< Back to Blog

The Annual Holiday Argument for Single Parents and Stepfamilies

The Annual Holiday Argument for Single Parents and Stepfamilies

This blogpost is part 2 of our holiday series. You can read part one here.

“My father expects that we’ll bring the kids and spend Christmas Eve with him and his new wife.”

“My mother will feel hurt if we don’t spend Christmas Eve with her this year and go to my father’s instead.”

“My husband’s parents are unhappy because we spent the last two years with my parents during the holidays. They want us to spend time with them, especially since we now have kids.”

“My husband gets the kids for Christmas. I don’t know what I’m going to do since it looks like I’ll be alone most of the holidays.”

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

The songs says, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” but where is home when your parents have divorced and remarried? 

Some couples have competing demands from two sets of parents, some from three and some from four—not counting their own family. 

Others have the opposite problem of no demands, i.e., they’re too far geographically from family of origin, or they’re estranged from the folks who raised them. There is no home to go to for Christmas and without the presence of their own children during the holidays, their home seems all too quiet and lonely.

“Deck the Halls with ???”

Then there’s the matter of combining family traditions. 

We’ve noted that partners often experience tension when combining traditions from families of origin, but this may be minor when combining two different households of children during the holidays.

Children often express great fondness the way their mother does something, e.g., makes sweet potatoes or wraps packages, which is not so easy to hear when one is the stepmother. 

Parents, too, can feel sadness and guilt when they’re not able to recreate the holiday atmosphere of their childhood for their own children due to divorce and remarriage. Some single parents suffer when they’re not able to supply all the gifts and fun activities provided by the child’s other parent.

“All I Want for Christmas is . . .”

When you get right down to it, what most people want for Christmas are happy times with the people they love. 

When new families are created from former families, 

new traditions are also needed.

For post-divorce families this might mean making gingerbread houses from graham crackers and decorating them, as opposed to baking several dozen cookies. It could mean attending a different church or trying a new family game. 

At the same time, it’s also important to include aspects of traditions from both families in the newly created family. This could involve concocting a meal that includes a favorite dish for each of the children or watching Christmas movies together that everyone has helped select.

The prospect of spending the holidays alone is not an easy one. One of the best solutions to this dilemma is to plan ahead to address this challenge.

A person and person with a childDescription automatically generated with low confidence

“I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You”

Some people volunteer to work on this day so that others can be with their loved ones, e.g., medical personnel. Others volunteer their time to serve those without a home. Still others plan in advance to open their homes to friends and acquaintances who also find themselves alone. Each activity has its own rewards and benefits. 

The trick seems to be thinking about others who might also be alone and extending one’s self to them. 

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

If Christmas is so much trouble that it produces annual arguments for couples and families, why bother at all? Perhaps Dr. Doherty sums it up best.

“Although Christmas has become commercialized and trivialized in contemporary America, many of us would feel impoverished without it. We need a festival that combines the powerful elements of religion, culture, family, and the winter solstice. We need a protracted family ritual that society makes possible by creating time off from work and school. We need a time to pursue ideals of family harmony and solidarity, even if the reality inevitably falls short. 

As Garrison Keillor wrote,

‘A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. . .’ Despite its faults, if we did not have Christmas, we would have to invent it.”

Merry Christmas everyone!

About the author

Jennifer L. Baker PsyD is a clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is also the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She can be reached for question or comment at [email protected] or (417) 501.8867.

Sort by Topic:

Community Development



Money & Finance

Over-the-Road Driver



School Success