It's Thanksgiving week and while there is a lot to be thankful for, I am keenly aware of the feelings that occur when it's someone's first Thanksgiving after (or during) a divorce. I had a client talk with me today about it and it thrust me back to MY first Thanksgiving after my divorce. In fact, I think I literally finalized my divorce the week OF Thanksgiving if I recall correctly! I remember feeling so alone and having it feel like a bright red mark that I showed up solo. No partner to walk in with. No one to leave with. No one to sit close on the couch with after a delicious meal. And seeing images on social media of couples gathering with their families was painful. I remember my ex was traveling with his family and I was so envious. I had a new business I was running and could not leave. While my family was all local, it just all was so painful. I was stressed about my new business, still working hard at a very busy full time job and had no time away from my job or new business. I was sleep deprived, sad, depressed and felt unlovable. I've definitely learned that being sleep deprived makes everything seem worse and so much harder to manage emotions!
My client today was also feeling sad and frustrated. She found out her ex husband was HOSTING Thanksgiving for a large crowd....and doing all the cooking with their kids to boot! He had never done anything like that before. She had done all of the immense amount of prep work, cooking and clean-up. She sighed...."if only he had done those things while we were married." And while she has been invited, it just feels like a slap in the face. It doesn't feel good. She feels like an outsider.
"If only." I hear this a lot and remember those feelings myself. When suddenly you see your ex do the things you had wanted/asked/begged them to do. And it hurts. "Why did you not care about ME enough to want to do those things?" "Now that I'm GONE, you do those things!?" "Why was our marriage of so little value to put that effort in before?"
It's hard to wrap our heads around those feelings. The feeling that WE weren't good enough to inspire them. The feeling that it seems they WANTED to go against our wishes just to hurt our feelings. The feeling that MAYBE they're now doing these things out of spite.
Getting in shape finally. Going to church. Taking the kids shopping. Cooking dinner. It's not just the holidays where we'll see those new actions out of our exes.
The best thing we can do is prepare ourselves to witness their change. Divorce is a change. And suddenly, even in their anger, they feel our absence. The absence of what we did. And while most of the time they'll never admit they miss us (and maybe they don't) they DO miss what we did. Just like there are things THEY did for us that we'll miss. We won't miss the stress and fights and frustration, but now someone needs to mow the lawn and blow the leaves out of the gutters. If not them, who? Us? A service we hire?
Feeling angry or sad during the holidays during or after a divorce is 100% normal. Don't add to the stress by telling yourself that you 'should' be happy or 'should' be thankful. You can be thankful for what you have and I definitely believe making a written list while you sip your favorite tea is a healthy practice, you can also allow yourself to grieve what you don't have this year. Allow the anger to pass though you. Write about it too. You'll get through this, and eventually, that anger will be a distant memory that will only creep up when someone you care about goes through it themselves. Like what happened to me today. This year, for the 16th? 17th? year I get to celebrate, still locally, with my family. But I have my sweet husband Ben and our two kids. We are hosting, together. I no longer have to work Black Friday with a retail business. Despite that hard, hard Thanksgiving, fresh out of the judge's chambers with signed divorce papers, I've only grown. I just told my husband last night that I wish I could go back in time and give my 25 year old self a HUGE hug and tell her how proud I am of her. She did that for me. She did that for Ben and my kids. She didn't know how it would turn out but she trusted her gut that it was the right thing to do.
I'm thankful for you and for those of you who trust me to help you navigate your divorce process. I don't take that trust lightly. I know this is the hardest challenge that many of you will ever have in your life.
About Katie VAndenBerg
Katie makes her life surrounded by river valleys and surprisingly beautiful cornfields. Her days are spent helping her divorce clients, working with her tenants, spending time on her pottery wheel and loving her family.