Divorce Strategies: Should You Make Your Child Attend Two Thanksgiving Dinners?

Attending two Thanksgiving dinners can be stressful for children of divorce.
Attending two Thanksgiving dinners can be stressful for children of divorce.

Dealing with your divorce at Thanksgiving presents both emotional and logistical difficulties.  Issues surrounding the holidays are even more complex when you are sharing custody of your child with your ex-spouse.  Both parents want to be involved in the child’s celebration of the holiday, but this can result in the child being stretched thin in a painful tug-of-war.  Besides causing short-term frustration for you, your co-parent, and your child, memories are created over the holidays that will affect the child’s long-term psychological development.  The challenge of making everyone happy can add unwelcome stress to your Thanksgiving celebration.  And the question remains: Should you make your child attend two Thanksgiving dinners?

To answer this question, several others must be answered first.  Here are some things to consider when deciding how to share custody over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Can You Set Aside the Issues of Your Divorce so You Can Do What’s Best for Your Child?

Even if some time has passed since your divorce became final, the holidays can resurrect old hurts and resentments.  It may be difficult not to bring your own emotional pain to bear on your decision-making concerning your child, but that must be your goal.  If you have a binding custody arrangement, dragging in issues surrounding the breakup of your marriage will only complicate matters.  You’ll end up conforming to the rules of custody, in all probability, but will cause more stress for you and your child in the process. 

Celebrating Thanksgiving together with their children is possible for some couples even after divorce.
Celebrating Thanksgiving together with their children is possible for some couples even after divorce.

Can You and Your Ex-Spouse Celebrate Thanksgiving Together?

As far-fetched as it may seem given the animosity and trauma that typically accompany divorce, some co-parents eventually reach a point where they can celebrate holidays together amicably for the sake of their children.  If you decide to try this, it might help to have dinner in a restaurant rather than in someone’s home.  If the divorce is still fresh, or if you, your ex, or you child harbor fantasies that you and your co-parent will reconcile, this option may not be feasible.

Can You and Your Co-Parent Celebrate Thanksgiving on Different Days?

This option minimizes discussion about details, so it is a good option if this is your first Thanksgiving after the divorce. For example, your co-parent might celebrate on Thanksgiving Day, while you serve turkey and dressing the following Saturday. This allows you and your co-parent time with your child and acknowledgment of the tradition while alleviating the stress – and too-full tummy – of two Thanksgiving dinners on your child.

Can You or Your Co-Parent Forego Thanksgiving Dinner with Your Child?

The other parent can take the child out for shopping and lunch on Black Friday or to a fall festival or other community event.  This neutralizes the holiday so your child won’t feel pulled between her parents, or, even worse, forced to choose. 

Whatever Your Decision, Can You and Your Co-Parent Present a United Font to Your Child?

Try to have discussions with your ex-spouse about holiday logistics out of the range of your child's hearing, particularly if things tend to get heated.  Then present the final decision to your child as one you have reached together and on which you are in complete agreement.  Though you aren’t a couple any longer, your child needs to know that both parents are on board with the arrangements to feel comfortable with your decision and safe in her world.

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Comments 4 comments

Gloria Kay Vanderhorst, Ph.D. 6 years ago

Your article is well presented and many of the issues regarding shared holidays are addressed. One aspect that is missing is the voice of the child. One of the advantages of Collaborative Divorce is the use of the child specialist. The child specialist brings in the voice of the child in a way that the parents can use to help them make decisions. In all holiday planning, the child's voice should have a role. Children are more emotionally sophisticated than we often realize; therefore, we miss the opportunity to inform our decisions with this rich information.


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Rachaelle Lynn 6 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Great points, Gloria! Thanks for your input.


Michele O'Loane 6 years ago

I truly appreciate your thoughtful insights regarding this challenging season. I hope to share your article with some of my clients, if it is o.k. with you.


Rachaelle Lynn profile image

Rachaelle Lynn 6 years ago from Gainesville, Florida Author

Absolutely, Michele! Thank you for the compliment!

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