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Coping With Divorce at Thanksgiving

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I have a divorced friend who inspired this blog. She posted a picture on Facebook yesterday of some Thanksgiving ingredients sitting out on her kitchen counter, waiting to be cooked. Why is my friend having Thanksgiving dinner on the Monday night before Thanksgiving? Because she is divorced and she doesn't have her kids this year on Thanksgiving. This is a great example of a wonderful mother who is coping with divorce in a really positive way.

In most custody agreements, parents take turns for holidays, so you end up with your kids every other year. For many people, being without their kids on a major holiday is devastating. It's depressing and sad, and people feel lonely and isolated. I've even heard a divorced woman say, "I feel like a loser." Why on earth would someone feel like a loser because it's not their turn to have the kids on Thanksgiving?! But I get it. It's not rational, it's an emotional reaction.

Think about it. Those family holidays in the traditional sense are a thing of the past. And that's something that is sad, and okay -- healthy actually -- to grieve. But at some point (and only you can decide when), it's time to make new traditions and enjoy the holidays with and without your kids.

Here are some helpful tips on what to do if you find yourself giving thanks without your kids this Thanksgiving:

1. Have Thanksgiving NOT on Thanksgiving: Like my friend did, have Thanksgiving with your kids on another night, either before or after. It will be just as special if you make it that way. Turkey is turkey. If you are with loved ones and you are sitting around laughing and talking, what's the difference if it's Thursday or one day next week?

2. Talk to your kids: When sending the kids off with mom (or dad) make sure you tell them to have a great time and that you will be fine. "Mom is spending it with my family and friends. I'm going to have such a nice time. I'll miss you, but I will be seeing you really soon. And you are going to have the best time!" Remember, they didn't ask to alternate Thanksgiving with their parents. So, make them feel as good about it as you can.

3. Do something fun for yourself and enjoy the time alone: Feeling guilty about getting a break is just plain stupid, and a waste of a perfectly delightful day you could have. If you don't have anywhere to have Thanksgiving, rent movies, read books, cook for yourself. And guess what? You don't have to have turkey! You can make a pizza or salmon or fried chicken or pasta. Other things you can do: journal, take a hot bath, watch the entire first season of Homeland. Just enjoy the peace. It's only one day. You'll be fine! Being alone is totally okay. Be okay with it.

I want to address two more Thanksgiving issues:

1. What if he/she has a significant other on Thanksgiving and you don't? That's a little bit of an ouchie. It makes you feel really alone, like you will never find anyone and that he/she is living happily ever after. But we know that's just the smoke screen, right? No one's relationship is perfect. Just focus on yourself, your kids, and all the wonderful family and friends you have. Because guess what? Next year at this time, you might have someone and he/she might not. Or maybe you will both be in relationships.

2. What if you have the kids and they cry because they miss the other parent? Don't feel badly about this. Kids get really emotional during holidays, too. Understand how they feel. It doesn't mean they don't want to be with you. They do! They just want their mom (or dad) too. Say something like, "I understand how you feel. I'm sorry you are hurting. I hope you know how much your mom (or dad) loves you, and that when you get home, he (or she) is going to be so happy to see you! And I am so appreciative that I get to have you for today."

On Thanksgiving, remember this. It's only one day, and it's a day to give thanks. So, be thankful for everything you have in your life, your kids, and all your loved ones and friends. Don't worry too much about petty stuff or about schedules. Just enjoy the day, as you should enjoy EVERY day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jackie Pilossoph is the author of the blog, Divorced Girl Smiling. She is also the author of the comedic novel, FREE GIFT WITH PURCHASE about life after divorce. Ms. Pilossoph is a weekly business features reporter and columnist for Sun-Times Media. She lives in Chicago with her two kids. And she's divorced (obviously.)