“The New Year’s decorations did it. I pulled out the platter we use to serve the first meal of the year and make resolutions, and there were our names–Jeff, Jenny, Jamie, and Joe. Then I looked at Rob–how could I put my ex-husband’s name on his table? But, there were the kids. It’s a tradition they’ve had all their lives–even after Jeff left. How do I just stop? I burst into tears. We were supposed to be having fun, and here I was crying. It was awful!”
Divorce never offers a clean break. The old life still affects and even shapes the new, especially during the holidays. Sometimes in things as little as pulling out platters.
How do parents navigate blending families in a way that honors both the past and the present? Some principles help.
Live in the truth
The truth is that Jeff is the children’s dad–and always will be. Jeff and Jenny were married and had these children. Traditions celebrate life and create memories. Though painful, this platter holds a memory that tells the truth about the past. A past that led to the present family being here.
Shoving the platter back into the cupboard sends the message that the past is bad. That old traditions, with their memories and emotions, aren’t welcome. When parents–especially step-parents–find a way to acknowledge and live in the truth of a complicated past, they create authenticity. This allows everyone to openly and truly relate as they redefine family to include everyone.
Affirm the children
Children have the right to openly rest in their identity as the children of two people who are no longer married, but still their parents. Hiding family pictures, Christmas decorations, or New Year’s platters that celebrate the old life tells children that their identity is somehow wrong.
When Jenny shifted from thinking about protecting Rob to thinking about how to affirm her children, her anxiety eased. She knew the kids eagerly anticipated their New Year’s traditions, platter and all. This opened the door for an honest conversation with Rob about how they could affirm the children while also being sensitive to him.
Framing the conversation around, “How do we care for the kids?” kept Rob and Jenny working together for the sake of the children rather than pitted against each other with Rob feeling offended and Jenny confused. It also allowed them to openly acknowledge the ongoing need to adapt dynamics in this new family.
Build new traditions.
Perhaps the platter is used to create resolutions for how Jenny and the children (with Rob’s help) will deepen ongoing ties with Jeff. Then, perhaps Rob, Jenny, and the kids will visit a pottery shop on New Year’s Day to paint a platter for this family’s resolutions.
Perhaps the children don’t care as much about the platter as Jenny thinks, and it can be stored for their future New Year’s celebrations.
Perhaps Jeff takes the platter and uses it for his celebrations with the children, while Rob and Jenny start something new.
The goal is for the new family to honor the past while building new memories together.
Holidays–especially holiday traditions–challenge families to relate in new ways. If families live in the truth and focus on affirming the children, they find ways to hold onto the best of the past and look forward to fruitful new customs.
Blending families can be tough. The Resolution Center offers insights on building strong families post-divorce. Call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com for more information. We look forward to serving you.