It’s Your First ‘Single’ Thanksgiving. Here’s How To Make It a Happy One for the Entire Family

Thanksgiving dinner with pie and rolls

When you’re married, orchestrating and celebrating a major holiday like Thanksgiving can be challenging, and when you’re first divorced, even more so.

Logistics may be more complicated now with shared parenting, as well as heightened emotions — yours, your children’s, your ex’s, and both of your extended families’. So when it comes time to gather around the table and be “happy,” the task may feel daunting, perhaps undoable.

However, there’s no reason why Thanksgiving needs to be sad following a divorce — for you or those around you. If you’re up for it, you can take steps to make the experience more comfortable, perhaps even better than it was before. I know because I, too, was divorced and once in your shoes. Here are a few ideas.

Be grateful.

Sure, it’s easy to fixate on everything going wrong in your life right now, but that’s no way to enjoy your Thanksgiving or, more broadly, live your life. Focus on the positives instead.

Those could include your health and that of the family and friends sitting around your Thanksgiving table. Or it could be something smaller and more straightforward, like the delicious food you have cooked up, especially your famous sweet potato pie. Whatever it is, there’s always something to be thankful for, and adopting a mindset of showing gratitude will benefit you long after Thanksgiving dinner ends.

Start new traditions.

In a nutshell: your perceptions shape your world. You can think of your divorce as the destruction of your marriage and family, or you can think of it as the start of a new chapter in your life.

So why not celebrate that blank page by creating traditions for the whole family to enjoy? You could introduce a different dish or play an after-dinner game, which you hadn’t done previously. The goal is to fill up your Thanksgiving meal with new happy memories rather than lamenting what you had or did in the past.

That said, don’t go too overboard changing up your traditions: also, be sure to maintain the old ones you enjoyed when you were married. It might hurt if they may remind you of your ex, but those traditions could help your healing by offering a sense of stability, particularly for your kids.

Deleting all of your beloved family practices could cause you and your family to feel as sad as they would have if they had to experience them now. If you loved your Thanksgiving candlesticks or your candied yams before you and your ex split up, by all means, include them on your table this year, which, by default, will be different because you are. Reinvention can be equally empowering.

Practice self-care.

Even when you’re married, Thanksgiving is a large project. Between coordinating with family, cooking for days, ensuring the evening goes off without a hitch, and, finally, cleaning up afterward, Thanksgiving can be exhausting. Host Thanksgiving alone for the first time, and your anxiety level can feel as if it’s going through the roof. 

That’s why, particularly now, you must take care of yourself. Not only can your mental and physical well-being suffer, everyone else at the table will be able to pick up on your negative energy. When you feel better mentally and emotionally, you become a much more relaxing and enjoyable person to be around, which will make the day more pleasant. And you even happier.

Don’t be shy. Ask others to pitch in and help. Arrange to sleep in the next day or take the day off altogether. The point is to carve out time for you, in addition to what you give to others. 

Co-parent for the holidays.

Who says your children — or you — need to celebrate Thanksgiving without your ex? A viable option would be splitting Thanksgiving (one parent does an early seating and the other a later one), or, particularly, if you have a healthy co-parenting relationship and can be civil with one another for an evening, sharing it with them. As parents, whether married or divorced, you must learn to work as a team and put your children’s needs first.

If you’re able to give your children a Thanksgiving dinner with both parents present, and everyone is comfortable with that arrangement, why not? Invite extended family as well; you may wind up fostering a feeling of inclusiveness you didn’t know while you were married. There is no need to sever all connection with your ex’s extended family once you get a divorce, as your ex’s family will always be your children’s family.

The best part is co-parenting through the holidays will strengthen your bond with your ex during the rest of the year, which means happier days, not just holidays, for everyone.

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