How to Handle Thanksgiving If You Are Going Through a Divorce

The holidays can present particular problems for parents going through a divorce. Each parent wants family time with the children, and if not handled right, everyone can feel hurt or depressed. Fortunately, with some forethought, every family can identify the right Thanksgiving approach that should make everyone as happy as possible given the reality of two separate households.

The easiest situation would be if historically only one parent and his or her family traditionally celebrated Thanksgiving. In that situation, that parent would have the children for the holiday (from the end of school until the return to school) and the other parent would have the first choice on another big holiday. This solution works well if one family happens to be large and tends to gather out of town for the holiday.

What happens if both parents have extended families and tend to travel out of town to celebrate? In this situation, it is impossible to accommodate both parents on the same holiday. So, the parents can agree to alternate this holiday week every other year so that each parent gets the chance to travel. Or, both parents could agree that instead of traveling they would each host their extended families, allowing both parents time with the children and their extended families.

When both parents live in town and have significant family in town, it becomes much easier to make everyone happy. Rather than alternate an entire week, the parents can agree to divide Thanksgiving as a mini-holiday, with half of it starting on Wednesday morning and extending until mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving, and the second half beginning mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving and extending until Friday until the parents’ normal weekend exchange time. Parents can agree to alternate who has the early and late shift but otherwise maintain the regular weekend schedule, which has the additional advantage of not needing to make up any lost weekend time. Using this strategy gives each parent time on Thanksgiving with family, so no one loses out.

If one parent lives out of town, usually that parent will have the week of Thanksgiving given the difficulty of having regular custody periods during the school year. However, if the distance between the parents is not too great, it would still be possible to split the holiday, depending upon how the parents have divided other holiday and break periods.

As you can see, the options range from sharing the actual holiday time with minimal disruption to the regular custody schedule to extending the holiday to a Wednesday to Sunday chunk of time that alternates every other year, to treating the entire week of Thanksgiving as a vacation period that is either allocated to one parent every year or alternates every year (with the caveat that the children may miss a day or two of school).

Deciding which option best fits your family depends on your Thanksgiving traditions, the degree to which you must travel to be with family, and the willingness each parent has to share Thanksgiving every year as opposed to just alternating the entire holiday every other year.

How can you as a parent be thankful when the thing you are most thankful for – your kids – are with your soon-to-be former spouse for the holiday? We know this can be emotionally difficult, but before you start talking to the turkey or crying while eating pumpkin pie, here are some suggestions on what you can do this Thanksgiving. 

Don’t be alone

We hope that you are not completely alone on Thanksgiving without your kids. However, if you are and don’t have any other family members you want to spend the day with, pick up the phone and call your friends. You might think that this would be awkward; however, your friends won’t mind you asking to join them. Your friends don’t want you to be alone on Thanksgiving as that is a feeling no one should experience. So, instead of possibly ending up in a depressing weekend, ask to join their celebration.

Go out after the holiday meal

If you are going to be with family for turkey dinner but don’t want to go home afterward to an empty house, then ask your friends to get together. If your friends are ready for a break from their holiday festivities, suggest meeting up for a movie, ice skating, bowling, or at a local restaurant. If you don’t want to go out but simply want to be with your friends after being with family, ask to stop by their house for dessert.

Remind yourself that this is only 1 day 

This is only 1 day. It will be a difficult day when you are having a new experience for Thanksgiving with family and feeling awkward without your kids, but it is only 1 day. Remember that you will be with them next year for this holiday and you can still be thankful for them. If you and your soon-to-be former spouse are getting along as co-parents, you can also be thankful that your kids are enjoying the holiday with their other parent.

Make it a lazy day

If nothing we have suggested so far works for you, then make it a lazy day. Catch up on all the TV that you have missed so far this season or watch football all day. You pay for cable or Netflix or Hulu or Disney+, so grab the turkey and pumpkin pie, have a seat on the couch, and binge-watch the day away. Consider it some feel-good laziness.

Go do what relaxes you

If you find yourself completely distraught on Thanksgiving, do whatever relaxes you so you can enjoy the day. Maybe it’s going to the gym, running or walking outside, yoga, reading a book, playing video games, or shopping online. Use whatever relaxation tool(s) you used to get through the divorce process to get through this day. 

Ignore social media

Lastly, to avoid any potential negative feelings, don’t log on to social media and see pictures of your family and friends celebrating Thanksgiving. There is no reason to compare your Thanksgiving to other people. Also, the holiday photos you see on others’ social media pages may not be as happy as they look.

Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.

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