11/20/2014 12:14 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

How to Have the Perfect Stepfamily Holiday

So, you want to have a perfect holiday. The tree is decorated beautifully. The weather is cold and crispy. The food is cooked to perfection. The only thing missing is...a family that has not experienced divorce.

Stepfamilies are holiday stress on steroids! As if it wasn't taxing enough, we get to juggle divorce agreements, children's schedules, ex-wives, extended family, egos, and gifting all within a 24-48 hour time frame? Although it may sound like a nightmare, it doesn't have to be a disaster. Here are five tips that can take your holidays from a 'guilt-fest' to thankfulness.

1.Generosity of time
Be flexible with the schedules. It is important to keep those agreed-upon commitments, but if a parent runs late, let it go. Relatives may be visiting and holiday events can make you forget about time. Roll with it. Children hate to hear those arguments. It completely stresses them out.

2. Fight the urge to compete
It is easy to fall prey to gift wars. In a subconscious battle to win our children's love, do not start buying expensive presents to impress them. The only person who will be impressed is the executive who is running your credit card company. Children know what you are doing and it is a bad lesson to teach. Keep the gifts thoughtful regardless of what the other 'side' is giving.

3. Write the ex a note
Holidays are a great time to be grateful and thankful. Write the ex a note and let him/her know how much you appreciate their children and the time you spend with them. If you have any other lovely things to express, please do so. There is still nothing like getting a written note.

4. Act the way you want the holiday to be
If you still feel like 'hum bug' when you envision your holidays, act the way you would like them to be. Human behavior is contagious and you will spread cheer when you pretend. Even if you are miserable, don't show it on the outside. You will be shocked at how you will be convinced by your own show.

5. Swallow your tears and volunteer!
Volunteering is the best way to spend your time. If you are without your children this holiday, it is the best distraction. If you are with your children, it is the best lesson. Helping others will put your stepfamily woes in perspective. They really are not very serious when you look at the grand picture. Stepfamily life is precious because it truly does teach us how to celebrate holidays with the perfect spirit. We are lucky. Happy holidays!