Dr. Amy Stark

Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker

Specializing in:
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Happy Thanksgiving For Parents

Thanksgiving is the first of the big holidays that are emotionally charged for most divorce families. Chances are that when you were still married, your nuclear family had established your own holiday traditions. You celebrated Thanksgiving in a certain way every year-- most likely with either close friends or extended family. Now, with a shared holiday schedule, you may not even be with your children every holiday.

Most custodial schedules have an alternating Thanksgiving schedule, wherein you might only get to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with your child every other year. Sometimes when younger age children are involved, the court will split the day in two and you might get to see your child for part of the holiday. Either way, everything you held dear about Thanksgiving might be changing in a very big way.

As the person who sets the emotional tone for your children during the time they are with you, it's important to create a positive tone for the change so that your children have warm positive memories of the holidays, despite the divorce. Here are some things that you should consider:

  1. What will your new tradition be? If your holiday has, in the past, revolved around your ex spouse or partner's family and friends you will need to re-think this holiday. There will, in fact, be a need for two separate Thanksgiving plans... one for when you have the holiday with your children and one for when you don't.
  2. Your children should be told about the holiday schedule. It's less stressful for them when they know what to expect. Let them know which parent's house they are going to be, in a matter of fact way. Help them find something positive about the new arrangement.
  3. Remember that you are one of your child's role models. How you handle the rotating holidays and the stress of the change becomes their emotional map for how to handle stress in the future. Don't use your child as a therapist. If you are upset, speak to another adult.
  4. Teach something about the holiday. On the door to my office every year I post a history of Thanksgiving that I download from the computer. I also encourage parents to help their children focus on thankfulness... teaching them to appreciate all that they have. Some families even have a white erase board that they call their Thankfulness board. On Thanksgiving each member in the family writes something they are particularly thankful for, on the board.
  5. Encourage them to call their other parent during the day to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. If they are not with you and they call you, make sure and give the message that you are alright. Don't make them feel that they are missing something. Let them know that you are not alone so they don't feel responsible for you. Encourage them to have a good time.
  6. Speak to your extended family and friends. Make sure that they do not discuss the divorce or the other parent. Sometimes the holidays are the first time extended family has seen the kids since the split up and they feel compelled to express their dislike of the other parent right in front of your children. Put a stop to it if it starts. It's harmful to your kids.
  7. No matter how upset you are about everything...don't say anything bad about the other parent. Your children should not be made to feel responsible for your sad and hurt feelings. They are a part of both of their parents and when you say something bad, it hurts that part of them that is like their other parent.
  8. Lastly, make sure that any exchanges during holiday times are done in the least stressful way possible. Don't make nasty comments to your ex or use the exchange to attempt to resolve divorce or financial issues. This is not the time.

* Disclaimer:
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.

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