This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. ~Psalms 118:24 (NLT) I thought I'd start out with a verse of encouragement, mostly for myself, because thinking back to the first time I had to plan a holiday without my children brings back so many memories, and reminds me that I will have to prepare myself for this same situation again this year.
A little over 11 years ago, my world changed. I had remarried, and was still adjusting to a visitation schedule with my then 2 year old son, and 1 year old stepson. Both boys lived primarily with their other parent, and "visited" us, and we were only about 3 months into our new marriage when the reality hit me that we weren't going to have a 'perfect' family holiday. We were so busy getting on the road to go see them that all the sudden it was time to plan for our first Thanksgiving as a new family.
Our efforts to spend time with our boys consumed us at times, and we have driven hours just to have a few minutes of precious family time! Neither one of us really processed the fact that our custody agreements stated we would swap holiday time every year, and hadn't realized how that would affect us.
So, what were we going to do about Thanksgiving!?
We were wildly strategizing about how we'd drive any distance, for any amount of time to try and figure out how to get us all together. We agonized over every possible scenario. My son lived in KY with his dad, my stepson lived in FL with his mom, and there just didn't seem to be a way to make it happen. I was devastated and didn't know how a day filled with loneliness, sadness and separation could be a day to celebrate. Not only was I missing the daily moments, now those seemed small compared to the vision of a picture perfect family holiday.
That was when my husband started telling me about a magazine article he read online about ex-spouses who still did holiday traditions together to make sure the kids were together with everyone from their family. Immediately a million things started going through my mind...was he suggesting we invite everyone to our house for Thanksgiving!? Did he mean we should include ex-spouses, ex-grandparents, cousins, etc.? I couldn't believe it! What was he thinking!?
I didn't want to be anywhere near his ex-wife, or her family, and I certainly didn't want to have both her and my ex-husband in the same room, that would be a disaster! How could he put this expectation on me to make sure we were including everyone!? I mean, who did he think I was!? I couldn't imagine that even Mother Theresa would want to deal with all those family dynamics over some turkey and stuffing.
I wanted to make our own traditions, take family photos, enjoy my family time and make it seem as normal as possible. This internal freak-out was happening while I'm sure a panicked look came across my face. I took a deep breath and tried to ask my husband all these questions, but when I spoke, all that came out was, "NO WAY!" I just couldn't do it. All I wanted was the four of us together..... (He, of course, was just trying to help!)
A New Tradition
As it turns out, we didn't get to see either boy for Thanksgiving, and spent the day alone, and missing our boys terribly. I promised each of them that we'd have our own Thanksgiving the very next time we were together. We still do that! Our regular holiday schedule is that we are together only for a few days during Christmas break, so during the fall break visit we have a mini Thanksgiving meal, and make all their favorite dishes so we can enjoy them together! It's something the boys look forward to so much, that they actually start talking about it at the the end of summer, and I smile every time!
We never have ventured into having an all inclusive family dinner, but maybe one day I might be gracious enough to at least offer. I still fight for special moments with each of them during the holidays. I try to approach this time intentionally, knowing that we have to rejoice EACH day of the year, and can't wait just for the special days to make memories. In Philippians 4:6 (NIV) Paul tells us, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
In looking back, I'm pretty sure I rarely took a moment to be thankful on the lonely days, and I certainly never rejoiced in them...but I wish I had! I've tried not to stress over having a perfect family picture to include in Christmas cards, travel arrangements to get us all in the same spot at the same time, and I've tried even harder to be an example in order to teach my boys to live their lives, and to not put off fun because they were worried that I would be said or feel that I missed out. I know the holidays are about family, but if you're a blended family that is celebrating with a member or more absent, try to establish those new family traditions anyway, and when you are all together, rejoice and be thankful for each day!
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