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy about the holiday season but I like it a lot better when I get to pick and choose who I spend time with…and this kind of selectivity is rare for a lot of people. I grew up with strong feelings of obligation to others. My family used Thanksgiving and Christmas as the grand high holidays of obligatory behavior – we HAD TO go have dinner with family members who we really didn’t enjoy being around. Why? Because it’s family, of course. Show up without a gift for the cousin or aunt you only speak to twice a year? That was unimaginable in my house. It didn’t matter to my family if the dinner ended up in an explosive shouting match or awkward silence and tears. We were all together in the house, and it was Christmas. I have only a few ‘good’ holiday memories as a result, because most of the time we were forced to be somewhere we didn’t want to be.

Now that I’m much older I realize that I have options when planning my holiday season. I also understand that there are toxic people who should be avoided at all costs, even if they’re family. Above all else, I’ve learned that ‘home’ for the holidays can mean sending gift cards from the comfort of my living room sofa and not having to go anywhere or entertain anyone. I felt very liberated the year I decided to stay at my own place for Thanksgiving simply because I wanted to spend time with people I actually wanted to see. If any family member’s feelings were hurt by my absence, they’d eventually get over it. I was no longer a child, but an adult making my own choices and deciding and where I felt comfortable. Seriously, though – we live in the 21st century. If Aunt Judy feels slighted that she didn’t get to say hello to me from across a well-decorated Thanksgiving table, she can poke me on Facebook. I’ll get back to her by New Year’s Eve.