Thanksgiving was among my favorite holidays as a child. Every year, we’d gather with my dad’s family and I’d spend the day with my cousins, who I likely hadn’t seen in months. The day was about family and togetherness as much as it was about food and gratitude.
When my parents got divorced, I chose to continue the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations with my dad. As a kid, I was happy that particular celebration remained a constant in my life after the divorce. Back then, I wasn’t thinking what the day might’ve been like for my mom, who suddenly had to find a new way to spend the holiday.
As an adult, I realize how difficult Thanksgiving can be for those who are separated and divorcing. At a time of year when families are gathering, there are some who are coping with the loss of their family. If you’re one of them, you might be wondering where you’ll eat your turkey next month. You might be wondering what it will be like to do your baking without the help (or hurdles) of your children. Perhaps you already feel the sting of missing the extended family members you won’t see this year. In short: it might be hard to be thankful this Thanksgiving.
If you’re struggling to find gratitude, read on. Below are some simple tips to cultivate the holiday spirit.
Start small. You might be hurting emotionally and financially, but there is still much to be grateful for. Look to the very basics: food, water, shelter, oxygen. Do you have a bed to sleep in? A chair to sit on? A pen to write with? Good! Make a list of all those little things you’re grateful for (those things so many others often take for granted).
Thank your support system. I don’t know of anyone who got through a divorce without the support of family, friends and professionals. Take some time to reflect on those who’ve been there in your time of need. Send thank-you notes (or emails) to the people who propped you up with words of encouragement, helped you find your voice, gave you sound advice, helped you move or gave you a shoulder to cry on.
Savor the time to yourself. If your kids will be away and you haven’t made plans for Thanksgiving, consider devoting the day to self-care. Show gratitude to your frazzled mind and stressed body by giving yourself some down time. Sleep late, read a book, take a relaxing bath and/or settle on the couch for a marathon of chick flicks.
Consider your options. The end of an old tradition is also a prime opportunity to create a new one. Talk to your children about something special you can do together for the holiday, even if it’s not on Thanksgiving Day. You might opt for an alternate celebration the weekend before or after November 27. Perhaps you’ll indulge in Chinese food instead of turkey. You might opt for a volunteer project or an arts-and-crafts expression of gratitude. Whatever you choose to do, make it fun and make it yours.
Be thankful for your ex. Yes, you read that right. Chances are you are a better, stronger, smarter person as a result of the experiences you shared with your ex. Chances are you are crazy in love with the children that resulted from your union. Chances are you are stretching yourself through the pain to grow more awesome every day, thanks to him/her.
Divorce might reconfigure your family. It might stress your financial situation. It might alter your schedule. And sometimes you can feel angry, alone or even hopeless. But these life changes can also strengthen your sense of gratitude and inspire new traditions for you and your family. Keep your heart open to the possibilities and you’ll likely find the holiday season to be a little less daunting.