Lisa Doodson
Lisa Doodson

Christmas and other holidays are proving increasingly challenging for stepfamilies, says Dr Lisa Doodson, Regent’s University London psychology expert.

Focusing on how to provide the most positive experience for stepchildren and improve relationships between new family groups, Lisa explains:

“Most parents struggle to balance work with their children’s school holidays, but for stepfamilies this can raise additional issues.

“As a psychologist dealing primarily with stepfamilies, I find my weekly ‘postbag’ is full of requests for help in this area. Most stepfamilies have a regular routine, where they know which days of the week children are likely to be staying.

“However, the holidays usually mean this routine is abandoned, with rash promises for looking after children given by one or other parent. This often means that they have to retrospectively negotiate with their other half – the stepparent.

“Biological parents can frequently be left feeling frustrated and ‘in the middle.’ They’ve made promises to their ex-partner, and now they’re either going to disappoint them, or risk falling out with their new partner.

“When your ex asks if you can look after your children for an extra week over the holidays, the default answer is usually ‘yes of course,’ particularly if you don’t see much of them during term time.

“My suggestion to fix this is simple: the answer should always be ‘let me check and get back to you later this evening.’ This gives you time to review any diary clashes and, more importantly, talk to your partner.”

Lisa adds that an effective idea is to introduce a family calendar, where you can include all of the family names. Any visits or changes can then be added to this so that everyone is up-to-date.

She continues: “It’s really not long before our thoughts turn to Christmas, which brings particular issues in terms of changes to routine. Christmas is a special time for children, and it’s only natural that we want them to be with us.

“Plan early, and be reasonable and fair. Talk to your ex and try to find some agreement. If it doesn’t quite work out as you hoped, make the best of things. Christmas doesn’t have to be just one day of the year – you can make any day special.”

Visit Lisa’s website: Happy Steps for more advice for stepfamilies

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