Barbara Rothberg, DSW, LCSW

Therapy, Coaching, Mediation and Parent Coordination



T he Thanksgiving Holiday is often very stressful for separated couples. Figuring out the best way to schedule time with families on both sides is often a challenge, as well as dealing with feelings of loss.

Many families have traditions that have been followed for years. When a couple separates, this often throws a wrench in the plans. Who has the kids? What is fair? What works best for the kids? and for the parents?  The answers to these questions are not necessarily the same. Sometimes, it is a difficult decision. 

Some couples simply decide they will alternate the holiday every other year, and some who have families in close proximity split the weekend. If travel is involved, this may mean alternating the entire holiday. While this is a simple and fair way to solve the problem, it is often very difficult for one or both of the parents, and sometimes the kids. As one mother reported to me last year, the first Thanksgiving holiday without her children was so hard and she felt lonely and depressed. There is no doubt that spending a holiday without your children is a tough thing to do, but working on being positive and resilient can be helpful. Next year will be the year you'll have your children with you. But if this is the year you do not have your kids, be sure to do something you'll enjoy for the holiday, and remember that it is only one day.

Another consideration is what will the children enjoy? If Thanksgiving is an opportunity for the kids to see cousins they enjoy but don't often see, try to arrange a meeting even if its not on the actual holiday so the kids will not miss out. One family I know has the kids go with mom every Thanksgiving day because the kids love to spend that time with their cousins and the other mom has the kids for the rest of the weekend so they can visit with her family in New Jersey. The mom without kids on the holiday has established a tradition of spending the Thanksgiving Day with friends and feels this is a good solution. Her family does a special dinner every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This new tradition has become established and everyone looks forward to it and has become comfortable with it. Being resilient and willing to change and compromise are helpful towards feeling more content.

Change is difficult for everyone, but it is also inevitable. Making the best of each situation can be helpful and developing new traditions can be restorative. Thanksgiving is a time for being grateful. If it's the first year that you are apart from your spouse or part of your family, you may not feel very grateful, but rather feel resentful that this is all happening. Tuning in to being grateful for what you have can be a helpful tool. Do you have your health? friends who care about you and who you care about? family who you love and who love you? a job, or activity that gives you joy? All these things are worthy of gratefulness. I suggest that you make a list of all the things that you are grateful for, and you'll feel better. It really works!

Happy Thanksgiving.