Thanksgiving + Divorce Means Chaos Is on the Menu

thanksgiving turkeyWelp, here we are: Another Thanksgiving, another extremely complex set of negotiations between me and a web of people, including exes. Yep. Divorce. It's making me start to hate this holiday.

This year, I’m juggling my entire extended family (my poor sister is hosting), my stepkids, and oh yeah, my own two kids. How are we figuring it out? Cranberry by cranberry, like everyone else.


I thought my Thanksgivings were complicated when I was married to my first husband. We used to run to the Upper West Side in Manhattan to go to his grandpa’s fancy apartment for lunch, and then rush to the train station to make it out to my parents’ for dinner. I was a vegetarian at the time, so I would leave the first celebration having consumed nothing but corn bread and red wine, which made for an interesting bathroom experience. Then I’d gorge on the Armenian-Jewish food-fest in New Jersey. Then I’d pass out.

Now, that all seems like a dream. My husband has two adorable kids, but we don’t get them on Thanksgiving. Ever. Why is this? You would have to ask his ex, who announced it would be so and never wavered. So okay, we’ve always had what we affectionately call “fake Thanksgiving,” which involves turkey leftovers from wherever we spend Thanksgiving (like last year, for instance, we spent it at the urgent-care center, because Penelope got a stomach virus that scared the crap out of us, fun-fun-fun!).

So we’ll be doing that again this year (minus the urgent-care I hope), except we only get them for Friday, not for the weekend that we usually have them, because their mom’s side of the family is having a third Thanksgiving on Saturday for her boyfriend’s family. These poor kids are going to be all turkeyed out!

Also, this year, my family is descending upon us as well. I mean everybody: all three sisters (well, one of them lives here), plus our parents. This makes for a grand total of – hang on ... 15 people at my sister’s house, including 2 infants, 2 toddlers, and 3 teenagers, which is large enough for her family of four and very wonderful, but not a palace. Hats off to my sister.

Wedged into all this, we have to make a big get-together for my stepkids and the other teenagers. This is of supreme importance. My stepkids, because of the divorce and some other various issues, are gluttons for family. They crave connection and adore my family, but it’s hard enough to get my family to do anything as a group, let alone shoe-horning together a group of shy kids who only see each other a couple times a year. What would they all enjoy that’s affordable, that’s nearby, that gets them engaged with one another (unlike a movie)?

Cue frantic searches for stuff everyone will agree to do; add in a dollop of last-minute changes that are never explained to me, but seem to have to do with teenage angst; spread thickly with worry, fretting, and some kind of meltdown, possibly the kids’, possibly mine, because I’m so anxious for the kids to have a good experience with my family and, well, I am not a model of grace under pressure.

Add this to the usual pressure: how do I get time alone with each sister, especially the New Jersey one who never travels? Will we get a sisters’ night out, or lunch, or five minutes? We need enough time to hug and then talk in that weird fast four-person high-pitched laughing language we slip into whenever we’re together.

Since this is going to be read by everyone, you’ll have to just trust me that there are also huge elephants in every room – ongoing situations we re-negotiate at every get-together as they expand and contract in complexity. I’d go into it further, but I haven’t found any cornmeal other than the super-expensive Red Hill kind, and I refuse to buy my cornmeal in weeny little plastic packets when what I want is a huge five-pound pack, like my flour comes in. And our blender broke. And everything I make has to be either fat-free or dairy-free, due to various diet restrictions. And my stepkids hate sweet potatoes! And ... and ... and ... happy Thanksgiving!

How complex is your holiday? Are there stepkids? Stepparents? How do you negotiate the holiday with fractured families? Tell us in the comments!

Image via ewan traveler/Flickr

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