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How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving When You’re Divorced

“Gather ’round the Thanksgiving table and say something you’re thankful for.” When you’re in the midst of a divorce, answering a question like this can feel, well, loaded.

In American culture, Thanksgiving is virtually synonymous with a large family dinner, although COVID-19 is putting a monkey wrench in that for now. Nonetheless, most of us are committed to celebrating, even if the gathering will be small. Part of that usually includes reflecting on all that you have to be thankful for in your life. 

Somehow when you’re newly divorced or in the process of going through one, it can be challenging to enjoy Thanksgiving the way you did when you were married. Without your spouse present, or if you must share your children with your ex for part or all of the holiday, it might not feel the same.

Still, there’s no good reason why Thanksgiving needs to be worse. Depending on how you look at it, a divorced Thanksgiving could be new and improved. Below are a few ideas for having a happy (divorced) Thanksgiving.

Show gratitude.

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When you’re in the throes of a divorce and dealing with emotional and financial stressors, it might feel impossible to be grateful. Instead, you fixate on your divorce, either admitting defeat or raging at the gods. Sometimes both. 

Fortunately, happiness, as in personal contentment, is a state of being. In other words, your world outlook can very much inform and shape and inform your life experience. If you’re pessimistic, the world will never be a happy place for you. However, if you’re optimistic, you’ll find that, even during the worst of times, such as a brutal divorce, there’s always something for which you can show gratitude.

To start the list off right, count among your gifts health (yours and the ones you love), friends, and family. Heck, even the cup of coffee you had this morning is something to be grateful for; at least I am. If you have to, you can start small. Little things do make a difference.

Make plans. 

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You may be hesitant to celebrate Thanksgiving, anticipating how incredibly difficult and depressing it will be to be single during the holiday season. Or figure that since the kids will be with your ex over the holiday, that you’ll skip it this year. Doing nothing but sulking at home, watching Hallmark movies while crying into a tub of ice cream is a mindset not likely to result in a happy Thanksgiving. Or the days that follow it.

So what if you no longer have plans that involve your spouse or maybe your kids this year? It doesn’t mean you should have nothing to do or do nothing. Accept that invitation to a friend’s house or the home of a family member. You could also host your own Thanksgiving dinner, turkey and all, and invite your friends for a “Friendsgiving.” For a socially distanced Thanksgiving celebration, consider dining with loved ones over Zoom. 

If you still have no one to celebrate with, consider taking a weekend trip. A change of scenery can do a lot to get you away from those pesky sad thoughts. Due to the pandemic, many venues have instituted strict COVID-19 restrictions to keep you safe. 

If you’d still rather stay low key and local, plan a relaxing night to practice self-care. None of that sulking nonsense, though.

Be kind to your ex.

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Say what? You want me to be kind to the one person who’s making my life a living hell?

The short answer is yes. Hear me out.

If you share children with your ex, you likely maintain regular contact. If your ex has custody during Thanksgiving, or if you’re standing on the sidelines watching them move on before you do, you might feel bad. It’s understandable. However, taking out those feelings on your ex because misery loves company isn’t.

Instead, get into the spirit of the holiday by being kind to yourself. And, if you haven’t been thus far, cordial with your ex. Consider wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. Be flexible with your schedule if you have children. Small gestures can do a lot to improve bad feelings while improving your co-parenting relationship this Thanksgiving and for Thanksgivings to come. That, in turn, will make everyone involved happier, which is definitely something to be grateful for this holiday season.

Still, you wonder: Won’t I come off as weak?

That’s the big reveal. No. 

In a divorce, civility begets civility. Even when, at first, it doesn’t, you thinking clearly and behaving in accordance will not only take the wind out of your soon-to-be-ex’s sails over time, it will improve your appearance to the powers that be, most importantly, a judge should you end up in court. By staying in control of your emotions, by not lashing out, you, in turn, will take control and the upper hand in your case.

The infamous gangster, Al Capone, said it best: “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”

I don’t, your ex won’t, and neither should you.

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Charlotte Christian did an outstanding job handling my complicated divorce. I could not of asked for a better outcome. Knowledgable and professional attorney providing exceptional service.