31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Holidays Can Handle The Adjustments With Parental Cooperation

Blended families can create new holiday tradition

Single... with Children


Publication Date: 11/22/00

Following my divorce, one of the first things I stressed over was holidays. How would my most cherished family memories of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas change as a single parent? Would they somehow evolve from occasions of celebration to days I would prefer to skip and grow to dread?

I feared that traditional family holidays would start to feel like a burden. I couldn't begin to contemplate how my children and I would handle this new hurdle. In fact, it felt impossible.

I used to lie awake in bed and worry that my two kids would have nothing to look forward to but sad and depressing scenes of merely going through the motions of celebrating holidays that had previously brought so much joy and laughter to our home.

Further complicating the future was the fact that the holidays I had always celebrated with my kids would not necessarily include their presence. Any parent having weathered a divorce realizes that one of the first wrinkles to be ironed out is which parent gets the children for what holidays.

Feeling more than a little selfish, once it became apparent that the status quo was about to sustain an abrupt change, I wondered how in the world I could possibly get through a Thanksgiving, or any other holiday for that matter, without engaging in all of the rituals I had so carefully crafted in years past.

I will admit the first couple of years were rough. Though my divorce was amicable and my ex-husband and I worked very hard to make the transition as seamless as possible, there's no denying there were chasms to be bridged. I was fortunate that my former spouse shared my concern and desire to find the best possible solution.

Many of our families no longer quite reflect the quintessential Norman Rockwell depiction that so many of us baby boomers grew up taking for granted. This, however, doesn't mean that we can't have fun.

With a little creativity, holidays such as Thanksgiving still can remain positive and joyous events to be shared and remembered. We must work very diligently to make certain that our children still view these occasions as reasons for celebration. Being a child of divorced parents is no reason to feel anything less than complete.

Common sense and creativity work wonders. As I approached my first Thanksgiving with full knowledge that my kids would not be present at my table on the exact date of the holiday, but rather with their father - plus his new wife and stepdaughters - I realized that this didn't mean I would have to relinquish a traditional family dinner.

We simply celebrated Thanksgiving Day the weekend before they were to leave to share the actual day with their dad. As far as I could tell, we were breaking no federal statutes by enjoying turkey and all the trimmings a few days before the traditional date. The atmosphere was, with a little planning and determination, every bit as happy and festive as we had shared in the past.

There's no denying that their father wasn't sitting at the head of the table and holding court as he had in the past. It's true I've never really grasped the art of carving our turkey with the same panache, but this has proven to be a real source of amusement. We learned to develop new traditions.

There was much laughter at my first primitive carving attempts, and a couple of years later my son assumed the role. He has found new culinary talents he didn't realize he possessed. There was still laughter at our table and, in searching our hearts, so very much to be thankful for.

Both Katie and Justin, upon realizing that they would repeat the same holiday with my ex-husband and his new wife and family, were freed from the guilt of slighting one parent because they simply celebrated the holiday twice.

We have learned that while we can't deny that holidays are most decidedly different than they were a few years ago when both Mom and Dad lived in the same house, that change doesn't necessarily take on negative connotations. Rituals, like their practitioners, are wonderfully resilient and not bound to the exact day that the calendar dictates.

We've also found that we still have much to be thankful for, such as good health, a loving family, close friends and even the acquisition of new family members.

Regardless of the exact date Thanksgiving might fall, with a minor amount of compromise and an openness to change, not only can single-parent families survive, they also can, in fact, thrive. The human spirit is more than capable of modifications and reorganization. Flexibility takes us far. Love is infinite and gloriously powerful.

Is it always so simple and easy? Of course not. Is it worth the effort? We need only to look into our own hearts and our kids' eyes for the answer. It is my wish for all of our families, whether traditional or blended, that on this Thanksgiving Day we, as parents, give our children something wonderful worth remembering, an example worth emulating and a reason to be proud.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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