Honey, please pass the turkey to your dad’s new wife!

Negotiating the holidays for “custom made” families can be challenging. If you’ve read my blog before you know I don’t like the term “broken” families. Nor do I choose to use “divorced” or “blended.”  My term of choice is “custom made.” This takes into account not only the family made by marriage, divorce and remarriage, but the family that we’ve made because there are simply people in our lives that we love. “Custom made” includes my extra children, the ones I didn’t give birth to but love all the same. It also includes my dearest friends, who are more like family to me than most of my blood relatives. Another term is “family of choice” which in today’s complicated world covers so many of our situations. So how do we accommodate our non-traditional families during the holiday season? How do we create memories when our families look nothing like the families in the holiday television specials?

My own parents were wonderful at this. I know it took time. The first few years after they separated were awkward, to say the least. It was the 1970s. Divorce was not common, yet somehow, my parents came up with a plan that worked for our family. By the time I was in high school, I spent holidays with my mother, my father, my step-mother, my step-mother’s x-husband, and all of the children that belonged to each. Was it easy? I’m sure it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t what they planned when they first had children. Was it worth it, absolutely!

Now I know every situation is different and every family is different. Spending holidays together will not work for everyone. So if you can’t pull it off, if you are still too hurt or too angry, then don’t try it. It is much better to have happy holidays apart than miserable times together. The holidays, for me, were always about making wonderful memories for my children. Some of those memories have been traditional and some have been unconventional but overall, the majority of them have been happy. As a family we’ve learned to deal with divorce, remarriage, death, separation and new relationships. We’ve cooked fresh game and we’ve made To-furkey, depending on the guest list. Believe me, there have been uncomfortable moments for my children and I as we negotiated holidays with their father and myself and their step-father. There have been many holidays that I invited my x-husband, and his youngest child (their baby sister) to join us for opening presents on Christmas morning. Every time I did, while sometimes awkward, it was always very much worth it. In fact, I have included my children’s half-sister in so many family events that she has grown up calling me “auntie.”

So what do you do if this is your family’s first holiday after a major life change? My advice is to hang on to some old traditions but more importantly, try to be flexible. Make new traditions. If the kids are spending time away, give them some of the family decorations so they can put them up at the other parent’s house. If you have moved to a new place, buy yourself new decorations to go with your new traditions. Did your family always cut a real tree and can’t anymore because you are in a new apartment? Why don’t you start a different tradition and go out to your favorite place for waffles or ice cream sundaes, before decorating the new, “custom made” tree.

Chances are if you are sharing time with your children’s other parent, they won’t be with you during the entire holiday. Whatever you do, do NOT be alone! Why not throw a party, invite over your new neighbors, go out to eat someplace non-traditional, or spend the day volunteering at a local shelter or food pantry. Maybe you could volunteer with your kids. Pick a child’s name off a local angel tree and shop together for someone who is less fortunate. Concentrating on making someone else’s holiday better will take their minds off anything they feel might be missing from their own. Whatever you do, go out of your way to be festive; dress up, cheer up! The rest of your life doesn’t look anything like those families on TV, why would you expect your holidays to? The season will be whatever you make it. Make it one full of wonderful memories! 

Karen Foley

About Karen Foley

Karen Foley, has successfully been writing her blog for the BDN since May 2011. By successful, she means a few people read it, and she has not been sued, stalked or fired since starting it.