If there is one holiday that is universally celebrated in our country, it is Thanksgiving. Its meaning is simple yet profound. It kicks off our holiday season, and any religion, race or ethnicity is invited to attend. It is representative of the family unit, and it recalls memories from our childhoods. Yet, even with all its positive symbolism, enduring it during and after a breakup or divorce can be extremely challenging.
A therapist in private practice, I work double time during November and December as my divorced clients grapple with complex feelings and logistics surrounding the holidays. For instance, Steven* spent every Thanksgiving with his ex wife's family. His parents live across the country and due to his busy job, he only has Thanksgiving Day off. He's terrified of being alone and ashamed to ask any friends for an invite. My client Julie's children will be with her ex this year, and she is not close to her nuclear family. She fears that her recovery will be jeopardized if she visits them without the protection or distraction of her kids.
These are completely valid issues that thousands of divorced people struggle with at this time of year. Holidays can be difficult and stressful to begin with, but if you are trying to adjust to the end of a marriage, you will have some additional adapting to do. And because holidays are supposed to be joyful, one can really feel out of sorts or scrooge-like as they count the hours until New Year's Day when the festivities are over and normal life resumes.
If you have children try to remember that although your family and your holiday routines are different than they were when you were married, you are still a family and that will never change. Please try to take comfort in that fact. Still, modifications will need to be made. If your children are old enough to understand your divorce and the new complexities your family faces surrounding holidays, perhaps they can be part of the solution. Consider sitting with them and discussing what the holidays mean to all of you. Then make a commitment to create some new traditions that are representative of your new life together. My friend Jenna immediately set about making friends with other divorced women after her divorce, and she amassed a terrific group. One Thanksgiving she rented a house in Florida with three other divorced friends and their children. According to her it was loads of fun. In fact, she said it was the best Thanksgiving she ever had.
If you don't have children, try to remember that you are completely freed up to spend your Thanksgiving and other holidays in any way that you'd like. You have so many choices. If you are close to your family and feel they are supportive of your circumstances, perhaps you'd consider visiting them. If not, think friends and colleagues. Don't be shy to ask for an invitation. Try to remember that the spirit of the holidays is about humanity and compassion, and most people are overjoyed to include some new blood at their table. You also have the option to take a personal vacation or do a good deed such as taking a shift or two in a soup kitchen and helping those who are truly in need.
No matter what your circumstances, please consider thinking of this year's holiday season as an opportunity to create new traditions yourself and your family. Try to be creative and remember that there are many interesting and exciting things you can do. Don't be afraid to ask for support if you need it. Remember that people really do want to help. And if you feel up to it, consider branching out on your own and trying something different this year. Think of the confidence it will build when you bust through your sadness, fear, or even "set ways", and turn your holiday into an occasion that is adventurous and joyful.
*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.