Yet Another Modern American Family…

All but one of the adults at our Thanksgiving dinner were either divorced or remarried; and almost all the young adults were children of divorced parents… yet another modern American family.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

What I do want to talk about is the unnecessary pain and complication imposed on our children after divorce – the very children we profess to love.

Despite this love, we divorced parents continue to revisit our bitterness when we “divide the holidays”.  And, while we’re revisiting our bitterness, our children are along for the ride.

Why do we create a situation where our children have to choose which parent they will be with during the holiday?

Why do we teach them that it is OK to ignore the loneliness of one parent during a holiday?

How did we create this situation for them, and for ourselves?

It looks like our ego is managing the show. I know that all you therapists reading this would probably think, “Duh, Rachel, don’t you know that?”  Yes, I do! And, still…

I don’t like the fact that we cannot put our ego aside for several days of the year.

I don’t like the fact that we keep on revisiting resentment to the detriment of our offspring.


I don’t like that we managed to live with this person for years and years – most likely beyond what was comfortable, and yet today it is all about one’s convenience during the holidays.

A young man told me once that he would be very uncomfortable being with both his divorced parents during a holiday. My thought was that he felt this way because he was not introduced to any other possibility.

Why can’t we manage to be polite and cordial a few days a year? To be polite and cordial doesn’t mean to hug and kiss, or to pretend. But it does mean that you take part in ONE celebration, all of you – without introducing the painful subject of choice.

Moreover, if children don’t feel the pain of choosing anymore; it’s an outcome of our having taught them how to desensitize themselves to their parent’s, and to their own pain and guilt.

Perhaps we forgot about teaching them kindness, because we forget about kindness when it comes to the ‘ex’.

Now I know that some experienced genuine abuse at the hands of an ex.  If this was your situation, then you are justified when insisting on complete separation. But, for most of us, we divorced because we simply couldn’t get along.

I come from an “intact” family, but my parents fought non-stop.

I remember asking my father to get a divorce.  He didn’t, which was just as well, because one way or the other – whether choosing one parent to be with during a holiday, or to celebrate a holiday twice –they still would have subjected me to their fights; their unresolved issues; but mostly their prideful ego.

Here’s my bottom line:  If many years ago, you loved each other enough to have children, then man-up and be responsible for the outcome, which includes being inclusive. We have caused plenty of pain already because of our mistakes during our married life.

Not to be entirely negative, it happens the mix of people around our table this year  included at least two re-married couples whose ex-spouses were at the table, as were their children; and two single ex-spouses, and their children.  For the most part, we got it right.

Still, can’t we manage divorce better?



About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Co-Parenting, DIVORCE, Parenting, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Yet Another Modern American Family…

  1. Barbara Cooper says:

    Having never been divorced or had children, I can’t really comment on this blog from a place of having “been there, done that”. I can comment on similar situations which happens to newlyweds everywhere which is which family gets you on the holidays? It is the same situation that causes hurt feelings to the parents. Whichever way you choose, someone’s feelings are gonna get hurt. It is impossible to please everyone, be it a holiday or not, so best to choose what pleases you and be as kind as possible when informing the family of your choice. Truth is, as much fun as the holidays can be, they are also a time of intense loneliness for a lot of people. The problem for so many is they need to celebrate the holidays the way they always celebrated the holidays and if you were always there in the past, well it’s just not the same without you. And therein lies the problem. The first holiday after my father died, I had to learn to celebrate differently because he wasn’t there. I dreaded Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays just precisely because my Dad was always there, laughing and joking and sitting in his seat at the head of the table. But Daddy wouldn’t be there that year or ever again. That first Thanksgiving I dreaded looking at that empty chair. So what did I do? I sat in his seat- now the chair wasn’t empty and I was looking at the holiday from a different perspective. And it was okay because I needed it to be okay. Through the years and more losses of loved ones I continued to celebrate my Thanksgiving with different people- old friends, new friends, sometimes even friends of friends who were in reality, strangers to me. And no, it was never the same, but then, nothing ever stays the same. That’s just life. So if you can’t be with your kids one year, let others into your home and heart for that holiday. And when you think of things for which you are grateful, send a prayer of thanks that even if your kids are celebrating with an ex spouse, they are alive and well. And there’s always next year.

    • rachel bar says:

      I really agree with you. My post though was about the pain. Just like you feel the pain when you lose one of your dogs, and you miss him/her terribly and of course we will eventually get over it, however, if there is a better way of doing it, why not employ it? It is a way in which we demonstrate the bettter, kinder, considerate part of us.

  2. If you feel that divorce children are torn..I have to deal with foster children..the children are faced with the situation of not being home, while wanting to be home especially for the holidays..and though we often feel (and rightfully so) that the children shouldn’t be around this level of dysfunction the children long to be with their family during the holidays…then when the family who lost their children experience the is emotionally stressful for them as well..they know they have done wrong, but it doesn’t remove the guilt and hurt of wanting to share the “good times and memories” with their children… explaining to them the why and how comes and to provide them with the comfort of knowing that they can do what is required helps, but does not remove the pain…

    And to answer the question do I feel we could manage divorce better..honestly I don’t think so..well not least without restriction of personal freedom, the right to choose, classes for preparation starting in elementary school or middle school at minimal, and possible marriage police/enforcement agency… Because with the current lack of importance for commitment in our society, the encouragement of impulse behaviors..i don’t see this really changing much .

    • rachel bar says:

      I so resonate with what you are saying. With the first part, mostly because of my experience working with parents whose children were taken away from them, and seeing how they have no clue… As to the other part, I often find myself responding to people who ask why I am cordial and inclusive to my ex. Most of my friends do not want to associate with their ex’s, and I believe that it is about not wanting to face who they are. It is so comfortable to have a scapegoat for our “shadow”.

      • So true..had that talk with a parent today of why it is important to face the “shadow” and not let that be the reason her son does not have a relationship with his father. She have remarried and the step father is involved which is good..but from my experiences..All the children want to know who their biological parents are whether they were “good” parents or not

  3. Dalia Kenig says:

    Changing my status not so lately from a homeowner to a renter made me rethink the whole concept of ownership altogether. Whatever we pay mortgage or rent the place we live in, the most ownership we can claim on a house is for the time that we use it, until we sell it or lose it for a natural or not so natural causes.
    The more likely ownership we have as so eloquently described in your blog is ownership of the right to fix problems and remodel from our own small or large pockets.
    My psychological mind tells me that we human equate home ownership with security and roots and sometimes we pay less attention to the dollar amount bottom line of “owning”
    Now it is time to retire to bed in my cozy rented house for some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

  4. Dalia Kenig says:

    sorry.. posted it in the wrong place….

  5. B. Podob says:

    Not that easy Rachel – everyone’s divorce situation is entirely different. I’ve made a career out of taking the high road, yet I have a son who hasn’t taked to me in six years and an ex-wife who, well, who . . . Not that easy to be inclusive.

    • rachel bar says:


  6. Martha Carr says:

    My parents separated when I was 14 and divorced when I was 16. My sister was 5 and my brother 18 when the end came. I have to say, they attempted to make it as easy on us kids as possible and despite some rocky years initially, they always included the other in holiday celebrations and later their respective new spouses. It seemed they genuinely enjoyed one another (but I could see how they couldn’t be married anymore). Even the new spouses were friendly to one another. Others often expressed surprise at the inclusiveness of our family and it never occurred to me that it was different for most. It has made it sooooo much easier for all of us and I feel blessed that they were so sensitive about it and put their own egos aside. After my father died and my step-mother needed to be put in a nursing home, it was my sister and I who have swept in and taken care of all her stuff and visit her in the nursing home almost as though she is our own mother. She loved us and we loved her and I am sure this is because of the inclusive experience that was created. Except for her son (who has Aspergers and is loving but can’t really make decisions for her), we are now all she has.

    • rachel bar says:

      This is inspiring and uplifting Martha. I know how much work and dedication you give your step-mother, and it is only by the example of your parents that you and your sister could expand your heart and love.

  7. “But, for most of us, we divorced because we simply couldn’t get along.” Some of us didn’t know that that was the case and so after the separation ‘we’ are not in the same category. We are the ‘divorcer’ (the one who thought we couldn’t get along) and the ‘divorcee’ (the dumped one). Sure the divorcer wants to be friends, to run the story that the parting was mutual, to run the story we are both better off, to want to have EVERYTHING in their life exactly the same as it was – oh, except to share in their life with you. The divorcee, on the other hand, has to face a life where NOTHING is the same, has to face the aftermath of the hurricane which left only rubble to sift through, has to try and rebuild – alone. Yes, there is pain at holiday times. Yes, there is pain for the children – even adult children. Yes, there is pain every day. However, it is not from the “painful subject of choice” – but rather the lack of it.

    • rachel bar says:

      I think that there’s too much pain after a separation and divorce it it was not mutually agreed upon. I was really referring to a time when the wounds are healed and each one is in a place where a new life had been created already. When you are in the throes of the original pain after a break up, you would probably not be interested in having small talk by the dinner table with an ex.

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