I've been part of a co-parenting, consciously uncoupled relationship for about four years now. When we started the kids were 5 and 3. Our divorce agreement had the special section for the holidays. I got Christmas. He got Thanksgiving. That's that. I love everything about the Christmas season -- the decorations, the smells, the movies, the wrapping paper, the food, the cold air, the candy canes and the spirit of giving. My family (meaning my extended family) has always gathered together on Christmas Day and it was something I really wanted to keep going forward. We signed our agreement in September that first year. I was excited for Christmas, until the gravity of my decision hit me like a ton of bricks a month before -- on Thanksgiving. To be clear, I hate traditional Thanksgiving food. I think turkey is dry and gravy is gross and I don't care for stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce or green been casserole. My kids feel the same way, about pretty much every kind of food except Doritos or pancakes, so big deal, giving up Thanksgiving was easy. Until it hit. Here are the 6 most important lessons I learned from being alone, childless and husbandless on Thanksgiving that first year:
Your family loves you even if they have no idea what to say to you so they don't really say anything and instead just give you sad eyes. If you come from a family like I do, where no one is divorced, it can be kind of weird being the "first one" in the group. I remember feeling so alone and empty that day even though I was surrounded by people who'd known and loved me my entire life. They didn't know what to say, and to be truthful, I didn't know what I wanted them to say. My grandmother pulled me aside that day, looked me right in the eye and said "You're my favorite grandchild. Don't forget that." I've been part of three more Thanksgivings with my family since that year and every year it gets easier. Yes I miss my children every second, but really, it's just another day.
If I'm thankful every day for all the blessings in my life, then Thanksgiving is just another Thursday. I mean this wholeheartedly. Practicing gratitude daily can have an enormous positive effect on your mindset. Look at the world we live in. Can you honestly say you have problems? I mean real problems? Is there a roof over your head, and food on the table and are you generally safe and your children are healthy? Even if they are with your ex and they have a roof over their heads there and they have food on the table there and they are safe and healthy when they are with them, can you honestly say you have an issue? Think long and hard. Life really ain't so bad. So, what's another Thursday in November anyway?
Stay off Social Media. Just do it. Watching all the posts of all the happy families (supposedly) sharing their perfect holiday feasts and how thankful they are for their perfect families (supposedly), will make you want to vomit. You know what I'm thankful for? The deactivate button. Sometimes it's just worth it to deactivate for the day. Go dark. Who needs it?
Your friends are thankful for you. Every year we gather at my aunt's house and I usually leave my cell phone in my coat pocket draped over a chair in the back room. At some point I'll go and check my phone and without fail, there will be a messages from my friends reminding me how thankful they are for me. That first year I was shocked and almost taken aback when I checked my phone and saw some messages from some people I wouldn't have even thought would go out of their way to text me to wish me well. But they did. Remember you are loved.
Just because your children are spending the day surrounded by family who loves them and they love doesn't mean they love you any less. Their hearts have tons of room to love and isn't that what this world needs more of? You are their mother. They will never love anyone the way they love you. Never. Ever.
Love really is all around you. Driving home after Thanksgiving dinner that first year I was feeling sad and loveless. Then I had a brilliant idea! I missed my kids and I missed having a house filled with a bustling family and I missed having an adult to talk to. My life had done a complete 180 from my Thanksgiving the year before. But, it was my life now and it was never going to go back to the way it was. I'd be alone every Thanksgiving night for the rest of my life. That's dramatic, I'm sure at some point I'll find someone to spend my life with, but for now I'm all alone. Anyway, that night, I went home, poured a huge glass of an awesome Malbec and popped Love Actually into my DVD player. I sat there and drank that wine and watched that movie and as tears streamed down my face, I was reminded that love really is all around me. It's become my Thanksgiving tradition. It's hokey and silly, but I love it and it helps.
So, I'll leave you with the opening line of that lovely little movie Love Actually because it really will help put things in perspective for you:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there -- fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge -- they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.