Handling the Holidays

Valentine’s Day is a day to show love. This year as I started to think about the day my mind went straight to my stepmom sisters. A group of women who overflow with love and support for one another.

I wrote this Valentine for all the wonderful stepmoms out there to thank them for the love they show to one another. Whether it is on a blog, on Twitter, Facebook or in person… stepmom sisters are blessing each other.

A Valentine Poem for Stepmoms   stepmom love

You understand the journey and share your joys and sorrows

You never judge but listen and offer a loving word and hope for a better tomorrow

You love each other through the hard times

You share advice on how to achieve peace time

You make sure another stepmom never feels alone

You give love to another when it feels like there is none in their home

When a stepmom hasn’t been heard from in awhile

You reach out with a kind word, an offer to help, a gentle (virtual) smile

You validate one another’s joys and fears

You develop trust and gently tell one another what they really need to hear

You encourage

You inspire

You support

You are love

You are a gift!

You may not always have the best days but you will always be the best. On those days when you are down and feeling blue, please know your feelings are real and you are not alone. So many of us have shed the same tears and cried the same cries. We’ve wished for the same things and let go of the same dreams. Together we are stronger, smarter and wise.

You bless all those around you! Today on Valentine’s Day and everyday… please know you are love and you bring so much love to each other. Thanks for who you are and what you do.

Happy Valentine’s Day my friends.
Would you share how the stepmom community has positively impacted you?

Tuesday night I could have felt really sorry for myself. OK, correction; I did feel sorry for myself but I chose not to act on it.

I was a little blue but I knew I had a choice. And making the right choice while not always easy always brings a sense of peace and joy. You see Wednesday my son was having his tonsils removed and I wanted him to stay with me Tuesday night so I could keep an eye on him, make sure he didn’t eat or drink after midnight….. basically mother him to the ninths. But Tuesday is his dad’s night to have him and his siblings so I did the right thing….. didn’t fight it and sent him to dad’s house.

Earlier in the week, I had emailed my ex asking if our son could stay with me the night before surgery. At the time of the email, he was okay with it and said he’d like to bring him back to my house at bed time but he changed his mind and told me when he came to pick up the kids “I’ll just hang on to him tonight. I’ll meet you at the surgery center tomorrow.”While my heart did an ouchie, my head knew that the right thing to do was let the schedule be. And so I did.

Moms, Dad, Stepparents Give Good Care

I could have gone though that whole “but” thought process of “but I took him to the doctor for the consult. But I made all the arrangements for surgery. But I know what he has to do with pre-opp activity…” yet the common theme in all those thoughts always stops me: the word “I”.

Anytime, my discomfort is due to what I want and not what is best for the kids, I stop myself. Surely, my ex-husband is capable of caring for our son and going by the doctor’s guidelines. It would be selfish of me to operate on a different notion.

And those things I did for my son in preparation for the surgery, I did out of love not for a return on investment. I needed to respect the schedule and deal with my mom heart not having him Tuesday night. It was my issue not my ex-husband’s nor my son’s.

I was tweeting Tuesday night about it and was touched by how many wonderful women joined in on the conversation. I tweeted this: ….My check is to ask myself “why do I want to do this?” If it’s for me then I stop. Kids come first in co-parenting.

I’m often asked the key to working well with my ex. The answer is simple, I put the needs of my kids first.

Sadly, I think our society loves villianizing ex spouses and stepparents and they really love pitting them against one another. If all ex-spouses and stepparents were villians there wouldn’t be very many nice people walking this earth. Sure it’s true that my ex and I look at life somewhat differently and there are things he does I don’t understand and I’m sure he feels the same about me. However, I know kids need both of us. When I feel an instant tug of not liking something or wanting something different when it comes to co-parenting, I do the self-check and ask myself “why am I feeling this? Is it because I don’t like it or because it is truly not good for the kids?” I don’t quantify how often I have these feelings but I’m pretty sure when I have those heart tug mommy moments, it’s because of me and potential selfishness and not due to what is happening in the other home. Once I recongize it’s me… I know I have to do what’s right for the kids and let it go.

I challenge all co-parents to do the self-check whenever they start to feel a parenting tug that would pull the kids from the other parent or cause needless drama.

 Will you take the challenge? Will you share with others?


Check out my book with Gayla Grace entitled Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace (available at all major ebook retailers). The book gives solid advice you can use at the holidays and everyday of the year.


On December 14, 2012 the unspeakable happened at Sandy Hook elementary school. My heart is heavy for the families impacted. The ripple effect of pain cannot even be measured or described.

I had planned that day to write and share a post on gifts to give your stepkids. When I heard the news (actually read on twitter Friday), I wept openly at the grocery store for all the parents impacted (parents, stepparents, grandparents, all those who love the victims). My heavy heart was also weighed down with worry for ALL SIX of my kids (my four biological kids and my two stepdaughters).

When the kids came home that day, I hugged them all a little tighter and loved on all of them. Love… it’s what we want all kids to feel. I unplugged all weekend to really plug into my family. Time well spent. But today rolled around and I felt prompted to sit down and share some gifts that we can give our kids (our stepkids and our biological kids).

At Christmas, we are reminded of the love God bestowed upon us when He gave us the gift of His son. We love (or want to love) this time of the year and we want our children to feel loved. We want love for all kids regardless of the blood that runs through their veins. My stepdaugthers may not have my DNA but they do have my heart.

I am saddended when I read of the struggles that many co-parents and stepparents face and how those challenges seem to get ramped up over the holidays. I recently read a tweet from a stepmom sharing how the mom of her stepdaughter ripped the shoes off of her feet because they were purchased by the dad and stepmom. I’ve received emails from stepmoms who say that gifts that are purchased are either not allowed to be brought to their mom’s house or are even taken from them when they are. I’ll never understand how any parent puts their hurt onto their child. (Please note, I’m not saying moms do this only. Parents who are hurting transfer their pain to their kids and that is not confined to moms.)

Maybe, just maybe the horror that occurred Friday will soften the hearts of all parents and not pit children between two homes when co-parenting is present.

Having said that I wanted to share some ideas for gift giving to your stepkids this season. Gifts that can grow the bond between you and your kids and that can’t be taken away…..

Give the gift of experience – a memory cannot be taken away. Unlike a toy that will eventually end up in the landfill or clothing that they will likely out grow or like, an experience will last a lifetime.

Consider planning a fun trip; a day out, or a simple activity like a cooking class, ski lesson, ice skating, etc…..

If you or your husband have frequent flyer miles, consider using them for a day trip. Find free things to do in your city or a big city you can fly or drive to. Use groupon or living social to find experiences you can give your kids.

With an experience, you are giving your kids the gift of time and of memories. That can never be taken away.

Give a Hallmark Recordable book- I love these books! Record your voice and/or your husband’s voice reading a story. Your child can have it with them and listen to you read them to sleep at night even when they aren’t with you. The only caveat I would caution is to know whether this book would be welcomed in mom’s home. Even though we don’t have control over what mom does, we don’t want to give our kids a gift that could cause an issue for them. Perhaps they could keep it at your home if you don’t believe mom will like it. Actually, you could consider purchasing two different recordable books; one that you record and one for them to give to mom and have her record herself reading. This would be a great way of “telling” your kids how much you love and support their relationship with their mom – that there are no loyalty “wars” in your mind.

Purchase Cooking Supplies/Cookbook - put together a gift basket of fun kitchen gadgets and cookbooks that your stepchild can use when they are with you. Help them plan special menus and items to make together.

Give the Gift of Family Time – give your kids a new game or purchase a family membership somewhere. Whether it be an interactive video game or a board game… playing games together builds family memories. Our family loves Apples to Apples, Bananagrams, Wii Sports and Wii Just Dance games. This year, we bought the kids Ticket to Ride! We are looking forwward to playing it with everyone.

Consider purchasing a membership to the Zoo, Science Center, Children’s Museum, etc….. and then make it a point to go when you are all together.

Sponsor a Child in their nameWorld Vision provides an amazing way to truly teach your child to give back while at the same time gaining a perspective on giving and how children in other parts of the country live. I started sponsoring a young girl from Albania when I was a single mom. I wanted my kids to give to other kids and connect with another child. Through the seven years of sponsorship, we have developed a close relationship. We love to write to her and send her small gifts and we love hearing from her. Sponsoring a child is $35.00 a month and when we think of how we can spend that friviously, it makes the amount that much more impactful.

Make a “Love You” jar or “Things To Do” jar – write out things you/your husband love about your child. Also, write down things you can do with each other; bake a cake, plan a movie night in, paint pottery, go to a local sports event, have a spa night at home…. Get creative. The child can pick something out of it and you can plan to do the item. If it’s a love jar, they can feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing they are loved and cared for.

The Gift of Positive Messages - gift a chalkboard to your stepchild that they can hang in their room. Write positive messages on it. Let them get creative. If a chalkboard isn’t big enough, consider painting a wall with chalkboard paint or painting a dresser with iet. Get creative.

I also love Wallhogs. Last year I purchased Wallhogs of my two boys. They think it is really cool to have this larger than life cut out of themselves on their walls.

Give the Gift of You and Your Story - consider purchasing books, movies, toys, etc… that you loved when you were the age of your stepchildren. It’s a great way to connect and share an item and an experience.

Regardless of what you leave under the tree or send to them, I humbly caution you about giving a gift with expectations attached. When we have expectations and they aren’t met, we are often left feeling so disappointed. Even when we don’t make our kids “choose” between homes, they can feel such loyalty – “if I like this gift, will it hurt mom’s feelings?” And many stepmoms struggle with doing so much for their stepkids and feeling like their efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated.

In our book Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, Gayla Grace and I speak candidly and with wisdom regarding the joys and heartaches of stepfamily life during the holidays. As a bonus feature we share family traditions that you can start with your blended family. Traditions make memories and memories live on in the hearts of those you love.

Would love to hear what type of gifts you give your stepkids? What are your thoughts on the above listed ideas?


Today is 12-12-12 and I’m here to share with you the top 12 gifts you can give your stepkids. They may not be what you are expecting.

While Christmas is a time of joy, children who live between two homes can find celebrating the holidays stressful. Where will I wake up Christmas morning? Will mom or dad be mad if I’m not with them? Why can’t we celebrate our traditions as a family like we used to? are just some of the questions that run through the hearts and minds of children whose parents are no longer together.  

This year, keep in mind the pain and frustration that Christmas can trigger for your stepchild. Holidays can be even tougher if their other home isn’t cooperating with you and your spouse in sharing time and celebrations. You can’t control what your husband’s ex does but you can control how you allow it to impact you and your home. Give your stepkids the priceless gift of making their holiday as stress free as possible.

Consider these top twelve gifts for your stepchildren:

  1. The gift of positive co-parenting and a peaceful holiday schedule. Work out a schedule between the two homes in a peaceful and positive manner without the involvement of the kids. If you have to acquiesce on having the kids Christmas morning so they don’t have to choose or be shuffled between two homes, do so gracefully. While it will be a painful decision, your children will appreciate and benefit from it. Remember, the holidays are when you are all together. We may have to celebrate on a different date but we can still celebrate and make memories.
  2. The gift of patience, grace and mercy. Hurting people hurt others and often the holidays can trigger the worst in a child who is still dealing with the pain of their parents’ divorce or the death of a parent. In addition, if the mom of your stepchild is causing issues for you and your husband… your stepchild feels it and can turn and take it out on you and dad. Extend patience, grace and mercy to your stepchild and extend it to your spouse and yourself as well. Holiday time can be stressful.
  3. The gift of humor. Have a sense of humor. If schedules change or things don’t go as planned, try your best to look at the bright side and find humor. Watch funny movies as a family and watch some with just your sweetheart. Make time to laugh.
  4. The gift of self-care. Remember that self-care isn’t selfish, it’s survival. You can’t take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself. Take a few minutes every day to do something that refreshes you. Devotions, reading a book, going for a walk, having a cup of coffee in peace are all ways to re-energize your body and soul. When you take care of yourself, you are better equiped to take care of others.
  5. The gift of respecting their traditions. When two families come together they bring two sets of family cultures and traditions to the marriage. Communicate with your spouse how you celebrate Christmas and understand how they and their kids have celebrated. Work to respect everyone’s traditions. Children don’t have to participate in the “other” family’s traditions but they need to respect them.
  6. The gift of creating new family traditions. Traditions create memories and can serve to bond a family together and create your own unique identity. Think of some new traditions that you can do as a stepfamily.
  7. The gift of respecting the role of their parents. Yes! Obviously, you love your spouse and it’s important for the security of the marriage that you continue to nurture your spouse and your relationship. You also love and adore your stepkids and as hard as it may be to do, you also need to respect the role of their other parent. You may not like this person. They may say toxic things about you that come from a place of pain and bitterness inside of them but you need to respect their position in your stepchild’s life and not ever bad mouth them to the child. God commands us to “love thy mother and father.” He does not say love your honorable mother and honorable father. Children are wired to love their parents regardless of who they are. You will be seen in a positive light by your stepchildren if you accept and respect their role. (Note, you don’t need to respect them as a person but you do need to respect that they are your stepchild’s parent and not talk harshly about them to the kids.)
  8. The gift of no expectations. This is a gift you give both your stepchild and yourself. Don’t create unrealistic expectations for the holidays that stepfamily life simply can’t live up to. And don’t do things for your stepkids with an expectation in mind. If you buy all their gifts expecting a thank you and you don’t get one, you will be devastated. Buy them gifts because YOU WANT TO not because you want to get thanked or hope it will bring you closer.
  9. The gift of unconditional love and acceptance. Love and accept your stepchildren as is. You didn’t raise them from birth, you can’t control who they are or what they become. Love them for being your spouse’s child and accept them without condition.
  10. The gift of faith. The greatest gift you can give them is the gift of faith. Teach them that their self-worth is not of our culture but in God’s love for us. Children are more likely to follow what we do than what we say. Live your life the way you want your children and stepchildren to live. When a problem arises, take time to pray about it. Practice family devotions at the dinner table. And teach them God’s rules for living. That way no matter whose home they are in this holiday season, they can live and behave according to God’s commandments.
  11. The gift of time. Give your stepkids your time and attention. Give them time with dad. Give them time to adjust. We call the day that my kids come back from dad’s “detox day” where the kids have to acclimate to our rules and way of doing things. Their dad and I do things somewhat differently (neither right nor wrong – just different) and it can be hard for the kids to go between the two sets of rules. We give them time to settle back in and we give ourselves that same gift of time and grace.
  12. The gift of a strong marriage.  A strong, connected marriage blesses the children. While kids may try and push you apart…. they are seeking stability and they find that in a positive and solid marriage.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas. Know and accept the fact that the holidays can be a time of joy and a time of stress for stepfamilies. The reality is that life is hard and sometimes the holidays can accentuate it. Hold on to hope and press on without letting any potential toxic situations define you or your mood. You can do it and your stepchildren will be thankful for it.

What are your thoughts on this gift list? Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share actual gift ideas that you can physically give your stepkids.


If you are looking for more practical tools and tips on thriving at the holidays, check out my book with Gayla Grace: Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace. Available at amazon, itunes, kobo and all major e-retailers.


Growing up, I remember  each year asking my mother what she wanted for Christmas and always getting the same response:

“All I want is for you and your brothers to get along. No fighting on Christmas.”

“Please,” I’d think as I’d push her for an easy gift. Still she would stand strong on her “simple” request.

I now understand my mom’s wish list. Yet, I am blessed to know something I’m not sure my mom understood and that is; I cannot control what anyone else says or does BUT I can control how I process it and how I choose to respond. It would be lovely if my kids didn’t fight and there was little drama on the stepfamily front but reality strikes and I cannot control the many people and situations I inherited when I said “I do” to a wonderful man with two kids.

That’s why this new ebook Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace that I co-authored with Gayla Grace is so near and dear to my heart. And I’m excited to announce it is now available at all major ebook retailers. This book was written to help you feel peace in your heart and in your home. Our Ebook is available for Kindle, ipad, nook, kobo, ereader and more and at all major e-retailers.


You may remember that together, Gayla and I co-authored  and published “Thriving at the Holidays: Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace” in 2011. Due to the amazing response and great feedback, we decided to write a second edition and make the title a little shorter (you could barely tweet it out last year).

Gayla and I have poured our own experiences, failures, successes, knowledge and most importanly our hearts into this book. You will find practical tips and tools to use today to bring peace and joy to YOUR heart and therefore into YOUR home.

In addition to all the practical tools and tips, the book has a heartfelt prayer you can say during the holidays and beyond, yummy recipes, and great ideas for creating your own unique stepfamily holiday traditions.

Our book is 37 pages and chalked full of great tips. We deal with managing expectations, scheduling, self and couple care, creating and maintaining boundaries, remaining hopeful and so much more. This book is formatted for the busy stepparent; easy and fast to ready. If you don’t have an ereader, it’s no problem. You can download a free e-reader for your computer.

Smom T-shirt (size S, M, L, XL, XXL – winners choice)
Smom Brushed Twill Cap
Smom Ceramic Mug
Smom Stainless Steel Travel Mug
$65.00 total value

To thank all of you for checking out the book and to spread some holiday cheer, I’m giving away a Smom gift basket from my e-store. Please enter below for a chance to win a CafeSmom gift basket. Contest closes at midnight EST Monday, December 10th. You can enter daily.
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The holidays are a wonderful time of the year. Time for family & friends and counting our blessings. But what happens in a stepfamily when the holidays aren’t so cheery? While this time of year can bring much joy and peace, it can also bring much heartache and frustration for stepfamilies as they seek to successfully navigate the holiday season and unwrap the greatest gift of all – PEACE! 

Gayla Grace, of StepparentingWithGrace, and I have listened to the hurts and struggles of stepparents during this time of year and have put together a 36 page guide to help stepparents THRIVE (not just survive) during the Holiday Season.

In our new book: Thriving at the Holidays: A Stepparent’s Guide to Success, Unwrapping the Gift of Peace, Gayla & I provide tools, tips, encouragement, inspiration and personal stories to help stepparents thrive during this time of year.

We know you may be struggling during the holidays and we know that you also don’t have a ton of time or extra money to combat the stress. Keeping your needs in mind, our book is 8 chapters and is priced at $2.99. In addition to the practical tips, inspiration, encouragement and personal stories, we’ve included a long list of stepfamily traditions you can start and recipes from our kitchens to yours.

To give you a sneak peak, here are the chapter titles:

  • Manage Your Expectations
  • Live by Faith to Overcome Fear
  • Define Your Date to Celebrate
  • Remain Hopeful During Stressful Periods
  • Give the Gift of Grace and Flexibility
  • Value the Treasure of Family Traditions
  • Maintain Balance with Self-Care and Couple-Care
  • Boundaries as Blessings
  • Family Tradition Appendix
  • Holiday Recipe Appendix

We are extremely honored to have Ron L. Deal’s seal of approval:

“Heather and Gayla want to help your family unwrap the gift of familial peace. From stepparents living in the trenches, the booklet is packed full of practical advice, encouragement and perspective for your holiday challenges. You already unwrapped one gift by opening this booklet, now start unwrapping holiday peace. Read on.” Ron L. Deal, President www.smartstepfamilies.com (taken from the Foreward written by Ron)

It is our sincere hope that this book will help you thrive at the holidays and beyond. If you’ve found help through my blog and/or tweets you will love this book. I would be extremely honored if you would share this link with friends and family via your social media connections. My heart is to help stepparents everywhere with this great resource.

The book is available on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Sony and also as a PDF on the book’s website www.StepparentingSuccess.com.

I’ll be giving away one free copy. Below are a few ways to enter. Each is considered a separate entry. Leave a comment below for each of your entries. If you are already following me or Gayla on FB or Twitter, leave a comment – it counts! Contest closes 12AM December 13, 2011:

  • Like StepparentingSuccess on FaceBook
  • Like CafeSmom on FaceBook
  • Follow CafeSmom on Twitter
  • Follow Gayla Grace on Twitter
  • Sign up to receive CafeSmom Blog updates via email/RSS feed
  • Please share your biggest struggle at the Holidays.
  • Please share your greatest joy at the Holidays.
If you are selected as the ebook winner and have already purchased the book, I’ll send you an apparel item of your choice free from my CafeSmom Eshop!  Thanks for entering.
It is my sincere hope that you and your family have a peaceful Christmas season and that love, laughter and harmony fill your heart and your home.

As we were preparing for our first Christmas together, it became apparent that my husband and I had some different family traditions for the holiday season.  I had established some traditions that I had done since my oldest was born and I wanted to hold steadfast to continuing those and other traditions came from things my parents had done with me and my brothers.  My husband and my stepkids didn’t have many traditions and I could tell the girls didn’t like some of mine being “put on them” and my kids didn’t like sharing things that once belonged to just them with their new siblings. 


While my husband was extremely gracious in supporting me, we decided together that we needed to create some new blended family traditions. So we did that.  And it was very successful.  I want to share with you a list of our family traditions at the holidays – some are old and some are new – and I hope they may spark a new tradition in your home.


The kids get Christmas pjs on Christmas eve (it’s the only gift they get to open), I give each child a special ornament that represents something special about them from the current year, we make a special pancake breakfast with santa and reindeer cookie cutters, each child gets to pick a special cookie recipe and then bake it with their bio parent, we all gather in front of the tree on Christmas eve for a reading of the Night Before Christmas and then the kids go outside and leave “reindeer” food on the lawn, Santa Claus cuts out a small strip of wrapping paper that he wraps each child’s presents in and then tapes it to one piece of paper with their name so the kids can find their presents in the morning, we put all the kids’ names in a basket and have them draw one name and make a gift for their sibling, we make reindeer kiss cookies (a huge batch) and eat them and drink hot cocoa while we watch “The Polar Express.”

Please share with us any holiday traditions that you have created in your home. We look forward to hearing from you.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I am dreading Thanksgiving this year. I dread it every other year when I don’t have my bio children. I’m dreading eating dinner without my kids there. I’m dreading looking up from the table and not seeing their smiling faces.  I’ve known this day was coming since the day after last year’s Thanksgiving but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I had been pushing the thought out of my head and then I got the call last week. It was my mom asking me “what are you doing for Thanksgiving? I know you don’t have your kids and it will be hard for you and I want to invite you, Andy and the girls to our house for dinner.”  I couldn’t say “thank you” without breaking down in tears. I am literally sick when I think about that day. 

Two thanksgivings ago I tried to make the best of it and I did but the tears still flowed when they left the house. I had thought about things and decided if I couldn’t have dinner with them, I would make a Thanksgiving breakfast so I woke up and made all the kids a breakfast of  turkey bacon, hash brown potatoes, cranberry juice and pumpkin cookies.  We had a great time. The kids thought it was silly. We watched some of the Macy’s Day Parade and I helped them all get dressed up and ready to go to their grandma’s house with their dad. I painted on my smile, give them all hugs and told them to have a great time. And then I went upstairs and sat against the wall in my bathroom and cried for almost an hour.�

The thing is I do want my kids to spend Thanksgiving with their other grandparents and their dad. I really do want them to have special memories with both families but it still hurts not to have them with me.  And if I’m completely honest, I think what makes it really hard is that I spend every Thanksgiving with my stepkids but not my bio kids. And while I enjoy the holidays with my stepkids, there is a sense of emptiness and sorrow that fills my heart knowing that my whole family isn’t together.


My husband is so sweet. He has offered to have Thanksgiving at our home on Saturday when my kids get back and I am taking him up on the offer. It will still be hard for me to wave goodbye on Thanksgiving and eat the “traditional” dinner without them but I am so looking forward to Saturday and I decided that is the day that I will capture with photos and good memories.


How do you survive Thanksgiving?  Are you looking forward to it this year? Any traditions that you have started with your blended family?

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