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Ex-etiquette: What to do when a bonusfamily wants to get together but can't

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. Over the years, my yours, mine and ours bonusfamily blended into a peaceful menagerie. It was great around the holidays; all the kids, the exes, extended family on either side congregated at our home. No fights or arguments, we all accepted that this is the way life had played out and we tried to make it easy on the kids. Now that the kids are adults and married, they also have to go to their in-laws homes and our schedules never seems to jive. I sometimes see my biochildren, sometimes my bonuschildren, but rarely together. I am afraid we will never have a family Thanksgiving when we will all be together again. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Well, your predicament is certainly different than most of the questions I get around this time of year. Most are complaining for the exact opposite reason, but YOU WANT to be together and can’t.

Juggling schedules is difficult, particularly if you have a bonusfamily. Not only do you have your in-laws and that extended family to juggle, but you also have ex-extended family to juggle as well. Many say why even consider ex-extended relatives family? Because they are related to your children. Write them off and you are writing off your children’s grandma or grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. A divorce may have changed things for you, but these are important people to your children, even though you may no longer be a couple.

It may help to remember that you would have a version of this even if you weren’t a bonusfamily. If you were married to your children’s father and your adult children married, they would then have to juggle the holidays between the two sides of their family, plus two sets of grandparents on either side (if you are lucky). Multiple kids means multiple coordination problems, so organization issues around the holidays is nothing new.


In my particular case, I backed off. I have four children — two bio/two bonus, all married with children, all who were trying to make everyone happy. Some even tried to drive out of state to see relatives, which made things even crazier. I live near one child; their dad lives near all the others.

With so many kids and different school breaks, there’s no way we can coordinate everyone being in one place, but we can coordinate a family Zoom call. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that online is not the same thing as being together, but it is a real-time substitute. My goal this year is to initiate an ongoing Thanksgiving family conference call. No matter where you are, at 11 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, be online. If you’re traveling, find a Wi-Fi outlet. I’ll send you the link the day before.

The key is to remember what the holiday is symbolizing — being grateful for your blessings. The event that Americans call “the first Thanksgiving” happened 400 years ago this year. That is the lesson we must pass down to our children, to demonstrate firsthand. Things change as our families grow older and larger. Coordination is difficult, but letting our bonusfamily members know they are loved, and you are thankful they are in your life, never changes. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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