With the holiday season firmly upon us, it’s time to start thinking about how to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. And there’s definitely a lot to think about: Whose house will you travel to? Will your family come to you? Who will make dinner? Who will be invited? What traditions will you continue and which new ones will you start?
All of these questions are pretty standard, but the answers are a bit more complex for blended families. Holidays are about family and spending time with each other – so what happens when a key family member can’t attend the festivities? How do you celebrate?
In the custody arrangement for my husband’s son “D,” we trade off Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. This year, he is with us for Thanksgiving, but not Christmas. We will still celebrate Christmas with D, only on a different day. It won’t be quite the same for the adults, but we still try to make it extra special for him.
Although there are many times throughout the year when we miss D because we were not with him, there is something about the holidays that make us feel a bit more lonely than usual. We have to distract ourselves so that the hole doesn’t feel so deep.
Two years ago we had a Christmas without D. Us adults (Matt and I, his parents, his sister and her fiancé) planned a trip to Palm Springs where we rented a house and spent some quality time together for a few days. It was a lot of fun and a really great diversion, but it still didn’t feel like Christmas without our youngest family member.
D is only four years old and he’s just beginning to understand the meaning of these various holidays. So how do we make sure that D never feels left out of the special events when he’s not able to be with us? Here are some of our best tips:
Schedule an alternate day to celebrate the holiday. For Christmas, we celebrate a week earlier or a week later and have a dinner and share gifts. There’s nothing like watching a four-year-old tear into his presents.
Create your own holiday traditions. Holidays are all about family and traditions, so make sure that your little ones are part of each of those activities. Don’t participate in a tradition without them, because they’ll only feel left out. For instance, we decorate the tree and make a gingerbread house as a family. D loves doing these things.
Educate children on the true meaning of the holiday. Sure, kids will associate Christmas with presents, but the season and the day mean a lot more than that. Spending time with family, being kind to others, making memories, and feeling loved are all things we want to instill in our kids.
D is an integral part of our family and even though he is missed on actual holidays, they are what we make them. It would be foolish to think that we can ever completely keep him from feeling left out, but we can do everything in our adult power to alleviate as much of it as possible. We’re a family and just because he can’t be there doesn’t mean he’s any less a part of it.
What do you do to make sure your children/step-children never feel left out of family activities?