- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

Most people would agree the holiday season can be very stressful. Parents often become overwhelmed as their schedules get busier with parties, pageants and concerts. Their normal to-do lists grow even longer with preparations for special celebrations and gift-giving.

For stepparents, this time of year can be particularly anxiety-ridden because they face all of this and more. This holiday season, I am inviting remarried couples in this situation to give themselves a few gifts.

Stepparents often are challenged by holiday traditions. They try to balance keeping old traditions they had with their own children with establishing new ones within their blended family. In the millions of stepfamilies that formed this year, I’m sure quite a few people are standing awkwardly around their first Christmas tree trying to figure out whether they should use “their” tree topper or “ours.”

I’ll never forget how I agonized for three Decembers in a row, wondering what to do with my husband’s first wife’s collection of wooden Santa figurines. My husband, who was a widower, has more than a few of these beautiful decorations. As the one who decorates our home, I worried about what to do with them, going back and forth in my mind.

I thought his children might want me to keep the tradition of setting the Santas out around the house to remind them of fond memories. Then I feared my stepchildren would think I was trying to take over their mom’s things. Then I really cranked up my anxiety level by wondering how many to display. Do I display just one, or would it be insulting to not set out the whole collection?

Finally, before our fourth Christmas, I explained how I was feeling to one of my then-teenage stepdaughters, and she replied it really didn’t matter to her either way. I wish I had given myself a big box of confidence and the skills to initiate good communication directly with my teenage stepchildren a few years earlier.

An additional present I wish I had given myself was the understanding of holiday time in a joint custody situation. When I was going through my divorce, there wouldn’t have been enough wrapping paper on the East Coast to cover the size of this gift.

When I was a child, my family always celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25. I was emotionally tied to having our family celebration on that day, but that was no longer possible after divorce.

I’ve grown to realize that what is most important isn’t the actual date of our family holiday celebration. Having the opportunity to bring all five of our children together at once brings the most joy, no matter when it falls on the calendar.

The third gift I wish I had given myself when I remarried was the ability to let the little things slide and the ability to focus instead on how the holiday celebration would end up. I must admit, this gift still is arriving more like a book-of-the-month subscription rather than in one large package. Seriously, I sometimes wish a delivery person would drop off a package daily.

Seven years later, though, I see it really didn’t matter what time we opened our presents. And I don’t think anyone remembers whether we played a game after dinner or watched a traditional movie. I stressed out about so many things unnecessarily.

Lastly, remarried couples must remember to give themselves the gift of patience. Forming a stepfamily is not easy; it takes years to come together. I had always read that it takes about seven years for a stepfamily to blend and recently read a wonderful and informative Psychology Today blog article by Wednesday Martin, author of “Stepmonster.” The blog stated that stepfamily expert Patricia Papernow suggests that it can take four to 12 years for a stepfamily to blend.

Suddenly, I could feel my shoulder muscles loosening and my jaw relaxing. I hope other remarried parents can relax and enjoy this holiday season, too.

Paula Bisacre, founder of Remarriage LLC, is the publisher and executive editor of reMarriage magazine (www.remarriage mag.com), which provides practical solutions for the growing remarriage community.

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