Where’s Home for the Holidays When You’re Divorced?

When my first marriage ended, the day before Thanksgiving in 2003, I took a deep breath upon returning from court and began meal preparations for my first major holiday on my own. I set myself (and my raw nerves) to the comforting task of marinating pears for a compote, then started on the bread-sage stuffing. Why? Because for as long as I can recall, I’ve cooked elaborate dinners for the holidays.

During my first marriage, our family shared hosting duties for the holidays, but the times when it wasn’t my turn didn’t mean I was off the hook. I contributed side dishes and desserts to the groaning board so the burden of cooking an entire meal wasn’t borne by the host. That, however, was all in the past. My son would join me, and my cousin, for my first post-divorce Thanksgiving. That was it. Taking the smallest turkey I’d ever roasted out of the oven, I marveled at its lightness. And cried.

One month later, at Christmas, I said goodbye to all that and performed a variation on the theme. My cousin brought her nephew, my son came with his girlfriend at the time, and I rounded out the rest of the table with a young violinist from the Ukraine, who was studying at the conservatory where I worked. She brought her mother along. And, for the first time in my entire life, turkey was not featured on the table. Instead I prepared a standing rib roast from one of Ina Garten‘s Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.

This was my new family dynamic, and the start of a new tradition.

It can’t have been easy for my son, who at the time was in his early 20s. He was now required to divide all of his holidays in two; the first half of the day was spent with his father, the latter half with me. Those mornings and early afternoons dragged on so! It seemed strange to be alone in the house on a holiday. I probably hugged him far too long and far too tightly when he arrived. But so it went, each year, until the year I remarried.

My new husband had taken a job in Virginia, and I was now living nearly 500 miles from where I grew up and lived my entire life—and 500 miles from my son. Whereas holidays had presented a mere logistical inconvenience, now the geographical stakes were raised to challenging heights. Would I be able to spend at least one holiday with him? And what of my husband’s sons? How and when would we see them? The oldest is in graduate school in Illinois; the youngest had just started college in Ohio.

As it turned out, I wasn’t able to see my son at all that first year after our move. His work schedule simply didn’t allow him enough time off to make the trip. I cannot tell you how that rocked me. Things fared a bit better with the other boys; they drove to Virginia the second week of December to have an early Christmas with us. But again, what orbits they had to navigate! The eldest and his girlfriend drove from Illinois to Ohio to spend time with his mother and brother. Then, with his brother in tow, he drove from Ohio to Virginia. Then it was back around and up to Ohio to drop his brother off, and westward to St. Louis, so his girlfriend could see her family. And back to Illinois. It was like a 1930s movie, where a map of the United States with moving, dotted arrows illustrated a character’s travel progression from Point A to Point Whatever. The mind reels.

Last year, John and I decided that it was our turn to give the kids a break and do the driving. We left for Ohio early in the morning the day before Thanksgiving. Once there, we stayed with my son and his girlfriend. John’s sons joined us the next day, and we all enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner together in a suburb of Cleveland. In a restaurant. For Thanksgiving.

That took some getting used to. Never in my life had I set foot in a restaurant on a major holiday; it went against every cooking and baking gene in my body. I had always felt nothing but sadness for Ralphie and his family in A Christmas Story, forced to eat Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant after the Bumpus hounds devoured their turkey.

The meal was traditional enough and tasty enough, I suppose. But that was hardly the point. The goal was to be together: one scattered family gathered for a few brief hours around a table laden with food that might (or might not) allow us (allow me?) to pretend we were in the old homestead, however new that homestead might be.

It was more than enough that we were together and healthy.

It’s true, as the old song says, that there’s no place like home for the holidays. But when you create a new family, and circumstances toss your family hither and yon with no viable base of operations, it helps to remember another song—one that can serve to brighten your thoughts with a clarity that allows comfort and joy to shine through:

Home is where the heart is.

  18 comments for “Where’s Home for the Holidays When You’re Divorced?

  1. November 20, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I’m glad it worked out for you Marci.
    Growing up my family owned a deli and catering service so Thanksgiving day was busy with other people’s needs until 5 when we would all go to a restaurant for dinner, all 17-20 of us in a private room with our own wait staff. If you are a big group this is the way to go and everyone has a good time! Eating in a restaurant gets a bad rap, no disgrace, it’s more about being together.

    • November 21, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Haralee, thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. Can’t imagine what it must have been like to be surrounded by all that wonderful food…for other people! I think your solution sounds perfect, and of course it’s about being together. For me, last year was just a bit of a culture shock, since cooking for the holidays has always been my thing. This year, we’re spending part of the day in a hotel, but happily we’ll be with my son, his fiancée, and her family for dinner. Next year, I’m hopeful that my husband and I will be settled in our new home with all our loved ones around the table. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  2. Bill Cress
    November 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Enjoyed your article as it discusses the myriad of complex issues that arise as a result of divorce, remarriage and accommodating ourselves, spouses and children. In spite of many changes you have recognized the essence with your song, although I do not believe that the song alleviates the stress of the logistics.

    • November 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

      Thanks for your comment, Bill. Glad you liked the article. And while I agree that the song, sweet as it is, doesn’t alleviate the logistical stress, I find that holding my husband’s hand works wonders throughout ANY tough situation. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. November 21, 2012 at 10:25 am

    This was so heartfelt. I have two grandchildren from my daughter’s first marriage and we go through this every year. Thanksgiving with Mom. Christmas with Dad. And back and forth. It tears me apart. I can only imagine how my daughter feels and how much she misses them on Christmas morning when they are with their father.

    • November 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm

      I can’t imagine how difficult the holidays must be for divided families with small children…I love Walker’s solution. I would actually be happy to open wide the doors and welcome exes, etc. at the table. But would the exes, etc? Not so much. We work it out as best we can, and value every day we can spend with our children—whether or not it happens to be a holiday. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  4. November 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I relate to this so much. I think many parents, divorced or not, will have to deal with shifting hoilday traditions because so many adult kids do move away, at least for awhile. Adaptability is the key, which your post shows.

    • November 21, 2012 at 7:37 pm

      That’s true, Pauline. We’re all so scattered we have to be creative. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  5. November 21, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I agree with Bill! I include my ex-husband, now in a nursing home, in my holiday meals. Even when I was in a 3 year relationship we all gathered for major holidays. I wanted my adult sons, and now my grandchildren, to see that we could all find some common ground. It wasn’t easy initially but now I do it out of respect for his situation and his need to feel some connection.
    We each have to work our way through divorce, don’t we…

    • November 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm

      Walker, I love the generosity of your spirit. As I noted in response to an earlier comment, I would have the exes around the table (and actually suggested it this year, with my husband’s blessing) but not everyone is as enlightened. Much could be written about this! Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Molly Campbell
    November 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I was sad as I read the beginning of this, but then I got happy! This is a wonderful story. We used to have standing rib roasts when I was growing up. So delish! But my family has been off meat (I guess we are chickitarians) for 30 years. We do have poultry. So it will be turkey for us this year! Have a wonderful holiday!

    • November 21, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      Molly, it’s so nice to see you here! Remember that great line from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’?

      “What? He don’t eat no meat? That’s okay. I make lamb.”

      Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. November 21, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Such a heartfelt post, and what a journey you’ve been on. Glad things turned out well for you. Best wishes for lovely celebrations this holiday season.

  8. Victoria
    December 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    It is nice that this website is here for people to connect each other in a positive way.i am searching for positive way of living.i keep reminding myself that freedom is within my power to achieve.i have a new life to live and I am having problem adapting.i know I’ll get there someday ,when i do I want to be sure that the less people get hurt the better off I will be.my husband for 35 yrs has been living a double life.my new me is not in his liking. I fell sorry for him!.i don’t know what was he thinking!.i married him for all the right reasons.This last Christmas didn’t fell like Christmas , this last thanksgiving didn’t fell like thanksgiving.after reading all your beautiful story really help me a lot .thanks ladies!.

    • felice
      felice
      January 1, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Stay strong – there are so many great women here to share with you and who understand the challenges we face.
      2013 is a new year and a fresh path can help to recalibrate and re-energize — hope you find a lift as we turn this corner

  9. Victoria
    January 3, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for responding felice.life is how we make it regardless of how hard the circumstances.lots of praying and determination will do it.victoria is Pilipino and her english is off sorry in advance.

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