We’re sorting through the Halloween candy; picking out the peanut butter cups to add to our personal stash. My step daughter really loaded her pillowcase this year! “Have you talked to her about Thanksgiving yet?” My wife asks me with a knowing look. “Not yet…” I reply. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to approach the topic with my ex. Every year Thanksgiving presents logistical problems for our blended family. We have 5 possible dinners. Two of those are out of state. How do you choose when, and where, to go without letting the chaos take away from your thankfulness?

Why You Shouldn’t Try to Please Everyone

What’s important to you? Think about it. This is a question we don’t often ask ourselves when making decisions like where to go for Thanksgiving. We look forward to the time away from work, but as the day gets closer, most of us get swept up in the expectations of others.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see that we spend countless hours trying to please our family members. Yet, we end up feeling exhausted and emotionally drained after the holiday.

With that in mind, my wife and I decided that we would choose where we wanted to spend Thanksgiving without worrying about outside expectations. No matter what, someone is going to be disappointed. That someone doesn’t have to be you.

Don’t be Afraid to Disappoint Grandma

This is our first year tackling Thanksgiving as a married couple. I knew I had to have a plan before having any conversation with my ex. There were several things to consider. Everyone one wants a little time with our kids. They are expected to be at dinners with their other parents. Whose weekend is it with the kids? How many dinners can we squeeze into one day? With grandmothers (5 of them), parents, aunts and uncles, and exes involved it’s easy to feel like you’re being pulled apart by your limbs. Sharon Naylor offers sound advice on this topic in this article: How to Decide Where to Spend the Holidays.

We knew we wanted to celebrate with my mom. She came to our house last year, so this year, we decided to make the four-hour drive out of state with all four of our kiddos to be with her. Making that choice helped us eliminate other options. Since our entire blended family will be out of town for a couple days, we’ll miss out on some of the local invites.

Remember, you’re the one who deals with the logistics. It’s your holiday too. Don’t be afraid to disappoint grandma. She will get over it. As a blended family, you have a lot to manage. Don’t add the baggage of guilt to your load.

Tips for Juggling Holidays and Custody Out of State

According to our shared parenting agreement, my ex and I are supposed to alternate who gets the actual Thanksgiving Day with our boys year to year. Having something in writing to fall back on helps to minimize some of the stress and conflict. But, there are still some grey areas. This year, it’s her turn to have them on Thanksgiving Day. She also takes the boys out of state to her parents’ house. Fortunately, her parents live in the same state as my mom and it’s a reasonable drive between the two homes. There are some logistical challenges.  Our Thanksgiving meal at my mom’s house will need to be on a different day, or the boys will miss it. Our regular weekend routine will be disrupted. When do we exchange the kids? Where do we exchange the kids?

Deal With Your Ex Early On

It’s important to discuss these things in advance. If you wait until the “right” time, or avoid the conversation all together, you’re asking for trouble. So, after a little prodding from my wife, I called my ex and we came up a plan. It was a little tense at first, but we got it done. My wife and I will spend Thanksgiving Day in our hometown with her Family. My ex and I decided to meet halfway between our parent’s homes (30-minute drive for both of us) and exchange the kids on Friday. I will then keep the kids through the weekend and bring them back home with me.

This is not the time for a tug of war over who gets the most time with the kids. You want to make sure your children are getting to enjoy Thanksgiving with their entire family. Protect them by communicating with your ex early and often. Ron L. Deal echoes this sentiment in this article: 13 Ideas to Manage Holiday Step-stress. Having a plan avoids conflict that could spill over to your children and ruin more than just their holiday.

Unexpected Benefits of a Blended Family Feast

This is a unique opportunity for your kids to experience different traditions. Encourage them to jump right in with their new grandmas, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Let them help with the food or set the table. One of the challenges of bringing to families together is the sense that there is an “us and them.” Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to chip away at that mindset by blending. Your family members can be a huge asset here.

My sister has a gift when it comes to interacting with children. She treats all of them the same and they all love her. Last year, when we were still engaged, my wife and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. My sister and brother-in-law came down, along with my mom. My step-daughter immediately gravitated to my sister. She followed her around the house and peppered her with questions, soaking up every response. My sister patiently engaged her, never once brushing her off.

Visitors Can Come From All Sides of a Blended Family

About a week before Thanksgiving we found out that my step-kid’s grandma on their father’s side wasn’t hosting a meal, so we invited her to join us. Talk about blending! From the outside looking in this would be a very odd mix. But, she is a very involved grandmother and she has a great relationship with my wife. I remember stepping back and watching everyone eating and laughing together and thinking to myself “This is what it’s all about.” It was particularly moving to see my boys interacting with the other side. They were had been reluctant to warm up to the idea of being part of this new family. But, seeing their aunt, uncle, and grandma warm up to them gave my boys a sense of calm. As we sat around swapping old family stories, I could see all the kid’s eyes light up. They were getting a good taste of our expanded family life.

Remember the Point of Thanksgiving

Yes, we are all excited about turkey, stuffing, pumpkin (or sweet potato) pie and watching football as we loosen our belts. But, Thanksgiving is about so much more. It’s the one holiday that is focused on simply being thankful. Is it so bad that you have so many dinners to choose from? As a father in a blended family I am keenly aware of the challenges we face. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the day to day battles. This year, get a jump on the challenges. Decide what you want to do for Thanksgiving. Make a plan for sharing time with your ex. Then take a step back and appreciate the fact that you have been blessed with a family. Don’t let the chaos of planning eat away at your thankfulness. Enjoy your turkey and your time this year.

Tell us your crazy blended family holiday stories in the comments below!

First Thanksgiving as a single Dad? Alicia Mejia has some tips in The Holidays After Divorce.  For even more insight into handling the season, TJ Carver offers 5 recommendations with Dads- Alone For The Holiday.

There’s lots of divorced Dads out there. Be sure to share this article!


(c) Can Stock Photo / BVDC

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