Effects of divorce on children at Thanksgiving


Some people might not think of Thanksgiving as a kids’ holiday. They don’t dress up; they don’t open presents. But perhaps that’s why Thanksgiving is a particularly important holiday for children of divorced or separated parents. They still need to know that their family cares for them, that traditions from before are good to remember, but also that having a new tradition can be okay too.

Families and More

Child custody (“parenting time”) agreements can spell out every little detail, including holidays. But they can also be very loosely drafted to give families the opportunity to work through life events with love and creativity. Ask: “How can we make the best of this?” The children, especially in the first few years after the breakup, are more fragile to the effects of change. The parents need to be on their best behavior – for the kids’ sake.

Actually, Thanksgiving – with all the cooking and baking and preparation – can make a host or hostess a little “edgy.” So it might be a wonderful opportunity for the adults to learn how to put on a happy face even though the turkey isn’t done on time, or the pie crust is a little singed. It teaches the children that coping with stress is important for everyone.

Bottom Line

Playing the “glad game” is not going to work either. Kids can sense insincerity. It’s sad when families break apart, but in the end people discover that it’s not the end of the world. It’s important not to criticize your “ex,” as that doesn’t do anyone any good. It might also be an excellent time to be thankful for the things that are going right, and get people out of themselves and into the holiday. If it’s hard to come up with the “big” things, try silly things for the little ones, like, “I’m thankful that my Teddy bear’s arms are attached.” Or, for an older child, “I’m thankful that I saw my best friend yesterday.” Make new traditions that you can be thankful for and that will create new memories.

Then, in the quiet of the next day, you might choose to take some time to experience your own adult sadness caused by your divorce. You really don’t want your kids to think their whole previous existence was a big lie, and that marriage is a bad thing. You’ll probably want them to be married someday, right? Then set the example: Be authentic with your feelings, and find your own ways to move forward to the next chapter of your life.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

o Decide if you can go to one family gathering or another, and if so, which one.
o If one dinner is at noon, the other at 6:00 PM, try letting the children go to both families’ dinners.
o If the families live far apart, you can trade off with Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukah.
o How about starting a new tradition for the kids to remember when they’re older? Maybe the kids make turkey-shaped cookies for their absent parent if the travel is too far or too expensive.
o Can you use technology? How about setting up a time to Skype the Thanksgiving dinner or at least “see” each other on that day if you cannot afford to travel?
o For older children, volunteering at a homeless shelter may give them a healthy perspective.

It’s all about doing right by your kids.

Southern California attorneys Kelly R. McGrane-Irwin and Mark A. Irwin of Irwin & Irwin, Law LLP cater to families of children of all ages. We know that some families need extra help at the holidays. For unanticipated disputes, or those change-of-heart issues, we can help. You may have some of your preliminary questions answered here, but we would be very glad to talk to you if you need advice. Sometimes you need a stricter interpretation of the custody agreement. Sometimes it’s just better for everyone if you can work it out amongst yourselves, always depending on the relationship of all the parties. We have helped many families. If the custody agreement is just not working, you may need to start over. 714-222-3992.