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Divorced Moms: 6 Ways to Put Family Holiday Gatherings in Perspective

As a divorced mom, you may have spent Thanksgiving with your parents, siblings, or other family members – whether you spent the holiday alone or with your kids. Even if you didn’t have a holiday tradition of gathering with your family of origin before divorce, it may be a safe and welcome way to spend the day, especially in the first year after divorce.

There is much to be said for spending a holiday with family (or the close friends who count as family if you live far from home or don’t have living relatives to hang out with). I count among my many blessings parents who are still alive and healthy, and many siblings who live nearby. I spent Thanksgiving with some of them this week.

But gathering with family can also be a challenge, especially if you aren’t expecting it and get caught off guard. Unsolicited advice, suggestions, or personal questions – or even downright criticism or putdowns – are possible. Here are 6 ways to put these things in perspective.

  1.  Prepare in advance when you can. We all regress when we return to a family setting or gather with those we grew up with.  Think about long-term relationships and any hot buttons. Come up with a couple ways to handle these situations differently so you’re prepared if and when they arise. For example, if you have siblings that have never gotten along, it’s likely that they will find some reason to argue or put each other down. You might decide to leave the room or to have a short quip to diffuse the tension.
  2. Anticipate personal questions. This is especially likely in the first year after divorce. If friends or relatives haven’t seen you in a while, they’ll want to know about your situation. You can expect everything from “Why did you get divorced?” to “Are you dating anyone” to “I never liked that man anyway. How could you have seen anything in him?” Decide if you will answer or deflect. Or both, depending on who is doing the asking. Come up with a couple of standard responses to expected questions, preferably short ones. You don’t have to justify or defend your actions.
  3. Give yourself time to think. Although many women feel like they have to answer a question or respond to a request right away to be polite, you don’t have to. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell someone, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.” Or to answer their question with one of your own such as, “Why do you ask?”
  4. Don’t own someone else’s fears or problems. Taking time to think (#3) gives you a chance to assess the situation and determine if it is something you need to own or if the issue comes from someone else’s fears. A good question to ask here is “Whose problem is it, anyway?” For example, if your brother is upset because you no longer go to the family church, and you’re not, it’s likely that his criticism or attempts to persuade you to come back to church are because he is uncomfortable. You don’t need to feel guilty or try to make him see things your way. You can just accept that you see things differently.
  5. Remember that unsolicited advice is criticism. You don’t have to share this with the dispenser of advice, but it can be helpful to think about it. If you haven’t asked for someone’s opinion, they are criticizing you by offering you advice. You can consider it if it makes sense, but if you didn’t ask for it, you don’t have to accept it either.
  6. Have an exit plan. You might set a time for leaving or establish a trigger (or a few) in advance. You can let your hosts know that you need to leave by 7PM and that you’re okay skipping dessert if that doesn’t work with their schedule. Or if Uncle Fred gets drunk and inappropriate or Aunt Susan brings up the latest elections and starts a heated discussion, you might excuse yourself and head out – no explanations needed.
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