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Today is December 27, 2018. I always think of the in-between space for the holidays as being the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The time jam packed with one holiday right after another from Hanukkah and Solstice to Christmas and Kwanzaa; and many more that I can not even bring to mind. For many Christians this short time between Christmas and New Years is a bit like a holiday coma, or that is how I have heard it described this week.
For me this time was always meant to be a catch-up time. Time to catch up with friends and family; a time to sit back and enjoy the moments before the new year takes over; a time to make sure the New Year’s meal is planned and bought for; and ultimately a time of reflection. This year really has been no different. Sure, I am sad and hurting still from the loss of my mom and that is playing a big part of my reflection, but I am also reflecting on who I have been, how I have grown and where I see myself headed. It is something I do every year right before New Year’s.
This year a big portion of my reflection has been sitting on family traditions. Since truly starting my own family (apparently until kids are involved people don’t take you as seriously in saying “my own family” or feelings get bent out of shape), I have been trying to figure out what traditions mean to me, to Rent-a-Dad and ultimately to the children in our lives. It has been this give and take of “yours, mine and ours” between all of the adults involved. There are birth parents and families as well as our own family and our own traditions to sort through.
In the past six years the biggest part of any tradition for all of us is making sure we are all included and represented in some meaningful way that we do not feel left out. That is what has been the most important to me.
As a child I often felt like I had no say in what we did as a family for the longest time. I was told I had to go along with traditions that had been established well before I was born. As I grew up and our family dynamics changed, my parents let there be a little more leeway (flexibility) in what we did and when.
What I learned from that experience is the importance of involvement, being accepted, and a developing need inside of me for holiday traditions that were flexible and relaxed.
Over the years, too often my mom was very stressed out because everything had to be perfect so we could have a perfect moment/time. Looking back with memories of her like a mini-tornado around the house fussing and stressing just sets off my anxiety.
The moments I remember fondly and miss the most? The imperfect impromptu ones like my dad and I horsing around at church on Christmas Eve when I was in 7th or 8th grade. It was one of the last times my mom, dad and I all went to church together. Or the times the three of us spent just driving around looking at Christmas decorations. The Christmas days we went to the National Cathedral to be together, be reverent, and light a candle. I remember feeling loved and protected in all of those moments.
So, what does that all mean to me now? Do I throw out old traditions? Make new ones? How do I keep a balance?
This is something I thought I had a good foundation with / a handle on until last year when I was told by a family member that I was not keeping family/their traditions in mind. It, and well a few other choice words, rocked my foundation a bit. I knew this family member had felt this way for some time so I wasn’t shocked by the admission of what I had known. Rather what shocked me was the vehemence and anger that went with those words. I was doing what I had thought of as my best to keep a balance between traditions I had grown up with while incorporating traditions from Rent-a-Dad and now the birth families of our kids.
So, what had I done wrong?
What advice had I received over the years about traditions?
From my own parents, and their lead, it was to keep sacred the ties with our faith, keep close to those we love, and once we had our own kids to make sure to stay at home and develop family traditions with them. That grandparents, and traditions with extended family would have to fill in around what we did with our family. Would it always go smoothly? No. Just do your best. And most importantly think of the kids.
A lot of the advice I have received from friends and other family members over the years has been very similar. As Rent-a-Dad and I have built a family through non-traditional means, the same advice has rung true. Friends have still stressed how important it is to build traditions with these children we love and care for; and how they admire that we are doing so with the birth families and still trying to hold some of our own traditions intact.
By those standards and advice, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was listening to all those involved in creating family traditions with our kids and trying to make everyone feel heard. It was my extended family that was feeling left out (or rather one member) and marginalized because he didn’t want change to come to the traditions he grew up with. He wanted me to send our kids home to their birth families and celebrate with my family not with Rent-a-Dad included, or if Rent-a-Dad was he had to follow “our traditions”. The funny thing? This family member and the traditions he wanted held sacred were not always so important to him when I was a kid. His way and what he wanted was important. The same thing held true here. His priorities needed to come first. He did not want to be flexible and involve others unless it was his choice, his decision, his rules. That is fine in his own residence with his family.
It is important to evaluate relationships from time to time as well. Toxicity exists. At the holidays toxic relationships make memories painful and hearts heavy with sadness instead of letting the magic of children’s joy ring out or the uplifting words from a good sermon wrap you in warmth and light.
The holidays, and the traditions around them are supposed to wrap us all in love, magic, and fill our hearts with all things positive and good so we feel renewed and ready to begin this yearly cycle of birth, death and renewal all over again.
As I am wrapping up my reflection of 2018, and hoping for something a bit lighter and brighter in 2019, I want to remember a few things about traditions.
Traditions are NOT meant to be:
- Hard and fast
- Burdens that make you, or others, feel left out
Traditions ARE supposed to:
- Be source of identity
- Bring magic/ light into your life
- Be powerful and uplifting
- Be done with a purpose (require thought, care and consideration)
- Provide reassurance that all will be right (a sense of comfort)
- Be done with love
- Be (most importantly) what you make of them
If you have been following our blog then this post might bring up a memory of another post we made about traditions and the need for flexibility. The post, Traditions: Cornerstones, Hassles, or Non-Existent, was also a reflection in a way, about our journey into what traditions mean in the foster care system and how our own thoughts on traditions have evolved. I think back often to this original post and my advice to others as I am still journeying forward. It closed with similar sentiments “Focus on the happy messy moments, no matter how small (time or space), as they are the ones you will always remember and hold dear!”.
While struggling with the anger of the words that made me question how Rent-a-Dad and I were going about establishing our own traditions, I did a lot of reading, reflecting and talking to others. A post from another blog helped me in my journey to squarely being on my foundation is Creating a Positive Family Culture: The Importance of Establishing Family Traditions.