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Mind Your Manners: Celebrating Thanksgiving During a Divorce

Nov 22, 2016 05:15AM ● By Bill Gilman

 Thanksgiving week is typically chock-full of family-oriented activities as the holiday season "kicks off".  It can, however, be a real challenge for people who are going through divorce or post-divorce legal issues involving their family. 

The ideal of a happy family coming together in a loving celebration can clash harshly with the reality of family court litigation which compounds anxiety during a demanding holiday season.   How then does one get through Thanksgiving – the “make it home to your family” holiday – when your family is being ripped apart by looming family court proceedings? 

1.  Bite Your Tongue at the Thanksgiving Table

As cliché as it may be, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" should be your rule of thumb.  The holidays are notorious for being prime times for family arguments and Thanksgiving is no exception.  While this year is likely to be more nasty than usual given the hotly contested presidential election, it can get even worse when two people cannot find anything nice to say about one another in front of their children.  If you feel like you just can't contain your negative feelings or are having trouble fighting the urge to "fire back", excuse yourself from the table and go call a friend or talk to a trusted family member in private so you can vent your anger and frustrations where third parties are not going to hear it.  Remember, your mouth doesn't have a backspace key and once harsh words are said they can't be taken back. 

2.  Just Because Your Ex is a Turkey Doesn't Mean You Should Act Like One Too 

Actions speak louder than words.  Avoid the temptation to engage in petty behavior and regress into your adolescent self.  If your ex tries to re-arrange the parenting schedule, drops the kids off late or engages in some other type of bad behavior to affect your holiday, remember that no good has ever come from repaying one bad turn with another.  The reality is that things are not always going to go as planned and you can't control how other people behave.  Also, bear in mind that your children are observing how you and your ex act and your relationship with them may likely be affected based on how you treat the other parent.  If the other parent is exhibiting negative conduct, your best course of action is to simply keep your side of the street clean by not retaliating.  He or she will  reap what they sow in later life. 

3.  Pass on Side Dishes of Guilt and Anxiety

If you've made past mistakes and feel like you've got more regret than you know what to do with, you're not alone.  Guilt and anxiety are complex emotions which frequently go hand-in-hand in stressful family and divorce situations around the holiday season. For many people, therapy is an extremely helpful tool to help process these difficult feelings, but there are other ways to deal with feelings of guilt and anxiety as well. Getting to the root of your feelings of guilt and anxiety is the first step in starting to heal from these painful emotions. Acknowledging that it is normal to have these emotional experiences during a divorce can help dealing with them as well.  If an apology to your children or to your ex is an order, don't be reluctant to make it. It is never too late to make amends and a sincere apology to others can help you forgive yourself. Remember that your divorce experience doesn't define who you are as a person and you can always move forward once the dust has settled. 

4. Be Generous and Appreciative 

Thanksgiving is an Action Word -- so be purposeful this holiday and give thanks!  It is natural during the trials and tribulations of life to focus on what we don't have and focus on the negative aspects of our own situations instead of celebrating what we do have and what is going well.  When you find your thinking reverting back to negative patterns, learn to live in the moment. Enjoy the company of family members around you this Thanksgiving instead of focusing on those who elicit feelings of stress, guilt and anxiety. Do not think of upcoming court dates or the appointment next week with your attorney.  Control your thoughts by immersing yourself with motivational quotes and inspirational thoughts and remembering your blessings. If you resist the urge to compare yourself with others and give more generously of your time and resources instead, you are likely to become more appreciative of what you have this holiday season more able to enjoy the time with friends and family. 

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