I come from a divorced family. So does my husband. Both of my parents are remarried, as are his. One of his parents actually remarried two more times. And there is a “step-sibling situation” that I would need an Excel spreadsheet to properly explain.
I know we are not alone in this. Due to the rise in divorce in the last twenty years, the average American family is quickly becoming the blended family. I will likely be singing this following song directly to the choir.
I would like to say that, decades later, our parents’ divorces are just an unpleasant memory, but I cannot. While the pain certainly subsided long ago, and we are blessed to have step-parents that we love and consider a blessing to our lives, there is one time of year that seems to sound the alarm and summon the ghost of divorces past . . . The Holidays.
Firstly, it can quickly become a scheduling nightmare. There were years, especially when our children were young and everyone wanted to watch their innocent delight at everything sparkly and wrapped with a bow, where it felt like we had to chop our Christmas up into semi-equal sized chunks and then distribute those chunks in a way that would not offend, insult, or slight anyone. But we were never truly able to meet everyone’s expectations at once, and someone was always disappointed when it came time for us to leave.
Secondly, we quickly discovered that it was much more difficult to establish traditions for our own little family while chasing the elusive goal of keeping everybody in this oversized web of extended family happy.
Thirdly, we were exhausted. We found ourselves dreading Christmas Eve, day, and the day after. That was not okay. We realized that as our children grew older, they would begin to sense that stress and tension. We were unknowingly showing our daughters that the holidays were a time of making family appearances and meeting the expectations of others, rather than celebrating the miracle of The Incarnation, and doing so in a way that was meaningful and joyous for our family.
And if someone wanted to join us, they were, and are, welcome.
So, we gave ourselves permission to rethink our holidays; to consider, talk about, pray, and prioritize. We talked to our parents and extended family members, who were for the most part very gracious, and let them know we would be slowing our holiday roll.
There were some aspects that we truly wanted to firmly protect: attending a Christmas Eve service, baking for our friends and neighbors, reading the story of Jesus’ birth and singing Happy Birthday before opening gifts, leaving room to invite someone who is alone or away from family to have a meal with us. We also decided that we would limit our extended family visits to one per day, and spread it out a bit. In some cases, we just decided to stay put, and open up our home for festivities.
All in all, it dramatically changed our holidays for the better. We realigned our focus — teaching our children the miracle of Jesus’ birth, showing them ways to celebrate Him and share Him with others. And yes, also to wish our loved ones well and be thankful for their presence in our lives. But that can also be done on the other 364 days of the year, and be just as meaningful.
We could breathe again. And for the most part, we have been breathing ever since. As our children have grown into teenagers, we are able to be more flexible. We can keep the spirit of our traditions be but creative in how we express them. And we are making some new ones! Now our focus is to show our children how Jesus did not come to save traditions, He came to save people. And when relationships and loving others are the priority, you are willing to invite others in to share your traditions, and when necessary, alter or submit them.
Our holidays can still reach moments of chaos, but as long as they are just moments, we can live with that. Honestly, there are still times when we daydream about how much simpler and easier it would be if our parents had stayed married, if everyone could be in the room together at the same time without tension and excessive throat clearing, but it’s a romantic notion for another reality. We are all broken, and all loved, and the overarching story of Christmas is, always, GRACE.