Considering that custody agreements are written so that parents alternate every Thanksgiving, some divorced moms and dads will be without their kids and feeling adrift and alone. After all, not all divorces are amicable and many exes are more likely to be passing insults vs. turkey gravy. Therefore, it is no surprise that depression spikes during the holidays.
This is one of the constant irritants of divorce--not being able to share all holidays with your children. Especially when the divorce was not your choice, or if your kids may be dining with the person who caused your family to be torn apart and you have to stoically pretend that it doesn't still hurt.
So if you are feeling a tad bit sad or sorry for yourself this holiday, instead of walllowing or sinking into emotional quicksand, consider volunteering. Instead of feeling helpless, you become helpful. And doing good makes you feel good.
It also is a powerful, enduring way to be a role model to your children who need you to show leadership. How you handle your divorce - and these separations from your children - will be your legacy. You can show your children lessons in adaptability, resourcefulness, self control and gumption in how you get through it and one day your kids will look back at this time with pride for a job well done.
And this year, more than any in recent memory, more people are in need of a helping hand. The loss of jobs has created a bigger need for food and a heaping spoonful of generosity.
All food banks are expecting an increase of people in need at their organizations. Whether serving food, packing grocery bags, or sorting canned items, you can spend a few hours of volunteering and make a difference.
Any child over 10 years old will inevitably ask their other parent what are they doing for Thanksgiving. While Grandpa, Grandma and Aunt Suzie may be smiling and laughing, a part of them knows that someone is missing from the table. The burden of a parent's pain rests on very young shoulders too often. But how uplifting it will be if you can say you are spending time volunteering to help others. Hopefully you also were pro-active in organizing a meal to be shared with friends--who often are like family--or maybe a brother, sister or parent who is having a gathering as well.
For parents who have their children this year, incorporating volunteerism with the kids is a valuable lesson and future ammunition to say, "You want a Wii, well so did the boy at Thanksgiving but we'll have to give you what we can and be grateful." It also explains the theory of relativity better than any Einstein biography.
Volunteerism also illustrates, in a way no lecture can, what it means to be fortunate and to share. It reminds us how life goes up and down but that it is the brotherhood--or sisterhood-- of all people helping each other that gives us a sense of belonging and faith in possibility. And these values are rooted in this tradition.
The fact we even have Thanksgiving as a national holiday is due to the dogged efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, the 19th century version of Arianna Hufington and Oprah Winfrey. Hale, who was not divorced but widowed at an early age, was the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. She was so enamored with the values of the pilgrims--steadfast, hardworking, religious, tenacious--she relentlessly used editorials year after year to promote the idea of Thanksgiving.
In addition to raising five children, advocating equal education for women including helping launch Vassar College, writing novels and poems, including "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Hale lobbied President Lincoln with the determination of a Sherman tank. Finally, in the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared Thursday, Nov. 23, 1863 a national holiday. The fact she was alone didn't deter her one bit.
The idea of the holiday was not just gratitude but of giving to others. Hale was someone who believed that women could "lend their aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere."
With that in mind, here some places where you can be part of ThanksDOING this year and maybe some of you out there can share other organizations that could use some help.
Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Go online to find your local Boys and Girls Club community center. The centers, and there are more than 4,000 across the country, normally give out food to kids the day before Thanksgiving. This is where my son, Parker, and I volunteer every holiday. We'll bake cakes and brownies - children tend to prefer brownies over pumpkin pies - and bring them as well. It's become an annual tradition for us and it also shows my son that, even when people are poor, there is still love and laughter. These families just have less materially.
New York City Coalition Against Hunger
This group is made up of more than 1,200 nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City. They accept both donations and volunteers. Their nifty online volunteer matching system offers plenty of choices, including "holidays."
Greater Chicago Food Depository
This organization, which supplies 600 soup kitchens, food pantries, and shelters, children's programs, and programs for seniors in Chicago, reports a 33 percent increase in need this year. They accept donations of money and good, and also need volunteers.
Greater Boston Food Bank
When this group says it served Greater Boston, it means the entire eastern part of the state. A survey it sent out in September showed that 90 percent of member agencies that responded said their needs had increased and 47 percent said they had run out of food at some point in the previous year. It accepts donations of food and money, and has an extensive volunteer program, including Kids Who Care, which is focused on children and family volunteers.
Los Angeles Regional Food Bank
Demand at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank is up 41 percent this year. This being LA, if you volunteer to help you may end up working alongside Amy Adams or Adam Sandler. Volunteers must be 14 or older, and wear closed-toe shoes.
Capital Area Food Bank
This organization, based in Washington DC, offers to send a Thanksgiving basket to a senior citizen enrolled in its brown bag program for a donation of just $15. In one year, they sent out 1,880 Thanksgiving baskets. Children under 10 are not allowed to volunteer in the warehouse. Youths under 16 must come with an adult.
Here's one that is easy to do. Go to www.volunteermatch.org and by simply typing in your zip code and the word "Thanksgiving", you will be connected to many local opportunities.
That's what I call ThanksDOING.
If none of those is near you, call a local church or synagogue. This year, with the need being greater, my family is filling bags with toothpaste, toothbrushes, soaps and toiletries that homeless families may need for an organization called Neighbor's Link. You can be inventive in organizing friends and family to help others in many ways.
This, more than anything, is in the spirit of the holiday. Besides, we can always celebrate with our kids on Friday after Thanksgiving and have worthwhile stories to tell.