Family fun over the school holidays can be testing for most parents, but if you're a step parent looking after your partner's children it can be a tougher than usual.
Parenting guru Dr Wednesday Martin is the best-selling author of 'Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do.'
With ten years experience as a stepmother herself, she's got some first-hand advice to offer nervous parents this Easter.
Dr Martin's 10 Simple Tips for Stepfamily Sanity:
1. Give up on “blending.” Stepfamilies come together in their own ways, and in their own time—experts say between four to 12 years! Particularly on holidays, stepchildren of any age may feel their loyalty binds more acutely, for example – “Dad’s remarried but mum’s not so I should spend the whole holiday with her.” Sometimes, in spite of a stepparent’s best efforts, a stepchild may keep his or her distance during holiday time. Don’t expect your stepfamily to be perfect during holidays and you’ll spare yourself and your marriage a lot of aggravation.
2. Let your stepfamily be what it is. Honour everyone’s traditions, even if it means going out of your comfort zone. Respecting those differences can help everyone come together in their own way.
3. Know that you and your spouse will probably argue. From deciding how many Easter eggs you’re going to let the children eat, to reopening old wounds about how they behaved during holidays past, couples in a remarriage with children are under extraordinary pressure this season. Arguments aren’t signs of failure—they’re opportunities to communicate.
4. Keep it normal. Whether they’re five or 50, what children want post divorce and remarriage is a sense of belonging. So skip the red carpet welcome and think “inclusive” and “normal.” Give mum or dad some time alone with his or her children, and then do the things you do every day and every holiday. Let older and adult stepchildren help with the Easter meal planning and prep, serving and clean-up. Little ones can make place cards or holiday art for guests. This helps them feel like family, not guests.
5. Choose side by side activities. Puzzles, baking, and watching a movie all let you spend time together without interacting head on, which experts tell us can be more stressful for stepfamilies.
6. Know your limits. Don’t do or give in a way that will increase your resentment. If your stepchildren habitually forget to bring anything for you, or have a history of not writing thank you notes, don’t go overboard with extravagant gifts and expensive Easter eggs. Let them be your guide to avoid martyr syndrome during (and after) the holiday.
7. Strategise ahead of time. Stepfamilies aren’t first families. There may be tensions, and that’s normal. Spouses might have to plan out activities and time alone. This is not a failure—just a constructive way of adapting.
8. Remember stepfamily members bond best one-on-one. All-together-now activities can activate stepchildren’s anxieties about who’s an insider and who’s an outsider. Give parent and stepparent plenty of one-on-one time with their own children and stepchildren—and with each other. Don’t forget about yourselves as a couple. You need one-on-one time too.
9. Get out of the house. For stepmothers especially, there can be extraordinary pressure to create perfection during a holiday situation. Before the pressure gets to be too much, get out to see friends and your own family. Take time to pamper, whether it’s a spa visit or a coffee with friends who understand and don’t judge. Getting out of your own home, away from your stepchildren and even your spouse, isn’t a sign of failure. It’s a necessity, rejuvenating you and helping prevent step parental burnout.
10. Let go of the guilt. Remember that even first families struggle with unrealistic expectations during holidays. If things don’t go perfectly—if there are squabbles or hurt feelings—have faith that this is normal. Stepfamily members are bound to have differences and even blow-ups. By showing your step/children that people can argue and then move on, you are modelling the kind of resilience that will serve them well for a lifetime.