Joy To the World (of Blended Families) with These 3 tips for Navigating Gift-Giving and Stepchildren

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Menorahs and Christmas trees are on display and string lights line the streets-- and realistically for most of us around holiday time, stress levels are at an all-time high. While this season can be anxiety-inducing for all of us, it’s especially difficult for stepfamilies to navigate, especially if you’re a newly blended family. One of the most difficult challenges for new stepparents? Gift-giving.

First of all, take solace in the fact that most new stepparents feel confused about how to handle the holidays in a newly blended family. The first thing you have to do in order to make the holidays a positive experience is to accept that is a chaotic time of year and take your ego out of the equation. Now, let’s handle the gift situation.

Don’t just put your name on the card with their biological parent

Most people realize that when you receive a gift from “Mom and Dad,” Nine times out of ten, it was Mom who chose the gift. If you are a step-parent though, it can seem inauthentic to receive a gift signed from “Dad and Vikki.”  Combat this by finding something for each of your stepchildren that is only signed from you which will serve to help you grow closer.  

Have you bonded with your new stepdaughter over her love of dance? Buy tickets to a ballet for the two of you to enjoy together. Has your stepson fostered a new interest in soccer? Buy him his favorite player’s jersey. By gifting them thoughtful items that come from only you, it tells them that you care about cultivating a relationship with them as people, not just as byproducts that came along with your new partner.

Don’t assume you will receive a gift from your stepchild

We all know it can be difficult to navigate gift giving in a blended family, but consider the feelings you have and understand you are approaching them from an adult perspective. Children often lack the maturity to appropriately deal with holiday stress. On top of that, holiday time is a strong reminder that their family is divided and they may feel confused about how to tackle gift giving, especially with limited resources. If your stepchild doesn’t give you a gift, try not to feel offended and instead be nurturing to his or her needs. I get it-- you’re trying you’re hardest to connect with him or her and the lack of a gift feels like your efforts are going unnoticed. Understand that it may take a while for your stepchild to develop a meaningful relationship with you, and your sensitivity to their feelings will only strengthen your relationship later on.

Do not team up with your ex when gifting to your biological children

It may feel like a good idea to ease the tension of the holidays by putting you and your ex-partner’s name on a gift to your biological children. I strongly urge you against this. Children in blended families are already fragile enough around the holidays and doing this may give them false expectations about your relationship and future with your ex. Begin new traditions that will nurture positive memories with your stepfamily and leave gift-giving with your ex in the past.

The holiday season doesn’t need to be a time of stress if you approach it with the right attitude. Take this time to connect with your stepchildren and create meaningful dialogue and memories that you will all cherish for years to come. With a little bit of patience and a lot of love, your holiday season will certainly be merry and bright.

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