Question of the week: Should divorced parents be encouraged to spend Thanksgiving together?



A lot of people encourage divorcing parents to come together for holidays, such as Thanksgiving. People think it is in the best interest of the children. The premise is to create the image of one big, happy family.

Although that might seem to work for the adults, for the most part, it is not a good idea where children are concerned. Psychologist Carl Pickhardt in an article in Psychology Today says, “Parents who put in a joint presence at special family celebrations and holiday events to re-create family closeness for the child only feed the child’s fantasy and delay his adjustment.”

I have witnessed this myself in single-parent and divorcing families. Many times, people who try to create that family closeness make it harder on the kids. I’ve heard kids brag, “Mom and Dad will both be at Mimi’s for Thanksgiving” as they square their shoulders. Then the next week, they come in dragging their feet, their shoulders slumped as they report on their Thanksgiving. Re-creating family closeness didn’t happen. The kids were sorely disappointed that both parents didn’t come home with them after the meal.

For older tweens and teens, it is a different scenario. Some have shared that they don’t want their parents at the same Thanksgiving table because they worry the parents might start fighting. These kids feel uncomfortable with both parents in the same room.

What is the answer? Perhaps encourage single parents to concentrate on what they can do to make Thanksgiving Day special for themselves or in their single-parent home. Here are a couple of ideas.

A single dad celebrates Thanksgiving

A dad in our single-parent group reports, “The kids will spend the night with me on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The next morning, we are going to get up, and they are going to me help fix a special breakfast. We will just lounge around after breakfast, watching the parades on TV. Then, mid-morning, they will be going with their mother to celebrate with that side of the family. I’ll stay home and entertain myself.”

This single dad wants his kids to be with him, but he also wants them to be free to enjoy their time with their mother and her family. He says he will stay home and pray for his kids to have a happy, joyful day.

A single mom celebrates Thanksgiving

One year, my kids were going to be with their dad on Thanksgiving, which fell on his holiday schedule that year. I had no family close by, so another single-parent friend and I planned a get-together for Thanksgiving Day. Some of our friends had their children, and some were like me and didn’t have their kids that day.

Instead of feeling alone and being lonely on that holiday, I had the privilege of being with like-minded people. We had a great time, and I got to cuddle up with one of my friend’s toddlers (my kids were teenagers then). Each person contributed to the meal in some way. I think the men who came purchased some desserts, but we didn’t care if our food wasn’t homemade. No one was lonely, and everyone had a great time.

Whether single parents are alone or with others, the main thing is to encourage them to remember the things for which they are thankful. Some families will give everyone time to say something for which they are thankful. Doing this reminds the children that God is still there and still taking care of them. For some kids who have come to doubt God’s existence because He won’t make their parents stop divorcing, it can remind them that there still is a God and that He cares for them.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on November 19, 2014.

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4 thoughts on “Question of the week: Should divorced parents be encouraged to spend Thanksgiving together?

    • I think it would depend on the actions of the two parents and the environment at the school/daycare. In other words are all the other parents going to be attending? Usually that is not the case as so many parents travel on business now days. If both parents can put aside their disagreements and hostility, if there is any, then it might be doable. However, I think the couple should make sure their child understands they are not getting back together.

      The parents should have a meeting and talk about what is best for their child and their own situation.

  1. Hi Linda,

    I understand the reasoning behind this, especially for newly divorced people, or those still in the throes of divorce. However, once the divorce is over, and if the parents have come to the point of friendship again, I think it can be useful for the children to see their parents sharing special occasions again. For my children, once we managed to get past the acrimony, and start focusing on doing the best for our children, it was a turning point for them as well. They understood mom and dad weren’t ever getting together again, but it made them happy that we shared some special moments together. Each situation needs to be thought through carefully, and the appropriate choices made.


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