My husband and I planned a family vacation to Greece in mid-August, which included special time with my stepdaughter, Gracie. We were so excited to be with Gracie as she experienced a new culture and new traditions. However, the previous June, Gracie’s mom moved, and Gracie’s new school had a different start date – early August. 

Our adventure to Greece was cancelled. I bawled in disappointment, broken hearted to see this precious little girl emotionally torn between two families and two schedules. Unfortunately, this cancelled trip wasn’t an isolated case of broken plans.

A fight for Gracie, not for our rights

The push and pull of family turmoil became the pattern. All of my husband’s and my arrangements for birthday and holiday celebrations with Gracie – even Flag Day – were derailed. These times were legally ours, but my husband didn’t want to pursue his custodial rights for time with his daughter through the court system. He didn’t want to put Gracie through the pain of being fought over by both parents.

Over time, I realized just how wise he was. Instead of demanding time with his daughter on holidays and summer vacations, he remained steadfast in his focus on doing what was best for Gracie. So when our days to be with Gracie were denied Christmas after Christmas, we worked to be thankful that she was getting to experience holiday traditions with her mom.

Embracing new traditions

Where did that leave us? I still deeply longed to have traditions as a family, something that was ours. Slowly, I crossed out the days that could be shared with Gracie during the holidays and summer break because these times were too emotionally charged and chaotic. Yet I still longed to nurture memories that were unique to our blended family. 

Through prayer, I learned to let go of my own plans and expectations for how our family’s traditions might look, and I surrendered to the opportunities God gave my family. That’s when I started bringing the children from my extended family and Gracie together for non-holiday and non-school-break experiences. I was fortunate that several children on my side of the family were around the age of my seven-year-old stepdaughter.

A party for kids of all ages

That first year, I planned a Nerf Blaster party because the kids were active and loved being outside. It was set up as an activity that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike, at a location where a new playground was being built. The future playground had just received mounds of wood chips and dirt, providing the perfect bunkers and hiding spots for our friendly competition. 

Each family member brought his or her favourite Nerf toys. Using them, we played hide-and-seek and tried to tag one another. It was a fun afternoon for “kids” of all ages. And soon it became my family’s spring tradition, as we found different locations for this fun event. It was successful for years because it wasn’t tied to a certain holiday or date. We had an entire quarter to make this full-day extravaganza happen.

That tradition served our family well and helped me see that family memories don’t just happen on Christmas or birthdays. More importantly, I learned to be flexible and received a renewed perspective about what quality time meant. Since our family’s traditions didn’t have to be centred on a specific day, we also were able to adjust and change as Gracie grew.

Adjustments to our shared time

Fast forward to my stepdaughter’s teenage years – her first car and first job brought us to a new season. With multiple family activities, teen work schedules and geographical distance, getting together became even more challenging. So my husband and I created lots of opportunities to enjoy time with the kids, even if someone had to cancel at the last minute. 

We’ve had fondue nights, game nights and pool parties. Because we had learned to pivot away from a commitment to be together only on specific dates, we were freed up to enjoy time with our stepdaughter and other children in our extended families when they had time in their schedules. And doing life this way brought our family wonderful memories and the freedom to enjoy one another.

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Stephanie Judy is a freelance writer from the Atlanta area.

© 2020 Stephanie Judy. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published in the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Focus on the Family magazine.

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