When You Feel Like An Outsider At Christmas

How unrealistic expectations can ruin blended holidays

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Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

That first Christmas together as a new family left me feeling more like an outsider than a new wife and stepmom. This surprised the hell out of me. My husband was a wonderful partner who always made me feel included and valued my input on family life. My stepson was a sweet boy who truly enjoyed having “Miss Heather” around.

Yet I couldn’t shake this feeling of being the new guy on the block. The one just outside the group. Where was this coming from and what kind of terrible person was I for feeling this way?

Looking back, it’s not surprising. I honestly was “the new guy”, entering a family that was established eight years before me.

The outsider feelings I was having were the result of some unrealistic expectations I brought with me to that first shared holiday. I didn’t know any better. There’s no manual for this sort of thing and I didn’t know any other women who married into a family as I did.

Except there are actually a ton of resources on stepfamilies. I just thought all the difficult stuff would come from things like discipline and house rules. Not fun things like holidays.

I could have spared myself some guilt and hurt had I known what to expect. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation this season.

Blending traditions can be a challenge for everyone.

The holiday can make even the most independent person homesick. We’ve got a whole mental scrapbook full of childhood memories, and we hope to create similar ones with our own families one day. Of course, we know that families celebrate the holidays differently and have their own holiday playbook. But you don’t realize just how attached you are to your traditions until someone you love isn’t thrilled with watching A Christmas Story on a 24-hour loop.

I’m willing to bet that all new couples and families go through a similar challenge when establishing new traditions. However, being part of a blended family ups the ante a bit.

(Technically, we’re not a blended family which classically involved both partners bringing children to the new family. I don’t have any children of my own. Today the blended family definition has evolved to include all instances of family coming together in a non-traditional way.)

I was instantly outnumbered. My husband and stepson already had eight years of traditions under their belt. They had special decorations and ornaments, favorite songs, and holiday memories to reminisce about.

And then there was Santa (I’m going to sound like a Bah-Humbug here). Santa brought ALL the presents in their house. Not one present was from “Daddy” or anybody else. Just Santa. That guy got all the credit for everything under that tree.

I couldn’t believe how much this got under my skin! When I was a kid, we received one present from Santa and the rest were from our parents. To me, this way of doing things was the key to making sure your kid learns gratitude and doesn’t become spoiled.

But how the hell can I know that for sure? Why did that have to bother me so much?

Because you don’t know what’s on your “should be” list, until it’s not on your partner’s “should be” list.

Yours, Mine, and Ours

Bring some of your childhood ornaments and make room for them on the tree. Cook that special breakfast that your mom always made. Don’t be afraid to bring your traditions with you, just because you’re entering a family that is already established. There’s room for everyone to add their special flavor to the celebration!

None of my feelings of being an outsider came from my new family. It was all from within me! I was afraid of offending them. I didn’t want them to think I was trying to intrude on their holiday.

But you aren’t an outsider when you are invited in.

After you’ve brought some of your own traditions to the table you can focus on making new traditions (“ours” traditions). We started purchasing one new family ornament each year. The family Christmas PJs I tried to implement didn’t stick (I admit, that was pretty cheesy), but my stepson won’t eat Christmas dinner anymore without the corn casserole we create together.

Sharing moments from our individual pasts and mixing them up with current moments are what traditions are all about.

Here’s how to avoid feeling like an outsider.

The main thing to remember is that what you are feeling is normal. Don’t get stuck in thoughts that you are a terrible person or that you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way. Relationships of any kind are hard. Living with other people makes those deeply held beliefs come to the surface. Even the little things like what part Santa should play in your Christmas.

And while you should always honor the family unit that is already established, don’t be afraid to share all your likes and dislikes and traditions with your new family. All the things that make you unique is precisely what they love about you anyway!

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Written by

Freelance writer who loves to write about personal growth, family, and just about anything. Retired Army Veteran, wife and stepmom, pet mama to two rescue dogs.

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