I suppose it's been our generation that made D-I-V-O-R-C-E commonplace. Oh I don't state that with any pride, mind you, but I do believe it's true. When I was a kid, I think I knew one other kid whose parents were divorced.
I was always fascinated by the fact that she traveled back and forth from her mom's home to her dad's so often. I was even more fascinated with the lavish gifts and over-the-top parties her parents provided, though I remember even as a young girl thinking that it felt like a competition rather than their generosity. I was fascinated by the whole thing, yes, but it'd be more accurate to say that I just felt sorry for my sweet friend.
And here we are today. Divorce has become so ordinary that many people enter into marriage thinking, "Oh well, if it doesn't work out, we'll just get a divorce." And now that our children are young adults, what I see more often than not is two people cohabitating, even having children, with marriage never being part of the equation. I think it's sad, though I suppose we can't blame our children. What's that brilliant psychological gem of wisdom? "Monkey see, monkey do?" In fact, our monkeys saw so much arguing, stress and hard feelings, they don't even bother to "do."
It's a tough topic, divorce. I understand, from having a front row seat, that there are times when divorce is inevitable. In instances of abuse, generations are scarred. If abuse is happening in your marriage, get out now, and fast. An abuser has not earned the right to be part of a family, to raise children or to enjoy the many beautiful gifts of marriage. If the marriage and the abuse continue, without an abrupt intervention and necessary long-term counseling, those scars will never heal, or even fade. In some instances, some family members might not get out of the situation alive.
Still, there are millions of couples who have divorced and gone on to marry again, creating another now-familiar phenomenon we like to call the "blended family." My husband and I created a blended family. We each brought two children to the party, and they were all stairstepped two years apart in age. No matter what other struggles we faced as a blended family, I will say that our four children were friends from the start, and over the years, they have grown to love one another. It's been a blessing.
No matter how well your blended family is doing, the holidays can often loom like a dreaded monster, one that strikes fear, discomfort, uncertainty...all kinds of unpleasantness, in our hearts. It was always during the holidays that I referred to our family as being more pureed than it was blended.
Let's face it; it's hard enough for two people with no children to establish holiday traditions. Parents, extended family, standing traditions and such must be considered, right? Now, imagine two people and four children coming together. Think of all the people and traditions that must be blended in order to make those holidays work and not blow up. The process is trial and error, or perhaps more accurate, trial by fire. At best, blended family holidays are exhausting.
I've tried to teach my children that marriage – traditional marriage, one time around, is the highest and best goal if marriage is in fact a goal. Anything else just makes a mess, and leaves a mess in its wake. Oh don't get me wrong, I love the family my husband and I created by marrying, as different as we all are. We've reached that glorious time when our children are all grown, when they hang out with us because they want to, not because they don't know how to dress themselves, cook, drive or pay bills. And now that they are adults, I am teaching them something else. I suppose it applies to both blended and traditional families, because I think it'll go a long way toward keeping the peace and destressing holidays as much as possible. I've told them that I will not be that mom who insists that all of our family traditions continue, no matter who our children marry or even date seriously. If the family tradition in our home was to open presents and have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, I will not insist that tradition continue once our children establish their own homes, and certainly not when they have children. No, all I will ask (OK insist upon, since I'm such a thoughtful mom) is that Dad and I be included somewhere along the way. Just give our family a day – whether it's before or after Christmas, Thanksgiving or even Easter, and I'll be happy. And of course, we'll crash whatever soiree they're having, as well. See? Twice the fun, with much less stress.
However your family was made, traditional, blended, pureed, mashed, kneaded or folded, don't let the holidays be ruined by confusion, hurt feelings, expectations and downright selfishness. Communicate early – and probably often, if new traditions are being formed – that your only expectation is SOME of their time, not ALL of their time. And if your longtime traditions are changing, don't let sadness and disappointment set in. Take that opportunity to start a few new ones of your own. Invite a friend who lives far away from family. Invite an elderly person to take part in your family's merrymaking. Take cookies and carolers to a senior living home. Do the same at a children's hospital. In this instance as in every other, the true beauty of the holidays (as in life) is in giving, not in getting.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, however large or small, however it was created, because no doubt, love is at the core. Spread it around!
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was named Finalist for 2017 Georgia Author of the Year in the Detective/Mystery genre. Her previous three books are written with loving humor about the South. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she's not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family, and life in her beloved South. Follow Carole on Facebook (Carole Townsend-Author), Twitter @caroletownsend, or Instagram @carole.w.riter.