With the holiday season comes many complications for those of us who come from blended families. The painful memories and uncertain expectations can turn what might be a joyous occasion into a time of tumult and hurt. Before these days are upon us, it can be helpful to make a plan.
Growing up in a family affected by divorce, I have seen this play out in a variety of ways. Because our family was divided, it took compromise on everyone’s part to allow for a season of thanksgiving and joy. Philippians 2:4 tells us, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." It is easy to be selfishness and look out for our own interests, but God calls us to do better. Consider the needs of others and look for ways to extend generosity.
Communication was key, along with much maturity, as we all sought a way to meet the needs of the other. While there was no perfect plan, over time we learned to focus on the point of the holiday rather than on how awkward we would feel. Talking early and laying out expectations can be helpful for finding solutions that are workable for everyone involved.
As you get ready for the upcoming months, consider the following:
1. The holidays offers us an opportunity to reflect on our blessings. This can happen on the fourth Thursday in November or on the Friday following or the weekend before. The party won't be ruined if you gather on a later weekend instead of Christmas Eve. Sitting together, enjoying a meal, and sharing together is what matters more than the day of the party. Any pattern can become a well-loved tradition. Look for the opportunity to offer your family a place and a time to be thankful instead of a demanding a specific day.
2. As Christmas approaches and we reconnect to the story of God’s gift to His wide world, allow yourself to be open to the wonder of this act. We have been given an incredible example of selfless love. How can we live this out in our families? What impact might that have? How do our actions and decisions teach this to our children during the season to come? Kindness shown to a step-parent or significant other can go a long way, especially if that person came into our family as a result of death or divorce.
3. Remember that sharing your family with others can be healing in very deep ways. Instead of being distracted by complicated calendars, look for ways to open your heart and your home to all segments of your family. Practicing flexibility can impact the lives of blended families in wonderful ways as we seek to draw our families near.
4. Be sensitive to those in your family who just aren’t ready to celebrate, either with each other or with you. Healing takes time, and it’s messy. Your family will never look like the Brady Bunch, no matter how badly you might want it to. Step back from unrealistic expectations. Acknowledge the awkwardness. Name the grief. It’s a selfless, beautiful thing to make family members comfortable by celebrating with them independently—or not at all if need be.
5. Protect your children. They often don’t get much input as we schedule our Christmas calendar. If they aren’t comfortable with their new extended step-family or certain traditions that spark painful memories, back away. While it would be wonderful if they would fit seamlessly into social situations or new rituals, they may need both time and the knowledge that you are protecting their hearts. That may mean dropping them off at a friend’s house while we celebrate with new in-laws, or leaving them home while we carry out our traditions with fewer or more family members than we had last year.
Almost 15 years after my parents divorced, I offered to host the holiday meal. Time had passed, my parents were remarried and for the first time in over a decade, we all sat together at the table and shared that amazing meal. It took a tremendous amount of courage and love for everyone to consent to come but the gift it offered far surpassed the sacrifice required to attend. Though I was an adult by then, I knew the tug-of-war over the holidays had come to a peaceful end.
And while we did not make that meal a tradition, it showed me that after all that time, my parents had learned to let go. In finding that ability to release their hurt, they gave a gift to my brother and me. Our parents decided that our definition of family needed to be re-imagined. Around our table sat new in-laws and step-parents and friends known and new.
And as I sat with those I loved, a glimpse of the Kingdom became clear. Battles ended. Weapons laid down. Gratefulness shared. Heads bowed together as one. It was a gift. A reminder that God is preparing his great banquet table for a diverse group of guests.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster