There Ain’t No Elf On My Shelf (And That’s Okay.)

An opportunity for bright, new holiday traditions – without obligation.

The holidays are a challenging time of year for single, step and blended families like mine. Traditions that once had sweet roots in the family I created find themselves soured in “the other family” we have become.
Every year, I’m confronted by those traditions. Every year, it’s a lump of coal come early.

But this year feels different. Pulled all apart and whisked back together, this year, I find myself reevaluating our family holiday traditions, old and new. The tree, the meal, the gifts – now they feel like a fresh-fallen opportunity to redefine the holiday season for this family I find myself in. This year felt hopeful.

Until the elf.

You know, the one that sits on a shelf.

I don’t have one.

And I don’t have joint custody of the elf that might be watching my kids somewhere else either.

No Elf on My Shelf, New Holiday TraditionsThis is Tabitha W.’s House Elf, Frosty. Frosty does not visit Dad’s house.

I say “might” because not only do I not have an elf. The ugly reality is I don’t have a tinsel-width of knowledge about any of the holiday traditions my ex-husband shares with the kids when they are with him during this season.

(Insert grinchy grumble.)

That means I’m not only short an elf (or whatever), but because there’s no guarantee the kids will have a similar experience at their dad’s house, establishing brighter family traditions will be twice as challenging and take twice as long at mine.

Sadly, I know I’m not alone in the cold with a co-parenting situation like this one – or the only momma with a heart to renew the warmth we lost to the holidays of the past.

What to do when you don’t have joint custody of the elf.

Joyfully accept it, warmly embrace it, cheerfully celebrate each difference – and do it all bravely.

In an effort to preserve the flame of hope I’ve been burning for the holidays this year, I’m giving the elf the bird. Reverently, of course (it is a tradition many hold dear, after all), but the bird, nonetheless.

I recognize I could scramble from store to store to finally snap up what is likely the last homeless elf out there, contriving mischief for it to perform, cookie-cutting Christmas for the kids, obsessing over holiday perfection, effectively keeping up with the ex-Jones.

But that would be a tradition rooted in “keeping up,” making all things equal when they’re not.

For us, the elf would not be a tradition of hope and love and peace and joy.

The result is that, at my house, there ain’t no elf on any shelf. It’s just the man upstairs who watches. If I can accept that truth, that attitude, then the kids will, too.

And then we can move on. We can follow up with a gusty move to new tradition – like finishing each (and every) December evening with the cheerful clinking of mugs brimming with marshmallowed hot cocoa.

(Do you have an elf on a shelf? Is it watching you right now? Post a picture in the comments, and say hello for me. I’m raising my mug.)

The season can be done without an elf or a tinsel-width of anything but hope. New things can be brighter than old things, and nothing has to be the same if we let it be different.

How will you renew your holiday? Please share! You’re not the only one without an elf.

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