When I first began dating my husband, I was introduced to a completely different way of life: the life of a child with divorced parents. Constantly side-stepping, staying at one parent’s house and then the other’s, our weekends visiting his hometown were disjointed and spent constantly on the move. I was fortunate, having parents that were still together (and still are) but confused. Whenever we talked about it, I reeled at all the back and forth travel necessary, especially during holidays.
Now that my husband’s father has a girlfriend with her own family, my husband has groaned on more than one occasion, “How are we going to do this?” With my family being an hour and a half away, while his family is in the same town as us, it is unavoidable that we will be making quite a few trips come Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For the blended family, it is especially unusual if both sides are on good enough terms to spend holidays, let alone Thanksgiving, all together. Usually, this isn’t the case. Younger stepchildren and biological children will be confused, wishing that their mother or father was present instead of their stepmother/father.
Older children who do not live at home have the challenge of “choosing” which family to spend the holiday with.
Thanksgiving is an especially hard holiday for blended families. Rife with family tradition, it is a celebration of giving thanks for everything you have, including your family. For younger children, this may be hard to swallow if one parent is not there. No matter the efforts on both sides, the past will always be an issue. There will always be the glaring reminder that someone is missing and the memories of past Thanksgivings will be fresh.
That is why it is essential for parents and stepparents to make a special effort to plan out their Thanksgiving. They need to make agreements ahead of time and decide how to manage the children if they do protest. Parents and stepparents need to be sure not to try to adapt old rituals, but make new ones. These can be introduced to the children, inviting them to help with these new traditions. The goal is to create a new team so that the past doesn’t contaminate the present.
It is often more difficult for the older children of blended families. Thrown in a tug-of-war between the families, it can often seem to them that if they don’t spend time with one side, then they are betraying the other, or if they too much time with one side, then the other will be angry. The key is communication. Children need to contact their families far in advance and discuss the options for Thanksgiving.
Some families choose to divide up their holiday. One side often celebrates on the actual Thanksgiving day, while the other side is perfectly fine with celebrating the week before or after. This allows for children to spend equal times with both families.
However, if parents are especially bitter and neither one chooses to move their celebration, children are forced to dash from house to house all day.
“This is an adult problem to be resolved by adults. Creative solutions require flexibility that only comes when ex-spouses have resolved other problems surrounding the divorce,” says Dr. Judith L. Bauersfeld, psychotherapist and president of the Stepfamilies Association of America.
Bauersfeld recommends, instead of playing tug-of-war with your child, that the children alternate holidays year to year. This will alleviate driving time, as well as the emotional pull to be at once place or the other.
The blended family is sadly, a common occurrence in our culture. However, this doesn’t mean that traditions and holidays can’t be enjoyed. They will be harder certainly, but with proper care and attention, Thanksgiving can be spent the way it’s supposed to be spent — with the people you love.