Dealing with Divorce During Thanksgiving and the Holidays

If you're dealing with a divorce, Thanksgiving can be a heart-wrenching time. Where last year you were still a family, this year that stability has been ripped to shreds and you're trying to sew the pieces back together. Here are a few ways that you can stay sane through the holidays.

Coping with the nostalgia of Thanksgiving

Autumn scene with pumpkins for Thanksgiving

The first holidays after a divorce will be fraught with poignant memories of previous holidays and the traditions you shared. Expect to feel sad. The contrast between how you felt in previous years and how you feel this year will make it even more painful.

Take this year to make new traditions. If you always spent Thanksgiving with your spouse's family, go visit yours this year. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, or having a dinner with your friends. When you're dealing with divorce, don't put all your focus on how things were. Think about how things could be now, and take steps to make them that way.

Talk to supportive friends and family

Don't worry about being a Debbie Downer. Now, that doesn't mean you should spend the whole holiday weekend moping around and waxing eloquent about how horrible dealing with divorce is. It just means that you shouldn't try to plaster on a happy face and keep it there, even when you're in pain inside.

If you need to vent or need a shoulder to cry on, grab a friend or family member that you trust and let it out. Otherwise, do your best to strive for a good holiday atmosphere, free from bitterness. The fact that you're around supportive friends and family alone should show you that it's not the end of the world.

Just don't make Thanksgiving itself your rant day. Try to talk to somebody beforehand and keep the negative thoughts and energy of dealing with divorce away from enjoying the holiday. Otherwise, you're going to make the holiday itself more rotten for you and bring it down for your friends and family.

Be flexible with the scheduling

If you have children, then you'll do something you haven't had to do before: figure out which parent they'll spend Thanksgiving with. It may be hard to arrange transportation and scheduling with your ex, but try to be civil and flexible when you do. Part of dealing with divorce is not letting bitterness color the holiday for you or your children. It's not going to do anybody any good for you to get angry because your ex couldn't pick up the kids until 7 p.m. when he was supposed to be there an hour earlier.

Most importantly, don't speak ill of your ex to your kids or complain about having to "share" them for the holidays. If your children are old enough to make decisions about where to go for the holidays, chances are they already feel guilty about not being able to see both of you on Thanksgiving. Complaining will make it worse, and may actually make them resent you. Plus, even though your marriage didn't work out, your kids still need their other parent and you should make them feel special.

List what you are thankful for

As you're dealing with a life transition like divorce, you may very well be thinking about nothing else. And who could blame you? Everything in your life has been turned upside-down by that one action. However, the very definition of Thanksgiving is "giving thanks."

Take some time to sit down and write out what you are thankful for. Make it serious; "I am thankful for my health and that of my family." Make it silly: "I am thankful that gas went down five cents before my holiday trip." Just take the time to see what you have to be thankful for. The list is probably longer than you'd expect, and by seeing everything that you do have in your life, you'll have better perspective for this holiday and the future.

Life transitions are never easy, and there may well be days where all you want to do is find a time machine and put everything back to the way it was before you had to deal with the divorce. But by taking little steps at a time, you'll be able to adapt. The holidays will never be like you remembered them, but with a little patience, understanding and flexibility, you can make your first Thanksgiving after a divorce a hopeful, if poignant, one. 

About the Authors: Dave Webster & Tolu Adeleye are the co-authors of "Stay Sane Through Change: How To Rise Above The Challenges Of Life’s Complex Transitions" and previous partners of Contemporary Lifestyle Consulting Inc. 

Even if Thanksgiving has passed, these tips will help you put everything into perspective. You can also get some other great ideas on surviving the holidays in the following articles: 

  1. Divorce
  2. Children and Divorce
  3. Holiday Survival Tips
  4. Thanksgiving