Thanksgiving negotiations.

My ex left me a couple of text messages last week concerning our Thanksgiving schedule. According to our divorce decree, he is supposed to have custody of our kids the duration of their Thanksgiving holiday. (Their school holiday encompasses an entire week.) Technically, Thanksgiving week is "my" week with them. The week prior is his. This means that, conceivably, he could have custody both the week before Thanksgiving and the entire week of the holiday.

Cue problem.

This is where divorce and custody gets complicated. The fact that we decided to have joint custody with alternating weeks makes our situation better than most. We don't have to wrestle with 'two days on, three days off, every other weekend, one Wednesday night each' as I've heard other divorced families do. For the most part, we communicate effectively and are able to handle schedule changes with an impressive amount of maturity.

Then there's Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving will always be difficult for me to negotiate. This will be the first year I won't spend the holiday with my children, and the thought of that is almost unbearable. The fact that I don't have family within driving distance makes it that much worse.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that has always had special meaning for me. I've spent past years curdled up with my children on the couch, watching the Macy's parade -- just as I did with my mother when I was growing up. I made green bean casserole and pumpkin pie while my ex watched football with his brother, whose holiday visits from our home state of New York were a tradition. The kids enjoyed a couple of days off from school, and we were fortunate to enjoy time together as a family.

When the ex and I worked through our divorce settlement, we agreed to split holidays evenly. I took Christmas Eve and morning. He got Thanksgiving day and the Friday following. I took every other Hanukkah, he got every other Easter. I know ex-spouses who have split an actual holiday itself - Thanksgiving morning with one parent, the evening with another. But we didn't want to shuffle the kids around any more than was necessary. That's not fair to them, and ultimately they matter more than anything else.

With the U.S. Census Bureau counting nearly 4 million divorced parents in this country, many parents are facing similar challenges of negotiating holiday custody schedules and the pain of being apart. Our holiday agreement is very fair, and on paper, it makes perfect sense. But it feels much, much worse. When the ex called me to talk about it, I'll admit that I wasn't exactly in the best state of mind. I was immediately hostile and defensive. I snapped at him, jumped to conclusions that he was going to ask for more than he was already getting. Eventually I was able to communicate why I was having trouble staying even-tempered, that the holiday arrangement hurt too much and this pain was affecting my ability to discuss our arrangements rationally. We were able to talk it through and work out an alternate schedule, and everything is as okay as it's going to be.

When we were married, my ex delighted in telling me that I felt things too strongly and was overly emotional. It impeded our communication even when our marriage was relatively good. Every time I struggle to communicate effectively with him, it's as if I'm proving him right. I hate that. I feel like a failure.

I have no intention of crashing my ex's Thanksgiving, which means that starting this year, I get to create a new holiday tradition. I'm thinking about doing some volunteer work that day, helping serve homeless families a meal instead of sitting at home feeling badly for myself. It'll be good to give back, and might provide a much needed dose of perspective.

In divorce, there will always be negotiations. Things will never be perfectly balanced. I'm learning to deal with that, one tiny step at a time.


  1. Take a thrifting vacation to a little town in Texas you've never been to!

  2. You don't have to celebrate each holiday on its given day. You can still have a Thanksgiving type day with your kids on an alternate day and I'd bet you'd get the same enjoyment from it even if it's Saturday instead of Thursday.

  3. We never have the holiday on the actual holiday (I have many siblings, and that just makes things easier). The kids are plenty happy to get an "extra" celebration.


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