The landscape of our society has changed drastically and current America represents a rainbow-like blended community. The holidays offer a great opportunity to adopt the change and be inclusive. Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?
Whether your family is blended by adoption, foster parenting, or new relationships, our attitude often determines if the change may lead to heartache or be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes a balancing act is required when too many differences get in the mix. As humans, we are all complex, with a mosaic of temperaments and personality traits. These differences become more challenging to deal with when blending occurs. But, fostering early on a love of these differences goes a long way in helping kids to meet this challenge. Children benefit from being taught to be more inclusive and accepting of differences as early as possible. Hopefully, you will use the next holiday gatherings to include a few more colors of our social rainbow and allow your children to be more inclusive in their outlook.
Divorced dads or moms remarry and bring children to a new family system. This new family has the potential to be an explosive environment. Some say it’s normal to expect two to three years before the new family finds its level of comfort. Single older dads or moms with grown children who remarry still have their share of blending and bonding efforts. It might be more difficult for them as daily interactions are not available to gage the status of their relationships. Planning holiday gatherings mindfully is especially important to foster more harmony.
Here are a few ideas on how to turn blended holidays into a fun, inclusive party:
- Give all the guests the opportunity to participate. From suggesting ideas to being included in a menu or activities. You might want to schedule children-friendly entertainment if blended gathering will be including them. Special movies, a puppet show? A performance by the children? Reading out loud of a children’s book? An older child might want to be a storyteller while another might want to be an art director.
- Choose your holiday festivity’s menu to reflect everyone’s food preferences or restrictions. It would be nice to go the extra mile and mention a dessert or dish, to be featured that is someone’s favorite, in a special inclusive handwritten invitation. Sometimes religious considerations and vegan or food allergies need to be adhered to and that can be a bit overwhelming, but highly rewarding in terms of inclusion and bonding. A special label at the table will make that child feel all fuzzy and loved. A friend did just that at a gathering and her stepchildren were so touched by their name tags atop a small Christmas ornament. She happens to be Jewish but her stepchildren were brought up in the church.
- Ask your guests, ahead of time, what would make an upcoming holiday gathering very special. Try to fulfill some of your special wishes. This is especially helpful if different religions are part of your blending as your guests might have food holiday restrictions due to their beliefs.
- Try not to bad mouth an ex no matter what the circumstances. A divorced friend with two toddlers often criticizes her ex-husband in front of the children and doesn’t see the obvious discomfort on their faces. Children in a blended family don’t need this added pressure and should be helped to focus on the positive aspects of their new life.
I did not come from a blended family but my most memorable holiday gatherings are blended ones. I fondly remember many while studying at Syracuse University and later while working at the United Nations. Here are a few of the holiday gatherings that stand out to this day from the college years:
The colorful celebrations with Anita, a roommate from Angola, who was engaged to a Vietnamese man. She was Catholic and he was Muslim. I remember to this day the taste of many of their combined exotic festive dishes.
The political and worldly discussions with Christiane and Erdal. She was a free spirit French Catholic woman and he was a very conservative Turkish man. I still follow her quiche recipe. And, he was the one who introduced me to “ayran” – the Turkish yogurt drink.
Why do I mention my friends’ religions? Although we might have had different religious beliefs we did not perceive that they exclusively defined our identities. We were happy to get to know one another. We considered each other multidimensional beings and therefore were tolerant. I smile remembering how our celebrations of the holidays always included a menorah, a nativity scene, and a Christmas tree. And, we also minded our Muslim friends by coordinating dinner with their fasting hours.
I wrote a children’s book, The Boy Who Spoke To God, that addresses finding peace and harmony during the holidays. This non-religious, early reader (age 5-9) children’s book is set as a folk tale and describes the story of a creative young boy, who finds a way to help feuding Greek, Chinese, Zulu and Mayan tribes in their conflicting celebrations. People seem to think that my signature is the inclusion of international twists and/or multi-cultural characters. Well, I think some of it is natural and some of it is purposeful, as I really believe that the key to a better world is in the acceptance of each other’s differences. Most importantly differences in religious beliefs.
Here’s to happy blended and inclusive holidays with a beautifully balanced rainbow!
Photo credit: Markus Spiske