You can prep for a divorce on paper. You can look at parenting plans and holiday schedules and see that things will be different. You can lean on friends when things get tough and it’s so much harder than you thought. You can find validation that you made the right decision but feel conflicted – not about the end of the marriage, but what it means logistically for your family. But nothing really prepares you for the reality of celebrating holidays without your child. Nothing.
I’ve already been divorced for several years. Long enough to meet someone, marry him and add a little sister to the mix. I’m the mom to two little girls who own the shit out of me on every level and I love them so much it’s overwhelming. Sisters who could not love each other more, but who come from two different fathers from two entirely different chapters of their mother’s life.
Last year was our first Thanksgiving together as a blended family of four, and it was perfection.
Of all the holidays we gather for in my home, Thanksgiving is my favorite and always has been. It’s also one that I alternate with my ex, which means I don’t have my older daughter every year. And it fucking sucks.
Before my second daughter came along, I would just suck it up and we would host Thanksgiving as if it was business as usual. To most of the guests at my home, there was no noticeable difference. They ate their turkey, watched football, made small talk and didn’t skip a beat. But for me, every year my child was celebrating with her father instead of us, I felt a huge gaping hole – at the table and in my heart. To look around that table and not have her there feels painful, unbearable almost. I feel incomplete and also wonder if she is feeling at all left out from our celebration even if she is having one somewhere else. While I know life must go on regardless of circumstances like this…for the one in the thick of it, the mother feeling that absence, it’s easier said than done.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I had a realization that on the years we didn’t have her big sister, not only would I feel that familiar absence, but now I would be looking at this new addition and feeling it even more. Because now I would only have one child at the table when I am a mother of two. Just as my older daughter would be accustomed to not celebrating with us every other year, her little sister would grow up thinking that was totally the norm for us.
At that moment, I drew a mental line in the sand.
No doubt extra hormonal from pregnancy, I approached my husband with a tearful monologue. I told him that when the baby came, I could not fathom having Thanksgiving without my whole family at the table and that on the years my eldest was with her dad, I wanted to have our Thanksgiving on the weekend so that we could celebrate together. I explained to him the void I felt having all of these people in our home, all cheerful and happy sipping wine and talking, while I felt like I was dying inside.
I married this man because he gets me. He can look at my face and know exactly how I’m feeling. He knows what I need when I feel like I am crumbling and gives it to me without question. And in that moment, he didn’t even flinch and agreed wholeheartedly that it was the right thing to do for all of us.
I worried for a moment that some might think it was selfish or a lot to ask. Would they think I was being a bitch or unreasonable? And then I snapped out of it and reminded myself that if anyone who would set foot in my home to be part of our world had those immediate thoughts, instead of considering the impetus to the logistical change, then they were most certainly not my people. I’m not stopping anyone from celebrating how they choose on the actual day of Thanksgiving. I’m just saying that we will not be hosting ours that day.
Divorce is polarizing, even among some family and friends. If you haven’t been through it personally, it’s hard to translate so many thoughts and feelings into explanations others can relate to and rally behind. Without being in the child time-sharing trenches, they can’t possibly understand why the switching of seemingly innocuous holiday plans is so meaningful. And I don’t expect everyone to fully grasp why this little change to the calendar is so important. But I would hope that they can sympathize with the sentiment and see my perspective and realize that I’m a mother who just wants to be with both of her kids on this day.
So, this year, Thanksgiving is on a Saturday at our house. We’ll have the same turkey and stuffing. Our usual gluttonous dessert table will be in full effect. And our kids will be together to make more holiday memories as they should be. I’ve never been a fan of rigid rules anyway.