Thanksgiving often brings a cornucopia of emotions, as we’re reminded of traditions and family members we may have lost over the years.
For divorcing couples and their children, the holiday can be especially bittersweet. For some, this may be their last year celebrating as a family. For others, it may be the first time experiencing divided holidays – celebrating Thanksgiving with one parent and Christmas or Hanukkah with the other.
But with a bit of sensitivity and forethought, it is possible to make this Thanksgiving a joyous one, while setting the stage for future holidays.
Talk about your feelings
While you undoubtedly want to make the holiday a happy one for your children, forcing a smile and a jovial attitude will invalidate their feelings of grief. Rather, by gently expressing your own sadness you give permission to your children to feel theirs. The key is to do so without having your children feel they must comfort you. This won’t be difficult if you bear in mind the reason you’re sharing your emotions: to help your kids feel comfortable talking about theirs.
Expressions such as, “It’s hard to have to celebrate Thanksgiving differently,” and comments about small moments you remember from the holiday such as, “I miss how Dad used to hum to himself as he carved the turkey” give children the opportunity to talk about the things they are grieving for.
Perhaps there is a way for the children to spend part of Thanksgiving with each parent. This is especially important if extended family is nearby. By sharing the holiday, children can be with aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of the family and won’t feel cheated.
This may entail one parent hosting a gathering in the early afternoon while the other plans the celebration for the early evening. Yes, this will require some advance planning and transportation arrangements, but the benefits will far outweigh any inconvenience.
Establish new traditions
You’ll undoubtedly want to preserve some of your Thanksgiving traditions to act as touchstones for your children as they cope with changes in their family structure. But some new traditions will help them fully realize that although things are different now, Thanksgiving can still be a happy, fun holiday.
For example, start the day having breakfast in front of the TV, watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Weather permitting, get everyone outdoors for a brisk walk or a football catch. Besides burning calories in advance of a big meal, being out in nature is an instant mood-elevator.
Have the kids make fun and creative place cards for the holiday table: Encourage them to print out photos of celebrities that resemble each guest and glue the photos to index cards. Leave one index card at each place setting. Then, come dinnertime, everyone must guess which celebrity they are. Many giggles are sure to follow.
Once everyone is seated around the table, suggest that each person mention one thing they are grateful for. Also, have each guest share a cherished Thanksgiving memory from his or her childhood.
Focus on helping others
It may sound like a cliché, but the best way to make yourself feel better is by doing for others. Many families choose to serve meals at a homeless shelter, and this is wonderful for teaching children to appreciate all that they have.
Consider also delivering a meal or home-baked treats to an elderly neighbor. Have your children sort through gently used books and toys, and select some to give to charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army or to a children’s hospital. Finally, think about sending a care package to soldiers overseas. Our servicemen and –women are far from their own families during the holiday and would appreciate knowing people back home are thinking about them.
With a bit of planning and some creative thinking, this holiday can become another memorable day in the history of your family.