By Michael Aurit and Kristyn Carmichael
Thanksgiving may be a challenging holiday for parents and children after divorce. Complicated emotions and stress can arise as families navigate new arrangements and family time apart. Many parents “alternate years” when they have parenting time with their children: Mom has the children on Thanksgiving in even years; Dad in odd years. But, there are other alternatives. We hope these ideas for Thanksgiving from The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation help improve the Thanksgiving holiday for you and your children.
1) A Thanksgiving Brunch Tradition. For many parents and children, the idea of missing quality time together on Thanksgiving Day can be painful. We see more parents opt to ensure their children see both parents on Thanksgiving Day by creating a new Thanksgiving breakfast or brunch tradition. Many restaurants are open on Thanksgiving morning and offer a cool spin on traditional Thanksgiving food for breakfast! Parents may agree that the children are with one parent for Thanksgiving Brunch, and the other parent for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Alternatively, where low to no conflict exists between parents, Thanksgiving Brunch could be shared between children and both parents. Here, Thanksgiving Dinner would still alternate so that the children take turns spending time with each side of the family, but parents demonstrate unity in coming together for part of the day that does not interfere with traditional plans. Your children may appreciate knowing they see both parents, one way or the other, on Thanksgiving.
2) Thanksgiving #1 & #2 Tradition. Since offering this option to divorcing parents, we have seen many mutually agree to defining and observing Thanksgiving #1 and Thanksgiving #2. Thanksgiving #1 is usually defined as Thursday morning to Friday morning. Thanksgiving #2 is usually defined as Friday morning to Saturday morning. Parents typically alternate who as #1 and #2. Especially when children are young, parents have an opportunity to create and normalize a “second Thanksgiving” tradition. Children may feel relieved to enjoy the holiday equally with both parents.
Other parents choose to put a “Friendsgiving” spin on Thanksgiving #2 and share joint parenting time together for this celebration. Shared time can feel more feasible without the impact of other family members present or intimacy of sharing time on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone on the invitation list could contribute dishes on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Leftover potluck? Could be cool, right?
3) Family Time Thanksgiving Tradition. Your strange uncle who eats all the pretzels out of the Chex Mix is invited to Thanksgiving Dinner each year. Might there even be a place for your former spouse? Thanksgiving sometimes brings together an odd combination of people. Should it be considered odd for parents to unite on Thanksgiving? This may feel like a long-shot for many, but for those who have the ability to share Thanksgiving together as a family, the result can be very positive. Your children can benefit emotionally when they experience a stable, respectful, caring relationship between parents who do not engage in conflict. Parents can model a healthy co-parenting relationship without tension, and create lasting memories for their children. Parents can alternate years for hosting the celebration, or if one of you is more keen on hosting, consider extending an invitation to your former spouse. The outcome may have a positive affect on your parenting relationship year round.
4) Thankful Turkey Tradition. We give thanks for important people in our lives on Thanksgiving. This day could create an opportunity for a “cease-fire” between parents who experience continuing conflict within their relationship after divorce. While sharing the holiday is not possible for parents experiencing conflict, parents may still acknowledge thanks for the other parent directly with their children. For parents who use art projects with children to acknowledge “things they are thankful for,” perhaps your co-parent gets a “feather on the construction paper turkey.” Perhaps the other parent gets a shout out when the family expresses their thanks around the dinner table.
We can be thankful for people and things that may be challenging too. When parents cannot share a meal together, your acknowledgment of the other parent reinforces the children’s relationship with the other parent. This is vital for children’s emotional well-being. Even parents who experience their share of troubles, can think of something they are thankful for: “I am thankful for how much your [Mom][Dad] loves and cares about you.”
As parents, we are capable of more than we give ourselves credit. On Thanksgiving, divorced or separated parents are fully capable of designing a realistic and meaningful plan that takes into account the best interests of their children and the spirit of the holiday. It may feel awkward or too familiar, but in the end, you are in control of the traditions you create. From our family to yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.