According to recent statistics if you live in a traditional two-parent family with kids you’re the weird one now! In Canada the most common type of household is now a single person home, the second most popular is some sort of ‘step’ option. My little family growing up was close to nuclear for a while but we were my Dad’s second family (he had adult children) and then my mom became a single mom when I was 14 and my Dad died. Recently she married another widow and that brought me my first stepsister. Our family now is what I would call semi-blended since honey was a single full-time dad of four but I never lived with them and we don’t have any kids of our own. For me ex-wives, half and or step siblings and parents have always been a thing. I’ve known honey’s kids since they were small but since I moved in after they moved out and my Dad’s kids were adults I never lived in a ‘blended’ home. I’m just putting all that out there so you have an idea of where this is all coming from.
My mom (and Dad?) always had all sorts of family traditions. Looking back there were A LOT and some of them were sorta weird but I digress. I intend to make an argument that having and keeping family traditions is not only a good thing it helps keep and bond non-traditional and traditional families together. It’s also something that’s really important to me but I don’t think that they were as much a part of my partner’s life at least until I came along. Rather than a long list of the sometimes weird stuff that we do but there is some of that, I’m going to focus on why developing some is a great idea.
I don’t usually write about family dynamics, the personal lives of my family members or our ‘dirty family secrets’ for lack of a better term. Believe it or not, this was one of the first posts I set out to write when I started my blog over two years ago and it is still something I think is important to share! From our extended families to the kids that I tutor and some of my best friends, I see most people out there doing a great job at negotiating the hard stuff in families. But I occasionally also see some people not going such a great job. Sharing traditions was one pretty dang easy thing we happened into that made that difficult process go more smoothly for us in our little family here but also when my mom got re-married. I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts since it might help someone else too.
Sometimes families are tough and traditions are a reason to get together
Maybe you always have smoked turkey at Christmas, have a pumpkin carving competition at Halloween or a stragglers dinner at Thanksgiving but sometimes it’s just an excuse to have to get together. Stuff happens in families sometimes it’s great sometimes it is not so great but having these built-in times you usually get together can be just the obligation you need. The great thing is you are usually not all alone with the person and there’s sometimes a crazy activity to focus on. I know sometimes I’ve been the person to do something I’m not proud of and then it gets weird to hang out with family again. Going for a pumpkin carving competition is great because you have built-in conversation and you see everyone all at once. It’s never as bad as it seems so you might as well just rip that bandaid off!
Incorporating/ keeping traditions from both sides makes people feel included
When I started hanging out with honey and his kids I wanted to tread lightly. I was also the only one that seemed to have all sorts of family traditions bordering sometimes on rules. In my family, we literally never ordered take away and someone always cooked dinner which we ate a table. At that table, we were expected to use perfect table manners and chat about our days every evening. You also had to ask to be excused. Honey’s house was more of an anything goes, wild feeding frenzy in front of the TV. I wasn’t there every night or even every week and only some times I cooked everyone dinner. After a year or so when I put the extra effort into a big meal, I wanted everyone to eat it at the table like I did when I was growing up. The kids were awesome about doing things my way from time to time and it really made me feel included, plus there were way fewer chicken nuggets in the couch after! They sometimes rolled their eyes but always sat for ‘family supper day’ I thanked them for that and I actually think they enjoyed it. I didn’t make anyone excuse themselves but after a year or two I would occasionally encourage everyone to use their manners at the table, but only every couple of months. I remembered my mom saying she wasn’t raised like that and when she became an adult it embarrassed her. I figured “why not teach them” and we actually did it in a fun mocking way but elbows, closed mouths and multiple forks at least is something they learned because of ‘family dinner’. One of them even told me once that those lessons saved them at fancy work dinners and at a dinner party once but mind you that was at MY MOM’s house so…
The point is their willingness to do my thing made me feel special and included and I hope including them in my stuff made them feel like they were part of my family. I think that when you are blending families you should go out of your way to share your traditions with each other. Older kids and people should be able to see the value in sharing these sorts of things and younger children can be encouraged strongly that this is important to this person and that they should respect it. Just make sure that it’s going both ways. After a few years or even sooner depending on the tradition everyone will feel like it’s their tradition too.
Creating new ones becomes your special thing
While it’s important to respect old traditions from both sides of the family it’s also important to start your own too. Having things that just your little family does that represent all of you helps to make your little family tighter and makes you into your own tribe. Thinking back I’m not sure exactly how it started but picnics became a big thing in our little family over the years. Maybe it was having a cool homemade basket or a lack of patio furniture but we all started having lots of picnics together. Sometimes we’d take food from home other times we’d buy take out but we’d always bring the basket and set out the cloth and eat in the grass. Lots of times we did go to special places, other times on our own lawn and more than a few snow days we had a picnic on the living room floor. Like I said I don’t know how it happened but so many of our memories and family photos are of picnics. Having something that was our special thing for just us together was and is pretty cool.
If you all have a really special day that doesn’t have to be one of a kind experience why not go the extra step and make it a yearly tradition. Maybe a one time home fireworks display on Canada day or the 4th or some other holiday could be a tradition that lives on for generations. Remember that not every tradition has to include everyone though. I never took the boys back to school shopping but I always went with honey’s only daughter and that was pretty special. Mind you she never helped me plant the garden in the spring but two of the boys always did. One of my much older half-brothers always made it a point to take just me and my sister out for ice cream in his sports car when I was little and he was home and it ALWAYS made me feel like a rock star! If you look for the opportunity to create your own special reoccurring thing you’ll find it!
Remember to be flexible
Sometimes traditions can’t go exactly as before but they can still go smoothly in blended families. There are things like custody arrangements, multiple sets of grandparents all with their own expectations and schedules to manage. Add to that we’re at the stage now where the kids are now adults with partners and honey even has his first grandchild. Certain holidays like Christmas, birthdays and thanksgivings mean that any one person in the family can be pulled in a lot of different directions. Sure we would love to see cute grandchildren open their presents at our house but there’s also grandma on our side but her other grandma and grandpa also live separately. Not to mention often her dad went to his maternal grandparents for Christmas day and they now have their own home to make memories in. It’s important not to get territorial in these situations and remember that when you’re all together it will be special no matter the day on the calendar.
I usually ask the kids what their plans are which is little to no help until the week of a big holiday. I would like a solid plan a month in advance but there is like 8 of them and only one of me so I try to roll with the punches. Then as the defrost date gets closer I usually check in with their mom who is so much better than me in nailing down these ‘adults’ schedules. Then she makes a ham one day since I always make turkey the next. Sometimes that works out to be Christmas day, boxing day or even one of the days after but it’s always pretty great when we do get together for our big day. In the meantime, the kids have to juggle a day with mom, dad, their grandma 300 km away, their partner’s families and the winter weather in Canada and that’s a pretty full plate. Remember when things go off the rails that you’re the real adult and you can either make good memories this year or it’ll be remembered as the year you made a huge stink about someone else’s birthday. One thing I try to do is to make a big deal out of and get everyone together on days that are ‘ours’ by default like father’s day and especially honey’s birthday and the occasional random day. However, father’s day is getting more complicated around here. To their credit, they usually always seem to make the big holidays work for everyone and they never miss a day they can get to. Last year a few of them even showed up for my birthday which made me feel really special.
I know that things can get really testy when separations and unions are fresh and we’ve all been there. Remember with time that period will pass or at the very least become less intense. Try to focus on that otherwise, the tradition you create might be one of hurt feelings and animosity on the most special days of the year!
What are your family traditions or your weirdest? We used to go to the beach and sing Christmas carols to the ocean on Christmas day when I was a kid, how weird is that? Have you found that sharing family traditions together has helped blend your family?