Stepfamilies can face unique challenges during the holiday season. Changing holiday traditions, new family members and in-laws, and more activities to coordinate all have the potential to cause stress and conflict, but they don’t have to. Follow the tips below for a stress-free holiday season.

Embrace New Traditions
Exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve may have been the way you always celebrated before, but if the other members of the family need to exchange gifts on Christmas morning in order for everyone to be there, try to be flexible.  Embrace new traditions. 

Inclusion
Stepfamily members sometimes battle with insecurity. Children who have lost their original family are uncertain the stepfamily will stick. Stepparents may feel used and unappreciated, and parents often end up caught in the middle. Help alleviate some of the insecurity by demonstrating a strong and healthy relationship. If you disagree on something to do with the kids, take the argument behind closed doors and return when you can present a united front.
 
Best Behavior
The stress of the holidays can cause former spouses to develop major conflicts.  Be aware of that fact and don't walk into arguments. Choose your battles carefully, and give in gracefully when you can. You cannot control someone else's actions or response, but you can control your own. Get your heart right first, and the rest will follow.

Accept Imperfection 
Don't place unrealistic expectations on how the house should look or how the family should act.  Accept imperfection and relax. Hanging ornaments on the tree with the children is far more important than having a pristine house.

Counting Presents
Parents should ensure that gifts are even among the children, whether they live there or visit occasionally. Children that live in the home should not receive new high-priced items while the visiting children get a few small tokens as a gift.  If a child opens a new expensive toy 15 minutes before he is scheduled to head out the door, it’s only natural that the child will want to take it.  If you don't want big, expensive items walking out the door, don't give them for Christmas.

Get Ahead of the Scheduling
Overbooked parents and children lead to a cranky, stressed-out family.  Limit your activities to the most important things.  Decide with your spouse what is realistic for your family in terms of outside commitments.  Note visitation days when children will be coming and going and build in driving time for transitioning between households. If travel is involved, attempt to lock in details early enough that so that any tickets or accommodation is affordable.

Make Time for the Memories
Pencil in school holiday programs and other commitments.  With everyone on the same page, stepfamilies can create lasting memories as they celebrate the season and enjoy being together.

The Gift of Giving
Reassure children that it is okay to spend time with their other family, even though you will miss them when they are gone. Giving children the freedom to love both of their families is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

For more tips on how to navigate the complications that come with stepfamilies, register for the LifeSkills workshop “Building Healthy Blended Families”. LifeSkills offers a variety of personal and professional skill building classes that provide Marines and family members with practical skills for successful interactions and positive outcomes at work, home, and in life. Click here to find a LifeSkills class near you.