Let’s be honest.
Stepfamily holidays can present awkward situations and uncomfortable exchanges with people we might not see (or even care to see) regularly.
A friend of mine was complaining recently about a common stepmom issue.
“I don’t want to face my husband’s ex at the school Christmas party,” said my friend, Elisa. “And my stepdaughter Mary won’t even acknowledge me since her mom will be there.”
“Then don’t go,” I said. “Have you considered that choice?”
“No, I haven’t,” said Elisa. “I feel like I should go to my stepdaughter’s activities. But I resent the way Mary treats me when her mom is around. Are you giving me permission to skip the party?” she said with wide eyes and a smile.
“Yes!” I said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t make an effort to support Mary’s events. But I know how easily resentment sets in at times as a stepmom. Skipping an awkward Christmas party might be just the ticket you need right now!”
Elisa nodded as she reached over and gave me a hug. “I think you’re right,” she said.
As stepparents, we more easily find peace and contentment when we make choices that fit our needs as we relate to others. In other words, when we set healthy boundaries around our time, energy, and emotions. Now, I’m not referring to self-centeredness. That’s when we only consider our needs. I’m referring to self-care, which allows us take care of ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually through healthy boundary-setting.
There’s freedom in boundaries. And relationships rooted in freedom allow love to thrive.
Without boundaries, we’re enslaved to one another, victims of our circumstances. That’s not God’s way. God offers freedom in our relationships. He allows free will and the ability to make choices.
As stepparents, we often chase after a love relationship with our stepchildren, allowing loose boundaries that keep us enslaved and resentful. We become entangled with their behavior, making endless sacrifices. We put too much pressure on ourselves to attend every event or buy the perfect gift, hoping to win over the love and adoration of our stepchild in the process.
It doesn’t often work that way. Stepchildren develop relationships with their stepparents on their own timetables. Sometimes our behavior can influence it, but oftentimes it won’t, particularly when loyalty conflict crops up.
If we find ourselves feeling resentful, we might need to step back and assess.
Have we thrown ourselves into creating a perfect holiday that’s coupled with exhaustion and frustration because we’re bumping up against disgruntled behavior?
Are we trying too hard to win over the love of a stepchild who isn’t ready for a relationship with us, while opening the door of bitterness in the process?
As Christians, we often value self-sacrifice over self-care. We strive to do more (give more, perform more) and be more (more faithful, more loving, more helpful). But we eventually fail if we only meet others’ needs and never our own.
It’s okay to have love with limits.
For example, I’m willing to help with my 17-year-old son’s laundry during soccer season because he’s consumed with workouts, games, and homework after school. But he must bring his laundry to the laundry room in a timely fashion so I can do his laundry when it’s convenient, not at 10:00 pm when he realizes he doesn’t have a clean uniform for his game the next day. I don’t love my son any less just because I’ve set limits on his behavior. I’m all too aware of the resentment that sets in if I agree to do laundry at 10:00 pm.
Setting boundaries doesn’t mean we become selfish and concerned only with ourselves; it means we accept responsibility to make choices that fit for us, and communicate our needs with those around us.
Could you use a few more tips for your holiday season? Find them here.
And check out my new resource: Stepparenting With Grace: A Devotional for Blended Families.