This has been a busy week for our family. Not only did Jake have a solid week of testing and lectures, but it was Simon’s birthday! Although Simon actually turned 3 on Tuesday, we decided to postpone festivities until Wednesday, after Jake’s big tests were over.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had to move celebrations in deference to Jake’s education. We’ve moved birthdays, anniversaries, and even holidays. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to be flexible when you’re married to a medical student.
Or to any kind of student. Or to someone in any profession. Or if you have any kind of family at all.
I didn’t start having to change plans when I married Jake. Being on the younger end of eight kids with six step siblings, I’ve learned that doing things with family sometimes means skipping the special dates in exchange for a special day. When I was a kid we often put off our family birthday celebrations until a Saturday, so my college aged siblings could come. Then, when they started to get married and some of them had in-laws nearby, we learned to shuffle things around so they could celebrate holidays with both families. And, of course, when my dad married my step mom, I suddenly had a whole group of siblings that needed to be shared with their dad’s family.
Here are some things I’ve learned to keep in mind.
A date is just a date.
Yes, there were some Thanksgivings when we tried to fit our dinner in with everyone else’s. We would arrange it after my siblings dinners with their in-laws, and before my step siblings dinner with their dad. After two or three feasts in one day they basically had to be hauled out on stretchers. In the end we realized that the fourth Thursday of the month is not much different than the fourth Friday of the month and sometimes we just moved our Thanksgiving back a day.
Find other ways to celebrate.
Growing up, even if I didn’t have my family birthday party with presents and cake on my actual birthday, my mom would still make me special food and give me a day off from regular chores. I still felt special on my special day, and my siblings came to visit on the weekend just to celebrate me.
As a teenager, when my step siblings did Christmas morning at their dad’s house, my Dad, step Mom, my sisters, and I started going Christmas caroling at the hospital instead of opening presents. Then we’d open presents in the afternoon when the rest of the family came home. We were able to start a really meaningful tradition that we loved more than the old one.
Sometimes you can’t include everyone.
This is definitely the hardest thing about planning family events. Of course, as soon as we started singing at the hospital on Christmas morning we started wishing my step siblings could come too. When you love people you want them to be part of all the special moments.
As families grow and expand it is sometimes impossible to accommodate every schedule. Luckily, when it comes to working around Jake’s testing schedule our little family can easily shift things around, but when you’re dealing with multiple families it’s a little tougher.
So, what can you do? Adjust where you can to fit the people that you can and enjoy the time you have together. We’re big enough now that parents are no longer hosting every holiday and event. We decide who’s hosting and let that person see what peoples schedules are like and pick a date that seems to fit most. That’s really the best you can do.
Remember the purpose behind the celebration.
Whether it’s a birthday, a holiday, or an anniversary, sometimes we get so caught up in the way we celebrate, that we lose focus on why we celebrate. For me holidays are about being with family, so if that’s on the same day or the same time that everyone else celebrates, or a different day entirely, being with my family is the priority.
Birthdays are about celebrating the life of someone I care about. And my birthday is about giving people the chance to celebrate my life. They love me just as much on the Saturday after my birthday as they do on my birthday, and celebrating a couple days off certainly doesn’t diminish the love I feel from them.
Rather than focusing on whether people are going to drop everything else to come and celebrate special days with us, we should focus on being grateful that we have people in our lives who want to share them with us.
People are more important than dates.
This doesn’t just mean the people you love, but the other people who love them. Whether that’s in-laws, or exes, or step families. Sometimes we have to share the people we love. And making our loved ones feel guilty for wanting to spend time with other loved ones will never accomplish anything.
Of course, sometimes it’s not about other people. Like this week, school came first. Sometimes it’s tempting to feel like school is coming before me or the kids, but that’s simply not true. We could have celebrated on Simon’s actual birthday, but then Jake would either have to miss out on the celebration, or miss out on some important studying, needlessly adding to his stress level. What would that have accomplished?
I know that everyone’s situation is different, but wherever there is family involved I think a little flexibility is always needed. Have you ever had to break tradition, so you could spend a special day with the people you love?