Thanksgiving marks the official kick off to the holiday season. Although it usually is less fraught with anxiety than Christmas, if it is the first “big holiday” since a divorce or estrangement, you may be dreading the day.
If you are going through a divorce, this Thanksgiving may be your first family celebration that your children are not with you. Spending the holiday home by yourself watching videos and eating Chinese take-out (yes, they are open on Thanksgiving) may be just what you need to do! Or consider Gwen’s holiday plan-she prepared a complete Thanksgiving dinner of her favorite foods just for herself (Gwen who hated turkey, happily left it off her menu!). She set the table with linen and candles and put on music she liked. Then she enjoyed the day celebrating by herself eating Macaroni and Cheese and listening Fleetwood Mac.
While holidays can mark loss of special traditions, it also can signal liberation from those traditions, rituals, and obligations that no longer have meaning for you. While that loss may be painful, it can also be an opportunity to listen to what YOU want and what works for YOU.
If you decide to spend the holiday alone, some people may feel uncomfortable with your decision. Well meaning friends and family will try to convince you that you “should not be alone.” Listen to what is in your heart then remain steadfast. (“Every great oak was once just a nut that stood its ground.”) You know what is right for you. If you need to spend the day cleaning out the basement or making cookies, then do it! Pay attention to your own needs.
If you do have your children for the holiday, you may want to discuss changing the traditions and trying something new. Some families go to the movies on Thanksgiving Day, eschewing the big bird for a big bag of popcorn. You can make new choices to fit your life and your children will see the change as an adventure!
There may be some of you who find yourself in situations that you wish were different. You may be struggling to keep “a Happy Face” when inside you wish you were anywhere else but where you are. You may be facing a journey you have yet not begun. Hold onto the thought that next year will be different and it will make this situation a tiny bit easier.
Above all, remember that every holiday is only twenty-four hours. You can get through twenty-four hours! Next year won’t carry the same weight as this year. You will be surprised when you look back on how far you have really come. You will be able to affirm that the journey was tough, but worth it and most importantly, that you made it and are stronger for it!
One final word on Thanksgiving—whatever you decide to do, set aside a few minutes to express and feel your gratitude. There are many ways to express your gratefulness-in prayer or meditation, chatting with your children, in a letter to yourself or volunteering are some ideas. There are good things in your life. When you neglect to honor them, you give divorce too much power. Loss is a part of your life, but don’t let it define your life!
© 2012 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.