Original publication: U.S. News
Planning for birthdays and holidays requires open conversation and compromise.
Single parents who come together and create a blended family typically do so with their eyes wide open. Each parent has experienced emotional loss, profound regret and shattered expectations. Financial and logistical challenges demand flexibility and sacrifice. Difficult and frank discussions about finances, shared living spaces and respective co-parenting schedules take place nearly every day.
But frequently left out of the conversation are the parents’ differing perspectives on holiday and birthday celebrations, as other seemingly more pressing issues take priority. That’s a problem because these differences in family customs also require discussion and planning. Without such conversations, unspoken resentments and misunderstandings percolate, leading to hurt feelings and unnecessary conflict.
It’s best not to wait until a birthday or holiday is just around the corner to talk about what you’ll do as a family on these occasions. Here’s how to begin these important conversations:
This is a new beginning for both families. Trying to recreate the birthday or holiday traditions previously enjoyed as part of a couple or as a single parent only leads to disappointment and hard feelings. Look ahead to change with confidence and optimism. These attitudes will influence your kids and help lay the foundation for harmony in your new blended family.
Be prepared for special occasions to evoke powerful memories
Some memories bring laughter and joy. Other memories stir feelings of sadness, abandonment and fear. Often when people say things like, “I’m not into the holidays” or “birthdays aren’t that big a deal,” it really means that birthday and holiday memories bring heartache. A new partner’s family may have lacked sufficient reserves of time, energy or money to enjoy birthdays and holidays.
Understand past experiences
Discuss openly past birthdays and holidays. As you forge your blended family, a respectful, sympathetic and mutual understanding of past experiences is essential. These normally special occasions are sometimes marred by traumatic events, such as eviction or other legal notices, deaths or sudden family illness, exposure of infidelities, financial crises or simply the undeniable realization that love and commitment freely given was not reciprocated.
For others, birthdays and holidays bring mostly happy memories. Certain rituals or foods highlight their celebrations. Incorporating each other’s pleasurable birthday and holiday activities makes sense. Experimenting with family recipes offers kids the chance to try new foods and hear family stories. Learning about cultures and traditions different than their own is a valuable experience. Modeling flexibility and tolerance within your family provides kids with worthy life lessons.
Agree to keep it real
Comparing social media images of “typical” birthdays or holidays sets your newly blended family up for confusion and disappointment. All kids cherish memories of celebrations focused on their needs and interests. Ironically, it’s the budget-busting stuff that kids most quickly forget. Kids thrive on routine, clear expectations and simple pleasures. Stressed out adults who become exhausted and exasperated preparing for special occasions may do unintended damage, especially if kids are still working through their own unhappy birthday or holiday memories.
Keep the kids in the conversation
Ask your kids in an age-appropriate way how they’d like to celebrate holidays. Find out what they enjoyed and what they felt was not so great. Typically, kids cite one-on-one experiences with their parents as most enjoyable. Kids almost always have definite ideas about the best ways to celebrate their birthdays. View these conversations as opportunities to show your kids how compromise is often an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
Establish new traditions
Traditions bring families together. No rules here. Maybe you set aside time weekly to celebrate family members’ little victories, such as teacher praise for an assignment or a parent finally figuring out how to use Roku. The kids will likely have some unexpected ideas. Try something new or just act silly together. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do. Traditions can change and evolve. It’s only important that everyone participates. Shared experiences build family unity.
Things happen that require readjusting holiday plans. If there’s the “other parent” to consider, it’s best for everyone to communicate openly and honestly about how family plans must take into account unexpected changes in the co-parenting schedule. Taking the high road – even when it’s really tough – is always the right choice. If this seems especially daunting, focus on what you’d like your kids to tell their kids about their birthday and holiday celebrations. This will help you focus on things that are genuinely important rather than things that won’t matter in the long run.