Written by:  Lucy Daniels Center staff


The winter holiday season is a time when many families come together. For children of divorced parents, however, spending time with all family members at the same time is often more of a wish than a reality.

Children who live in two homes have to develop and sustain relationships with their parents separately and on a set schedule. This alone can be challenging for some children when feelings of guilt intermingle with feelings of happiness and love for each parent. To complicate matters, children of divorced parents often have other adults, such as stepparents, in their lives who help care for them.

What role do stepparents play during the holidays? Stepparents can define their role during the holidays first by recognizing the part they play in their stepchildren's everyday lives. Understanding the child's perspective, and the mixed feelings that come from living in divided homes, can further aid stepparents in navigating their role in the family, not only during the holidays, but year-round.

Consider everyday relationships and involvement

Stepparents come in all varieties, from those who see their stepchildren only on vacations and holidays to those who take part alongside the biological parents in the child's daily activities. While biological parents naturally assume their role as parent at the beginning of their children's lives, stepparents can enter parenting roles at every possible age and stage.

A stepparent's role in the family — and during the holidays — depends primarily on the depth of the relationship and the current level of involvement in their stepchildren's everyday lives. This role may evolve over time, but keeping this perspective during the holidays will help stepparents find that comfortable spot of participating as much as feels right and normal to the children. Stepparents who see their stepchildren infrequently throughout the year, for instance, should expect their involvement during the holidays to be somewhat limited.

How adults can help alleviate tension

Children of divorced parents have the complicated task of taking part in adult relationships in more than one home, but parental figures in both homes play a part in helping children do this. By keeping communication paths open, parents can help their children understand, organize and feel safe expressing their feelings, both positive and negative, about living in two homes. Doing so regularly will help keep worries about loyalty at bay. Allowing, or encouraging, children to talk about their relationships with the adults who care for and love them will help them feel comfortable expressing love for their whole family.

Inevitably, children will long for or miss the other parent or parents while they are apart. All parental figures can help children feel more connected with their whole family, especially during the holidays, by respectfully listening to stories about times shared with the other set of parents and offering opportunities to call and share experiences between homes.

Difficulties that surface during the holidays are likely present year-round. The key to successful step parenting — and successful parenting — lies in maintaining an understanding of and respect for a child's feelings and perspective in any given situation.

Working to effectively communicate with all family members in both households throughout the year will help ensure that when it comes to holidays, arrangements are smooth and comfortable for everyone. Putting aside adult emotions for the sake of the children will not only benefit your children, but will also make parenting as a group more pleasant, collaborative and constructive.


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