The keys to thriving, not just surviving, during holiday celebrations with your modern family.
My parents divorced when I was twelve. I grew up and married a man whose parents were remarried to other people, and then we got divorced and remarried other people, and then he got divorced again. If there is one thing in life I feel like I’m an expert in, it’s navigating what it looks like when families blend.
My current (and last) husband and I, along with my ex-husband and his now ex-wife, share the same parenting and family philosophy: Families never get smaller, only bigger. This means that as time goes on, we add members like Tetris pieces, finding a way to fit them all together. Some days it’s easier than others.
One of the most difficult times of year for a smooth blend is the holiday season. It can be difficult for anyone to schedule dinner with the in-laws, but what if instead of one set you have three? Or five? The holidays can be a time of both headache and heartache, but in my many years of blended holidays, I have found that there are three main keys to success:
I remember being a teenager and hearing my mom discuss with a friend of hers that her friend’s daughter’s mother in law (got all that?) was giving them a really hard time about not being with them on 4th of July. My mom’s wise friend said, “If she’s going to be the rock, I’m not going to be the hard place.” That phrase has always stuck with me. The thing to keep in mind about holidays is that you can’t be too precious with the actual dates. When my son was younger, he’d fly to be with his first dad and bonus mom the day after Christmas. This meant that they celebrated on the 26th or the 27th or whenever my boy happened to show up. It means sometimes Thanksgiving is the weekend before. Sometimes Easter is the weekend after. Sometimes, you tack a few extra nights onto the end of Hanukkah. The date isn’t the important thing, having your family together is the important thing, and it’s something worth celebrating no matter what day it happens to fall on.
Co-parenting, and successfully blending families, is a team sport, and we all know there is “no I in TEAM.” It’s human nature to stomp our feet and demand our own way, but when it comes to blending families, the best thing is to resist that urge. Blending families doesn’t happen overnight and it has been my experience that one of the best ways to extend an olive branch is to do your best to not only work with your ex-spouse, but to acknowledge them when they work with you. “But Halley!” you say, eyes rolling, “My ex is a jackwagon! He/she/they make my life miserable!” Yes, this can happen. Having said that, you can sleep soundly, visions of Peeps and chocolate eggs dancing in your head, when you know that you’ve done all that you can. Your ex-spouse might not make things easy, but that doesn’t mean you have to act the same. Remember — if they are the rock, don’t be the hard place. Be the bigger person. Your children are watching, and they will remember that you did all you could to make the holidays smooth.
This might be the most important one. Give yourself some grace, especially if you are new at this. As a veteran of over 20 years of blended family holidays, I can tell you it gets easier and eventually becomes second nature. In the meantime, be patient with yourself, with your family members, and with your children. The first Easter after my parents separated, I hijacked the holiday. I told them we weren’t celebrating twice. There weren’t going to be two baskets or two egg hunts, we were all going to church and brunch together, and we were all hunting eggs together. I was asking a lot, but I was also a kid whose whole family dynamic had changed, to my thinking, overnight. The prevailing theory is that we should never negotiate with terrorists, but my parents agreed that they could live with my request, and that year, I got what I asked for. They did their best to meet me where I was. I’m not suggesting that we always let kids have their way, but that we simply be as gentle as we can be with them, and with ourselves, during times of transition. If there is a way to compromise to better meet everyone’s needs, it’s something worth considering.
Whether this is your first blended holiday season or your fiftieth, the great news is that though the structure and appearance may have change, family is family, and it is forever. Blending families is an opportunity to create new bonds and celebrate new traditions. Sometimes it means that Easter and the 4th of July get celebrated together sometime in late May, but, honestly, who doesn’t love chocolate and fireworks any time of year? Pass the Cadbury!
Halley Dean lives in Kansas with her husband, three children, and attack cat. By day, she puts her extensive social media stalking skills to use as a the head of her company’s special investigations unit. She is a would be writer and passionate advocate for social justice, particularly as it pertains to issues involving women and children. She has degrees in American History, Organizational Administration, and Communications, but is often unable to locate her car keys.