Many people want to bring their families together for Thanksgiving but not all family members are willing participants. In a blended family, the reality may be that the children do not want to be there at all or if they do they may feel uncomfortable. So how do you make the Thanksgiving gathering work for everyone? Remember the acronym THRIVE:
Togetherness: Be proactive at making sure that whatever time you have together is fun, relaxed, and loving. Let go of how and when you have celebrated Thanksgiving in the past, and be open to starting fun new traditions (see Rituals, below, for some ideas). Turn off all the electronics and pull out a board game or head outside and play in a pile of leaves. Thanksgiving is generally a time of gratitude, which can be a very loving gesture. Initiate a round table stating what each of you is grateful for. Create your own video message about gratitude (you could even post it to YouTube and become famous!). Or text each other thank you messages. Laughter, love and relaxation are great tools for building a sense of togetherness.
Honesty: Pretending at family gatherings is common as people try to mask their resentment, anger, sorrow or boredom. It is normal to mourn and even resent what used to be, or to miss those family members that are not with you. Children may feel guilty because they are having a good time and they are worried about their family that is not there. While it is important not to make a big deal of these emotions, it is helpful to be honest, acknowledge and normalize the emotions. As difficult as it may seem, have a brief honest conversation about real feelings so there is no need to pretend. This will help everyone let down their façades and enjoy the moment.
Rituals: Family rituals help family members bond. Find out what rituals are important to you, your spouse and the children. Determine which rituals cannot continue, which ones can be replaced, and which new ones can be started. Maybe your step-children always went for a walk with their mom and dad to find the biggest leaf. This ritual cannot continue, so help the children express their thoughts honestly about that (see Honesty, above). Perhaps your kids always made fresh cranberry sauce with their dad, so maybe this year you can make the sauce with them. Be open to new blended family rituals like having a turkey gobbling competition, a jelly eating contest or a picnic on the living room floor. Family rituals are excellent at building relationships and usually fun topics of conversation for next year.
Individuals: Each individual family relationship is important. You may not always have time to nurture each relationship but holidays can be an opportunity to connect one on one. Maybe you and your step-daughter both love to go shopping, so you can get the groceries. Perhaps two steps-siblings enjoy being creative, so they can make the centrepiece together. Be sure that you and your spouse take the time to go for a walk without any kids. Make it a priority to create one-on-one time for each relationship. It may not all fit into one day or one meal but use the holiday break to at least plan time to do it later.
Viable: As you build a blended family you may be so eager to make it work that you plan too much. Viable plans keep in mind that more is not necessarily better. Ask yourself, “Is this practical? Have I given myself enough space in between events for travel time and rest? Are these plans reasonable? Am I asking too much too soon?” It is generally better to ask for less and be open to getting more. For example maybe attendance at the main event is the only thing that’s mandatory. When it comes to blended families and get-togethers, keeping it viable means keeping it simple.
Everyone: Children do not choose separation or divorce. That may mean that they may not be able to be with everyone they want to be with for this holiday, and they may not want to be with everyone they are with. Try to take their focus off being with “everyone,” and help them find special times to connect with whoever is most important to them. When they can do this, it will help them be more open to the people who may not yet be important to them. Family restructuring means remembering and accepting everyone over time.
Successful family get-togethers are important for blended families as they help people to bond and build shared experiences. This Thanksgiving, thrive by focusing on togetherness, honesty, rituals, individuals, viability and everyone.