A Happy Holiday Season for Blended Families
My daughter and I celebrated eight years of special occasions and holidays as a duo before my husband became a part of our family. Although she prized the small, familiar rituals we developed over the years, Cal welcomed our new status as a trio. But even the most wanted changes can still require some adjustment. Our new family was less than four months old before we were enveloped in a holiday whirlwind of family and travel and activity.
Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, I caught Cal staring intently at a group in front of us while we were waiting to take a picture with Santa. When I followed her gaze, I found a happy family of three, a mother and father with their infant daughter. I tapped Cal’s shoulder and asked if she was thinking about anything in particular. She hesitated before asking, “Is it okay if I still call him Harv even though everyone else says he’s my dad?”
“Of course,” I replied. “Does it make you feel weird when people call him your dad?”
“Not really. But I think they want me to call him that. Plus, he bought me an American Girl doll.”
I tried not to laugh at her logic. It made sense. Even though Harv and I told her numerous times that it would be okay to address Harv by his first name for as long as she wanted, my extended family and friends had already embraced my husband and some of them couldn’t understand why Cal wasn’t eager to do the same. Especially since he was so loving and generous towards her. They were not shy about sharing their thoughts when we got together for holiday meals and parties. I wish it were socially acceptable to tape someone’s mouth shut.
On the drive home, I did my best to explain to Cal that our family should set traditions based on what worked best for us and that she shouldn’t feel pressure to abide by what others defined as acceptable or “good.” This seemed to ease her anxiety, and it helped us create a memorable and joyful first holiday season.
As we near the milestone of spending as many years together as a trio as Cal and I had celebrated as a duo, these guidelines have helped us navigate through the unfamiliar:
Consider Each Family Member’s Needs
Cal is an extrovert. Harv is an introvert. I can go either way depending on how much caffeine and processed sugar I’ve had that day. Since Cal likes being with “her friends” (anyone she’s known for more than three minutes) so much, I always accepted holiday invitations in the past. We’ve become much more selective about the events we attend, and we’re mindful about spending meaningful time together over fulfilling social obligations.
Set New Traditions and Incorporate Old Ones
Our mother and daughter holiday routine centered around staying in our pajamas all day, although we would change the activity to fit the occasion. On Thanksgiving, it was pj’s and pie. On Christmas, pj’s while unwrapping gifts. On New Year’s Eve, we changed into pj’s before the sky even got dark and tried to keep each other awake till midnight.
Harv doesn’t feel comfortable walking around in pajamas after 8 am or before 8 pm. No biggie. He still participates in our holiday rituals. He’s just in “real clothes.”
During our first holiday together, we spent an afternoon shopping for ornaments. As we picked out our favorites, we shared personal details about why those stood out to us. We learned so much about each other, and our ornament hunts became a new tradition for our new family.
Be Flexible (Also, Be Realistic)
I somehow manage to forget each year how stressful and chaotic holidays can be. In my fantasyland, my home suddenly grows six more guest rooms to accommodate a large number of extended family members. Each evening, we sit in front of the fireplace as we drink eggnog and form an assembly line to stuff beautifully embossed holiday cards into foil-lined envelopes. In reality, I have to plan separate dinners because this brother isn’t talking to that uncle or his wife insulted her sister-in-law. There is no assembly line because, for the third year in a row, I haven’t ordered any cards. While I like the idea of a perfect holiday celebration, I’m in love with sanity even more.