Getting Married the Second Time Around Finding Happiness from Lessons Learned

Getting Married the Second Time Around Finding Happiness from Lessons Learned

Sitting alone on the edge of the bed, in the spare room my friend had graciously allowed me to stay in, I was shell shocked. I had just taken my sons back to their mom’s house. My house. At least it used to be mine. I was still paying the bills there. The lines were blurred. My marriage was over. That night I made myself a promise; things would be different the second time around. If there was another time around.

Learn from the Past – Take it Slow

I got married for the first time when I was 22 years-old. I had just completed 3 years of volunteer work that provided me with the opportunity to travel the world to places like the Amazon River, the beautiful city of Istanbul, and many points between. It was during this volunteer work that I became infatuated with a young lady working for the same organization. We bonded over our love of travel and the desire to change the world. As our time with the organization was ending, I was making plans to continue volunteering for another year with a different branch. My girlfriend had different plans. She wanted to go back home and get back to “normal life.” I gave up my plans and decided to go with her.

This was the beginning of my habit of sacrificing my vision for the sake of appeasing her. A year later we were married. Fast forward 10 years, and there I am sitting on the edge of that bed, alone and divorced.

There is obviously much more to that story, but looking back I can see that I wasn’t ready to be married. You hear people say things like, “I was too young to be married.” But, that’s not what I mean. I wasn’t ready because I didn’t have a real sense of self.

It’s important to know what direction you want your life to go in before you try to partner with someone else. This may seem obvious but when you’re knee deep in the new and exciting phase of a relationship, it’s easy to dismiss conventional wisdom.

Many people told me to wait, don’t rush to get married. I ignored them all. The lesson here is to take it slow the second time around. Use your time alone to do some self-evaluation.

Be Honest About Your Own Mistakes

I got married, for the second time, six months ago. My wife was also married once before. Early in our relationship we would often talk about our past marriages and the hurt we had experienced. We would vent to each other about how difficult our exes were. I found comfort in the way she understood my side of the story.

My wife is always quick to admit her own faults in her previous marriage. At first, I was surprised by this but, it was refreshing. Knowing that she didn’t fully blame her ex for everything that went wrong helped me to trust her. That also made it easy for me to be honest about my own shortcomings.

We all know that nobody is perfect. When a relationship between two people dissolves, both parties are responsible (even if your ex is 99% at fault). I am not saying you must fully confess everything you did wrong in the past. However, you should be honest with yourself about those things. And when the time is right, you should share those things with the new woman in your life.

The trust that this type of sharing builds is key to laying a good foundation for your marriage. If you choose to hide your faults and bad mouth your ex constantly, you may find yourself repeating your past mistakes.

The trust that this type of sharing builds is key to laying a good foundation for your marriage. If you choose to hide your faults and bad mouth your ex constantly, you may find yourself repeating your past mistakes. For more on making things right when you’re wrong, check out this article by Sheri Stritof: When You Are Wrong – Make Things Right.

How’s Your Communication the Second Time Around?

You’ve met an attractive woman. You have fun together and you feel comfortable with her. She even has you thinking about buying a ring. Before you drop down on one knee, ask yourself this question, “How is our communication?” Initial attraction, chemistry, and all that are great, and even necessary. But, if your communication is weak, your relationship will be weak too. Think about the things you talk about with her. Is it all surface level? When you are frustrated or feeling irritable, how does the conversation go then?

My wife and I decided, at the beginning of our relationship, that we were going to talk about everything. No games. If she’s mad, she tells me. If I am upset or worried, I let her know. In my first marriage, I was reluctant to share these things because I didn’t want to seem weak. Now, the second time around, I see that this sort of vulnerability is a strengthening force in our marriage.

Good communication isn’t just about sharing the hard and negative emotions. We share the good stuff too. As guys, it’s easy for us to forget to tell our wives how we feel. I make it a point to tell my wife when I think she looks good. There have been times I have sent her a text just to say I am grateful for her. She does the same. We are not perfect, but this type of communication keeps our bond tight when we are navigating the daily challenges of raising children and paying bills.

Good communication isn’t just about sharing the hard and negative emotions. We share the good stuff too. As guys, it’s easy for us to forget to tell our wives how we feel. I make it a point to tell my wife when I think she looks good. There have been times I have sent her a text just to say I am grateful for her. She does the same. We are not perfect, but this type of communication keeps our bond tight when we are navigating the daily challenges of raising children and paying bills.

We are not perfect, but this type of communication keeps our bond tight when we are navigating the daily challenges of raising children and paying bills.

Don’t Be Afraid of Marrying a Woman with Children

My wife and I both have two kids from previous relationships. Some of our friend and family have asked us, “What the heck were you thinking?” If we’re honest, both of us have wondered the same thing at times. But, the fact that my wife had her own children before we got together has been the most surprising benefit in our marriage.

Because she is a mom, she understands what my children need. She is not jealous of the time I need to spend with my sons. In fact, she helps me be a better, more involved father. From birthday party planning, to keeping track of school events, I could not do it without her.

I know many divorced men who wouldn’t even consider a woman with her own children. But, if you have children of your own, I think you should keep an open mind. Sometimes your hard and fast rules will limit your opportunities. Never say never, in other words, be open to meeting new people who already have kids. The rewards can outweigh the challenges.

Getting It Right the Second Time Around

So many people have shared statistics with me about the failure of second marriages. Even well-meaning friends have expressed doubts. All of them overlook one important thing, we have a choice. A divorce is an opportunity to learn and reset. If you are fortunate enough to have found someone you want to marry, don’t let statistics and fear hold you back. You have a unique opportunity to build the type of relationship you want. Those of us who have been divorced are not disqualified from happiness.

You have a unique opportunity to build the type of relationship you want. Those of us who have been divorced are not disqualified from happiness. At minimum, we’ve learned about not to do. Remember to take it slow, admit your faults, communicate, and keep an open mind. These steps are not a guaranteed roadmap to success, but they should help you get it right the second time around.

 

Tell us if you’re thinking about remarriage in the comments below.

 

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Dads: Dodge These 5 Co-Parenting Pitfalls Getting Around Obstacles to Maximized Visitation

Dads: Dodge These 5 Co-Parenting Pitfalls Getting Around Obstacles to Maximized Visitation

Co-parenting pitfalls are the divorced dad’s equivalent to hitting potholes that wreck your wheel alignment.  Just like pothole damage can affect the way your car handles, there are pitfalls to co-parenting that affect visitation with your kids.

I love road trips. I used to drive from Arkansas to Michigan and back regularly. After doing this a few times, I became keenly aware of changes in surface of the road as I crossed each state line. The worst was Michigan during early spring. Pot holes everywhere! I would have to swerve and dodge to avoid the large ones. No matter what, there were always a few I didn’t see soon enough and BAM that teeth rattling clunk. Can you feel it? It’s the same way with co-parenting.

One moment you’re cruising along raising your kids, the next you’re wincing from the pain of unexpected co-parenting pitfalls. I’m going to put some construction cones around five of these common pitfalls and show you to avoid them.

If You’re Assuming, You’re Wrong

Our brains are hard wired to make assumptions. We automatically recognize patterns in nearly everything from shapes to facial expressions. This wiring is particularly helpful for tasks such as fitting $200 worth of groceries in a small refrigerator or determining if your boss is in a bad mood. But, when it comes to co-parenting pitfalls, it’s best to leave your assumptions behind.

A Holiday Story

My ex and I had agreed on a time split for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She would get the Eve and I got the Day. On Christmas Eve after I had called my sons to say goodnight, their mom sent me a text to ask when I would be picking them up in the morning. This escalated into a mild argument as she wanted me to come later that I had planned. Things got worse when I asked her to make sure they had clothes for the next day. She insisted that an overnight was not part of the plan. As the chain of angry text messages flew back and forth, I tried to keep my cool and take the high road. In my mind, it was 100% reasonable to keep them overnight on Christmas day especially since she had both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them every year.

As I scrolled through our messages, and replayed our face to face and phone conversations, I realized there was not a single piece of communication that confirmed my assumption. No matter how reasonable my request, I had assumed she knew that I would want to keep them overnight. I had assumed she would be okay with it.

Clarify Everything

You would think we would know better when it comes to co-parenting. As divorced dads, communication problems should not be a surprise. Yet, we still assume things. To avoid this co-parenting pitfall, my advice is simple. Clarify everything. When possible, get it in writing. If you think you know, verify again.

Avoid the Tense Exchange

Sharing time with your kids means transitioning them from your house to their mother’s house. These exchanges can sometimes be the scene of tension and hostility. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt my blood boil when picking up my boys from their mom. Janice Ferguson Pugsley offers 11 Strategies to Ease Transition Between Mom’s House and Dad’s House. I like her idea of “buffer zones.” My ex and I have found that it keeps tension down for us if we do not do as many exchanges at our houses. Instead, we pick the boys up from school. So, on Fridays when it is my weekend, the pickup is focused entirely on the boys and not any tensions between me and their mom. We will also exchange the kids in public places like restaurants. This works especially well in the summer when school is out.

Interrogating the Kids

Curiosity gets the best of us sometimes. Who doesn’t wonder what goes on behind closed doors once your kids are back at home with mom? It can be tempting to pump your kids for information. But, there’s a problem. This just isn’t fair to your kids. Children basically need to feel safe and loved. How safe and loved does your daughter feel if you’re interrogating her about mom’s new “friend” or what she says about you? What kind of anxiety would it cause if your son had to worry about the questions you’re going to ask when he gets to your house? Not to mention the fact that the questions you’re asking could find their way back to mom. If you want to know something about your ex-wife’s life, ask her. If you are too uncomfortable to ask her, you shouldn’t ask your kids. It really is that simple.

Bad Mouthing Your Ex’s Friends and Family

Sure, your ex’s friends and family may not like you. They may have even said some pretty nasty stuff about you to other people. You cannot allow yourself to fall into that trap. Your kids did not divorce those friends or family members. They still have regular contact with them and they care about those people. Talking negatively about them (especially in front of your kids) will alienate your children from you.

For a while, I had a hard time hearing my kids talk about all the great things they did with my ex and her best friend. I was hurt because I was sure that friend believed horrible things about me. Yet, there she was with my kids and they love her. Over time I realized it doesn’t matter what she thinks of me if she’s good to my kids. Now when they talk about her I can join in. I can even tell them a few funny stories about her.

The Need to Win

Divorce often gives birth to a form of competition between parents. The cases might as well be titled Mr. Dad versus Ms. Mom. We all want to win. When it comes to co-parenting, the need to win is a Cadillac sized pot hole in Michigan. If you slip into this pitfall it can do serious and ongoing damage to your success as a parent. Consider this article by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker Stop Toxic Fighting with Your Ex. Dr. Hartwell Walker suggest that we should give up the idea that every encounter will end in absolute fairness. Unfortunately, when it comes to co-parenting, we can’t just agree to disagree on somethings. This means a decision must be made or an action must be taken that one or both parties will not be 100% happy about. That’s parenting.

What’s more important, winning or being a good father?

What’s more important, winning or being a good father? In my experience, I have found that the two rarely line up. So, daily I choose the high road when I would rather be a jerk. I choose cooperation and compromise over attack and argument. I am not perfect in this, but I see the bigger picture. I know I am avoiding major damage by checking my ego and competitive nature at the door.

Pick Your Lane of Travel to Avoid Co-parenting Pitfalls

There is no perfect road map for co-parenting. Every one of us has unique dynamics that make raising kids challenging. I hope that by marking these co-parenting pitfalls I have given you enough time to avoid them.

How do you handle co-parenting problems? Tell us in the comments below.

 Looking for more ways to maximize visitation? You’ll like Why You Should Have a Take Your Kid to Work Day. Then check out Seven Tips for Consistent Co-parenting After Divorce.

 

 

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(c) Can Stock Photo / viperagp

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3 Critical Steps to Being a Great Dad This Year Don’t Let Divorce Stop You from Awesome Parenting

3 Critical Steps to Being a Great Dad This Year Don’t Let Divorce Stop You from Awesome Parenting

It’s resolution season. Everyone is working on losing the extra pounds they picked up over the holidays, or quitting whatever vice they failed to quit in 2016. As a divorced dad, my resolution is simple. I want to be a great dad. I’m sure that as you read those words an image popped in your head.

When we think of awesome dads, we probably don’t think of divorced guys. However, I don’t believe divorce disqualifies us. In fact, I believe we have a unique opportunity to connect with our kids. Here are some steps divorced men can take to be great dads this year.

A Great Dad is Present Consistently

As a divorced dad, I don’t get to see my sons every day. It’s a fact that really bothers me. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t have contact with them every day. In the first year or so after my divorce, I’d call the boys every day without fail. We would talk for a few minutes just to see how their day was and to remind them that daddy loves them.

I still make those calls nearly every day, but I’ve become a bit lax. I sometimes miss a day here and there. I justify this by telling myself that the calls aren’t that big of a deal. My youngest son hates to talk on the phone. The boys are always busy, moving from one activity to the next. And my favorite excuse, “I lost track of time.” It’s a reasonable excuse especially when you factor in my two step-children and all of their activities.

What Your Kids Really Want Is Your Time

This year, I want to get back to making the calls every day. I realize that while they may be brief, the consistency is important. A great dad is a present dad. This means being present in whatever way possible. It’s easy to make excuses. After a while, missing one day turns into missing one week. I want my sons to look back at their lives when they grow up and understand that I made them a priority. I want them to know that I care about every detail of their lives.

As Scott Kelby points out in his helpful advice for dads, what your kids really want is your time. I can see this truth with all four of my kids. It is most obvious with my step-daughter. As I am writing this, she is sitting next to me. Earlier this evening, she asked if she could stay up and hang out with me while I write. She doesn’t have school tomorrow and she promised not to “ask a lot of questions” so I agreed. Right now, she is writing in an activity book. I suggested that she go sit on the other couch where there is more light and she shook her head at me saying, “No, I can see fine.” I get it. She is where she wants to be. I am choosing to answer her questions and let her be with me because I understand that for her, these moments mean much more.

A Great Dad is Intentional

Webster’s dictionary defines intentional as “done by intention or design.” When I was a kid, I always felt like the things that happened in my life were accidents. My childhood often seemed chaotic. So much of what happened in my life seemed like a reaction to circumstances. It seemed like no one had a plan for me.

Perhaps this is because my parents were just focused on our survival. I don’t fault them at all. But, even as a kid I always told myself that when I was a dad, I would make plans for my kids. I want to give my kids something to look forward to. My oldest son will be turning 10 in a few months and this has given me an idea. I am going to give him a certificate good for one full day of my time. We will do what he wants to do (within reason, of course). Sorry kid, no trip to Disney this time! If this goes well, I’ll do the same with the other kids for milestone birthdays.

By allowing them to decide what we do, I’m showing them that I care about their interests. I’ll use the time to talk to them one-on-one about the things that matter in their lives.

Another way that I am trying to be intentional with the kids is in the way I treat my wife. While she isn’t the mother of my two oldest sons, it’s still important for them to see how I interact with her as a husband. Before we were married, I was hesitant to show affection in front of the kids. Now, I make sure they see us laughing, kissing, and enjoying each others’ company.

Create an Environment of Learning

The goal is to show them what a positive romantic relationship looks like. I want their expectations for relationships to be set by real life and not what they see on TV or social media. The goal is to create an environment of learning for your kids. Intentionally model the character and behavior that you want them to have so that when they are faced with challenging situations they are equipped to respond correctly. As Amy Morin puts it in Model the Behavior You Want to See from Your Kids, “follow your own rules.”

A Great Dad Works to be Involved

It is common for us dads to let mom handle the day-to-day planning and logistics. This is an area that I’m weak in. My ex lives in the school district for my sons. So naturally, all the school communication ends up in her hands. I do go to all parent-teacher conferences but, she schedules them. When there is a problem at the school, I often hear about it second hand.

Get Into the Loop

Last school year, my then-6-year-old son told me that his mom had come in to read a story to the class. I later found out there was a signup sheet and it was something that all parents had an opportunity to do throughout the year. This year, I’m going to inject myself into the relationship with the school. I’m going to email the teachers to ask them to copy me when communicating about my sons. I’m going to make it a point to ask about opportunities to participate as a parent. Heck, I may even join the PTO (Okay, maybe not).

The same effort can be applied when it comes to doctor and dentist appointments, haircuts, eye exams, whatever it is. As a divorced dad, it’s easy and even excusable to let mom continue to carry the load of these things. But, being a great dad means making that extra push even with the things that aren’t that glamorous. You may not need to get involved in your child’s school or medical appointments, but I’m willing to bet there’s an area where you can step up and be involved more.

Do It for the Kids – Not the Applause

I love it when someone makes a comment about me being a terrific dad. It’s awesome to be recognized for being at the awards ceremonies, ball games, and birthday parties. I’ll take the affirmation whenever I can get it. But, if everyone else says I’m a great dad and my kids don’t know they are loved, I have failed.

Your Kids Have the Perspective That Counts

Those four kids who rely on me every day are my only measurement for success. I choose to work to be better every day for them. I know that one day they’ll look back and appreciate me. Even if they don’t, I can sleep at night because I know I’ve done everything I can to prepare them for life.

Isn’t that what being a great dad is really about?

 

How do you resolve to be a better dad in 2017? Share your ideas in the comments below.

For more divorce advice for dads, check out more on Guyvorce like our popular: 4 Important Ways Dads can Maximize Visitation and Emergency Roadside Kit for Newly Single Dads.

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(c) Can Stock Photo / iqoncept

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Merry Co-parenting During the Holidays A Divorced Dad’s Guide to Christmas

Merry Co-parenting During the Holidays A Divorced Dad’s Guide to Christmas

Co-parenting during the holidays can be tough no matter how long you’ve been divorced. As I have navigated this journey I’ve come up with some ideas and strategies to help divorced dads shift the focus from the challenges of shared custody, back to the needs of our children.

Divorce Changed Everything

The fireplace is crackling. I’m in my pajamas and robe, a red Santa hat slightly tilted on my head. I can see snowflakes floating gently between the trees through my living room window. The smell of pancakes and hot cocoa drift to me from the kitchen. Any minute now my boys will come rushing down the stairs to see their hoard of treasures beneath the blue spruce.  I love the look on their faces. The hope! The excitement! It makes me feel like a kid again seeing them tear open wrapping paper with a chorus of OOHS and AHHS! I look forward to this scene every year.

Well, not this year. In fact, not for the past few years. This was my dream of what Christmas would be like. For the first few years of my sons’ lives, reality came fairly close. Divorce changed all of that.

Co-Parenting During the Holidays: A Kid’s Perspective

Sometimes as parents we can become almost robotic in our decision making. The logistics of who will take the kids to soccer practice or doctor’s appointments are tackled with businesslike calculation. During the holidays the stakes are even higher. Holidays mean family time and family traditions. Emotions can run high this time of year. Taking the emotion out of things may help you make necessary decisions, but are you missing something?

Your Kids Have Logistical Concerns, Too

If your children are under the age of 10, chances are you haven’t given much thought to how they feel about these day-to-day decisions.  I am not suggesting that we consult with our kids on every plan. This is not possible, and it would not be good for the kids anyway. What I am suggesting is that we take a step back and consider things from the perspective of the child.

Imagine that you are 8 years old. Mom and Dad live in different houses. Which house will Santa go to? How will your elf on the shelf know where you are when you leave for Dad’s house? Which set of cousins will you see for the big holiday meal? You have so many questions and things are happening so quickly around you. The adults around you are acting like everything is normal but you know it’s not the same.

Joy Should Not Be an Obligation

Children need stability. While it may require more work to create that stability as a divorced dad, you can still do it. First, ask your child about how they are feeling. Let them talk. Don’t make them feel guilty for being sad. Even years after your divorce, you children may have to mourn the loss of their expectations. This is especially true during the holidays. Next, ask your child this question: What is the one thing you want to do this holiday season? You may get some bizarre answers and that’s okay. You may also get an answer that doesn’t involve you.

Be Willing to Modify Your Visitation Schedule

Cathy Meyer supports the idea of involving your kids in the decision process in this article: Keep the Holiday Spirit Alive During Divorce.  My oldest son told me his favorite thing is the Christmas Eve party at his best friend’s house. It’s an annual tradition that I used to be part of. His best friend also happens to be the youngest child of his mother’s closest friend, so I am no longer invited to the party. Because he loves it, I choose to let my son go to that every year, which effectively eliminates my Christmas Eve with my sons.

Give them a reason to look forward to spending holiday time with you. Find something that you and your children will enjoy and build the anticipation. It could be a holiday parade, making gingerbread houses, decorating the tree. Whatever it is, build up the excitement. Talk about it often in the weeks leading up the event. Make them feel involved.

Holiday Gifts Are Not a Competition

There is always that one toy or gadget that is the hot item on your child’s wish list. You know how it goes. Your kid rattles off a thousand items they want, quoting every commercial they’ve seen since Thanksgiving, but there that one thing at the top of the list. If you’re anything like me, you want to be the parent who purchases the “it” gift. You want to be the reason for the biggest smile and wow factor.

One year I went online and ordered my youngest son’s hot item within hours of receiving his list. As I waited months to give it to him, I would daydream about hearing him call me the best dad ever. On Christmas, I picked my boys up from their mom’s house late morning, giddy with excitement as we got into the car. Five minutes down the road, my youngest son said, “Daddy I got it!” His mother had beat me to it. She got him the hot gift. I was completely deflated. The boys loved the other things that I had purchased for them, but there was now wow factor for me. I was so disappointed.

I learned a valuable lesson that year. As much as I want to be the one to give the best gift, it’s not a competition. Effective co-parenting  requires me to communicate with my ex. We must discuss what we are going to buy for the boys. It’s foolish not to communicate about these things. At the end of the day, the kids don’t care who got them the gift. Let’s be honest most of these gifts will be in the bottom of a toy bin before the year is out.

Focus your energy on creating the most seamless experience you can for your kids. If you can work with your ex, try getting complimentary gifts. If she gets them a game system, get them games for that system. Things like that make the kids happier. Your personal glory should not cloud your judgement.

Teach Your Children to Give

Holiday time is a time of giving. This is a great opportunity to build character and selflessness in your children. My children were surprised to hear that there are some kids who do not have homes or receive Christmas gifts. They have so many toys that they don’t play with and the idea that there are children with no toys was completely foreign to them.

This year we decided that we would pick a service project for the holiday season. You can search for giving opportunities with local churches and non-profit organizations. This year we are going to buy gifts for kids who wouldn’t otherwise receive them and we are also going to purchase items for a local homeless shelter. The kids will be involved in shopping for and delivering these items.

Activities like this are great for family bonding. It will also teach your children to think of others. This is so much better than lecturing about sharing. By involving our children in these actions, we are rewarding selfless behavior. Find more ideas for teaching your kids to give in this article: 5 Holiday Charity Ideas for Kids.

Merry Co-parenting Starts With a Forward-Thinking Dad

Co-parenting during the holidays can open old wounds. Your dreams of how the holidays should be may be lost. But, you have a unique opportunity to build new holiday traditions and help your child to become an even better person. Remember, it’s not about your vision. It’s about your child. Gifts are not a competition. You win when you think ahead, communicate and coordinate with your ex to create the best holiday possible for your children.

Finally, help your children learn to give. Imagine your kids going to school and telling their friends how they we able to make another child’s holiday the best one ever! That’s much better than getting the “it” toy or having your perfect Christmas morning play out your way. Happy holidays start with being a forward-thinking dad.

Are you an old pro at shared custody during the holidays, or is this your first festive season as a single dad? Tell us in the comment section below.

 

Ready for more holiday dad tips? Check out our 5 Secrets to Effective Co-parenting on Holidays  and 5 Reasons to Give Your Kids Experiences This Christmas.

 

Tis the season. Share this article on your social media.


(c) Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

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A Blended Family Thanksgiving Being Thankful and Avoiding Custody Chaos

A Blended Family Thanksgiving Being Thankful and Avoiding Custody Chaos

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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