Traditions in the Non-Traditional Family

You look at your sweet friend and inwardly sigh. She didn’t mean to cause you pain. She was, after all, just sharing her family’s holiday plans…the plans of a traditional family who are going to do…well…traditional things. So why the sudden knot in your stomach? Why the sudden trouble conjuring a supportive smile? You know that you were destined to be in this role, to be a powerful, nurturing influence amidst the challenges of blended family life. So…what gives? Does it seem too much to ask to live in the middle of constant change while others enjoy the safety of sameness? Hmmm…maybe that’s because it is. As a member of the human race you need emotional security. Yes, you need it, gracious warrior.

Traditions bestow to those who practice them an emotional security that says “in all this chaos…some things remain unchanged”.  It is not unhealthy or unwise to feel a longing for your own traditions and shared celebrations as your friend shares her upcoming plans. It is unhealthy to long for her traditions, her shared celebrations. After all…she has not been called into the same story that you have been. You have been destined to nurture a non-traditional family. A family with members who, like you, are aching for a little security amidst the constant change.

So, how do you begin embracing your own set of family traditions? Establishing a new family tradition shouldn’t be another laborious item on a parent’s check list. The tradition should arise out of your true enjoyment of doing a particular activity. If it brings a feeling of “duty” upon you then it’s not a tradition, it’s an obligation. A tradition should incite feelings of nostalgia and hope.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded of a tradition started in my family four years ago. We had recently moved to Houston from NY and it was, for me, the first Thanksgiving so far from home. With a fair bit of home sickness and the struggle of blending a young family, I have to admit I was struggling with my “attitude of gratitude.” Determined to remember all that was good I initiated what is now a yearly observance — the tracing of the hands. Taking a fully-inked Sharpie, I traced my hand and the hand of all our family members onto our old wooden farm table. Inside the hand, we wrote the year and several things for which we were particularly grateful. When I remove the kitchen table cloth because of an inevitable spill, I now smile. Four years of “hand-prints,” all different sizes, cover the old farm table’s surface. Hands that started out so tiny are now almost as large as mine. Amidst the chaos, some things remain the same.

As women nurturing non-traditional families, we have all struggled with feelings of loss and insecurity. It’s okay to feel that way. Shifting circumstances are intimidating, and we weren’t meant to live continually without the “safety of sameness.” This holiday season initiate a tradition…a tradition which incites feelings of nostalgia and hope.

Tradition Tips ::

  1. Establish a tradition around a season but not necessarily a particular day. This way, if your schedule is disrupted by shifting custodial arrangements or visitation, the shift will not interrupt your family tradition.
  2. Take pictures of yourself and your children each year as you take part of the tradition. Hang these pictures in the den or living room as a way to establish a common identity or a sense of “this is who we are.”
  3. Choose traditions that are a unique expression of who you truly want to be. The children will mirror your enthusiasm.

What are YOUR family traditions? Whether your family is traditional or non-traditional, share below!

Andrea P - BioAbout Andrea P.

Both a stepmom and a “bio” mom, Andrea has extreme compassion for the challenges of blended family life. Andrea has an MSED in Educational Counseling and has worked with families and children in a variety of settings including family services and life skills training. She has enjoyed one on one coaching as well as instructing in a college setting.  Andrea is certified in a variety of family-oriented trainings and is currently the Creative Director of Heart Gardens: Nurturing Non-Traditional Families. More resources may be found on or join the conversation on Twitter @HeartGardeners.



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