Getting Through the Holidays when “Yours” Plus “Mine” Equals “Ours”
Thanksgiving can be rough on blended families. When holiday time rolls around, you may find that “yours” and “mine” take on a whole new significance – not in terms of whose children are whose (that’s easy – they’re all “ours”), but in the light of your family traditions and my family traditions. My blended family includes two children from my first marriage, four children from his two previous marriages, and three children from our marriage. Thanksgiving arrangements have to take into account the Thanksgiving traditions of four separate extended families. Our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved over the years into a Thanksgiving tradition that works for our family because we made some decisions early on in our relationship.
Family is more than who you live with.
Each of our families already had existing Thanksgiving traditions. We found out how important these were to our children the first year we proposed having our own family Thanksgiving dinner. “But what about seeing Uncle Chris?” my younger daughter asked. “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Aunt Peggy’s sweet potato pie,” my stepson added. We decided that Thanksgiving Day was our travel day so that each child could enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with the part of the extended family that is ‘theirs’.
Thanksgiving is more than Thursday.
Since we decided to set aside Thanksgiving Day for our kids to spend time with the extended family members important to them, we needed a day that was important to us as a whole family. We picked the Sunday after Thanksgiving and turned it into our own tradition. Rather than just have a special Sunday dinner, though, we turned it into a real celebration that includes everyone. Each family member invites the people who are most important in their lives to share in our family Thanksgiving. Over the years, our celebration has come to include all the mothers and fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends, college roommates, fiances and even neighbors who have no other family. It’s become such an important tradition in our family that when my eldest daughter was cross-country one year, she didn’t hold Thanksgiving dinner. She had Thanksgiving Sunday instead.
Five Tips for a Successful Blended Family Thanksgiving
By trial and error, we lucked into a blended family Thanksgiving that works very well for us. If you’re wondering how to survive Thanksgiving as a blended family, here are five tips from the experts to help you navigate the holiday with your family intact – and happy.
1. Talk to your children about which Thanksgiving traditions are important to them.
Jan Gordon, who teaches Family and Consumer Science at the University of Ohio says, “Make new traditions, but honor the old.” Continuing old traditions is important in helping kids deal with feelings of loss during the holiday. Some things need to stay the same.
2. Establish new traditions for your blended family.
Traditions help a family bond. Holidays offer a special time for building new rituals that will become special memories for your children.
3. Be flexible about family holiday traditions.
Jann Blackstone-Ford, author of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” points out that flexibility is essential in a blended family, especially if there are times that the entire family may not be together. Saying that “Thanksgiving dinner is always at 3 o’clock sharp” can place stress on already strained schedules.
4. Communicate your plans to everyone involved.
It’s important for everyone to be on the same page about the holidays. If the day includes visiting more than one home, the adults need to be clear about schedules and times to avoid conflicts. Having a plan in place will also let kids know what to expect and reduce their stress level.
5. Let kids mourn what used to be.
Judith L. Bauersfeld of the Stepfamily Association of America pointed out that holidays can remind children that they can’t go back to what was before. It’s important for adults to let children know that those feelings are normal, and let them reminisce without recrimination.