Even though our boys are grown, we still stick to the holiday schedule from our shared custody days. Here's how it's working 15 years later.
My stepsons were 8 and 13 when I started dating my husband, and for the first two years of our relationship, we celebrated holidays and birthdays with their mother. As time went on, we began hosting separate celebrations (except for graduations), which meant that we weren’t always together on holidays. The boys were with us every other Thanksgiving and Christmas, and since they celebrated Hanukkah with their mom, our December schedule shifted depending how the winter holidays fell.
The boys are now men — 22 and 26, and while no one tells them where to go on any given year, we’ve all unofficially stuck to our schedule, trading off Thanksgivings and working together to sort out December schedules that work for everyone. We never want our children to feel torn about where to go or like they’re missing out on time with one parent or the other. As the boys form their own families, our schedule will undoubtedly change, but until then, here’s how we approach the holidays:
We are the parents. It’s our job to make the holiday schedule work.
If a conflict develops between the parents over the schedule, it’s our job to solve it, not the boys’ job. No matter how old they get, we will always be the parents, and it will always be our responsibility to make sure they don’t feel torn between two households. If losing the battle means celebrating Christmas on the 27th to keep the peace, so be it. Which brings me to #2:
Ignore the calendar.
Having a blended family means you may not always be with your children on holidays, and if you absorb only one thing from this blog, let it be this: That doesn’t make you less of a family. Dinner together on December 25th is no more significant than dinner together on a random Tuesday unless you decide that it is.
If you think back to your favorite vacation memory, my guess is that you don’t remember the exact date. Because the calendar isn’t what mattered. One of my favorite family traditions is our annual Christmas Eve dinner which, ironically, rarely takes place on Christmas Eve. If December 24th happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday, sure. But otherwise, we pick whatever date works for everyone. I have such fond memories of each of our meals (and the outfits I wore), but I have no idea which ones took place on the actual holiday.
Make the most of forgotten holidays.
Chances are, your kids already have winter holiday traditions in place, so I encourage you to make the most of the overlooked holidays. In our house, Halloween, Independence Day and Easter have become our biggest celebrations. Neighborhood gatherings, main street parades, and egg hunts on the water (for my Jewish stepsons) are yearly traditions, and I truly love them just as much, if not more, than eating turkey and opening gifts together.
And be sure to develop a set of traditions for the years you don’t have the kids. For us, a quiet dinner out every other Thanksgiving is a relief after the chaos of hosting a crowd the previous year.
How does your blended family divide the holidays? Share with us below.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of "Raise Magazine," stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to "Raise," she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.