I remember my first Thanksgiving after divorce 15 years ago. What a mess I was, visiting my family with my two toddlers, feeling sad, scared, embarrassed, angry and so many more emotions. I had gotten separated in August, so everything was still new, feelings were raw, and I was feeling anxiety about the actual divorce process which was impending. All that said, I remember feeling thankful for my family, and I did have a pretty good time.
But what if this is your first Thanksgiving after divorce and you don’t have plans? What if your kids are with your ex this year and you are home alone? What if you have to go to a party by yourself and you don’t even know how to act or what to say to people who ask, “Where’s So and So?” What if you have your kids and they start crying because they miss Daddy?
The first piece of advice I want to give in regards to Thanksgiving after divorce is, do not use the words, “What if.” Take them out of your vocabulary. Saying “What if” only causes stress, anxiety and other negative emotions.
Can you guess what the worst part about Thanksgiving after divorce is? It’s stressing about “What if’s.” It’s projecting about how you MIGHT feel, how hard it MIGHT be.
What I want to tell you is that when the actual day comes, it is going to be so much better than you thought it would be! I promise.
Thanksgiving after divorce
In most custody agreements, parents take turns for holidays, so you end up with your kids every other year. For many people, being without their kids on a major holiday is devastating. It makes people feel lonely and isolated. I’ve even heard a divorced woman say, “I feel like a loser.” Why on earth would someone feel like a loser because it’s not their turn to have the kids on Thanksgiving?! It’s not rational, it’s an emotional reaction.
What is sad is that the traditions you had in the past are gone. And actually, that might be a good thing for some divorcing men and women. Maybe they hated going to their in-laws and now, guess what? You never have to go there anymore!
Here are some helpful tips for Thanksgiving after Divorce:
1. Have Thanksgiving NOT on Thanksgiving:
Let’s say that this year, your ex is picking up your kids in the morning and they are going to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving all day. You can cry and feel sorry for yourself–I’m actually being serious. Grieving for a little while is understandable and normal. But here’s what you can do if you want to feel great.
Have Thanksgiving dinner the day before or the day after. It will be just as special if you make it that way. Turkey is turkey. If you are with loved ones and you are sitting around laughing and talking, what’s the difference if it’s Thursday or one day next week? You can invite your family, friends, whoever you’d like, or it can be just you and your kids.
When saying goodbye to the kids, make sure you tell them to have a great time and that you will be fine. “Mom is spending it with my family and friends. I’m going to have such a nice time. I’ll miss you, but I will be seeing you really soon. And you are going to have the best time!” Remember, they didn’t ask to alternate Thanksgiving with their parents. So, make them feel as good about it as you can. Crying in front of them will ruin their Thanksgiving, just saying.
3. Do something fun for yourself and enjoy the time alone.
Let’s say you don’t have anywhere to have Thanksgiving. I have spent a few Thanksgivings completely alone and truly enjoyed the day. Here are some things you can do on your FREE day! Rent movies, read a book, cook for yourself. And guess what? You don’t have to have turkey! You can make a pizza or salmon or fried chicken or pasta. Other things you can do: write in your journal, take a hot bath, binge watch Netflix shows, take a long walk, work out, clean out closets, look at your photo albums of your kids’ baby pics, anything you want! Just enjoy the peace. It’s only one day. You’ll be fine! Being alone is totally okay.
I want to address two more things in coping with divorce after Thanksgiving:
1. What if my ex has a significant other on Thanksgiving and I don’t?
That’s a little bit of an ouchie. It makes you feel really alone, like you will never find anyone and the ex got a happily ever after. It actually happened to me, personally. It feels unfair. Just remember– No one’s relationship is perfect and blissful. Focus on yourself, your kids, and all the wonderful family and friends you have. Because guess what? Next year at this time, you might have someone and your ex might not. Or maybe you will both be in relationships.
2. What if you have the kids and they cry because they miss the other parent?
Don’t feel badly about this. Kids get really emotional during holidays, too. Understand how they feel. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with you. They do! They just want their mom (or dad) too.
Say something like, “I understand how you feel. I’m sorry you are hurting. I hope you know how much your mom (or dad) loves you, and that when you get home, he (or she) is going to be so happy to see you! And I am so appreciative that I get to have you for today.”
In coping with divorce after Thanksgiving, remember this. It’s only one day, and it’s a day to give thanks. So, be thankful for everything you have in your life, your kids, and all your loved ones and friends. Don’t worry too much about petty stuff or about schedules, or what people think about your situation. Just enjoy the day and remember, stressing about the upcoming day is seriously the worst part. Thanksgiving Day is going to work out just fine for you. I promise!