Holiday Family Dinner After Divorce: It Can Be Done

In Laurie David’s A Family Dinner, the founder of Blended Families of America, Jill Brooke, is quoted as saying “A family meal revives our sense of togetherness. Life is not over. It’s just different.”

What a powerful statement. To those of us who, despite our best efforts, couldn’t manage to create a lifelong partnership with our children’s other parent, we know what these words mean more deeply than we can describe. At least we want to. We want to believe that life isn’t over, just different.

At the beginning of the journey of separation and divorce, we’re groping blindly through each day, hoping to manage our children’s pain and sorrow while somehow licking our own wounds. It’s tough going. We discover places in ourselves that are overwhelmingly hurt, but as time goes on, we also–hopefully–find out that we aren’t actually broken. We get up each morning and find signs of life; an occasional smile, a long-forgotten lightness in our heart, a sense of hopefulness, for ourselves, and for our beloved kids.

We do our emotional work, we feel our pain, we grieve, we talk, we cry, we rage, we lean on friends, we hide under the covers, and slowly, slowly, we climb out of the hole. We begin to believe that despite being wounded, our children may survive, and we begin to find our way to forgiveness: for our former partner, and for ourselves.

Recovering from a divorce takes time, but more than that, it requires growing up in ways we hadn’t imagined. As tough as it was to live with my former husband as we tried everything we knew at the time to save our marriage, the effort I had to produce to co-parent with him after we separated was far greater.

But I did my best, because my son deserved my best, whatever that might be on any given day. And we made it. As much as I wish his dad and I could have given him an intact family, we couldn’t. But what we did do–and continue to do–is push past our respective comfort zones to give him two parents who love and respect our son, and one another.

Last Christmas, this is who was at my table: My then-boyfriend, my mother, my son, my son’s father, his girlfriend, her parents and daughter, and an assortment of close family friends. We had a blast. My son got his mom’s yummy stuffing and his dad’s famous mashed potatoes. It certainly wasn’t Norman Rockwell, but it was his parents rising above their old “stuff” and “issues” so they could be better versions of themselves, and give their son the sweetness of being with his mom and dad for a holiday celebration.

When Laurie David talks about having family dinners with her girls and her former husband, some people may think it’s strange, but in fact, she’s on to something enormously important in today’s world, where 50% of marriages don’t last. Kids didn’t sign up for divorce. They deserve the chance now and again to be with both their parents–on their best behavior.

As awkward or even impossible as it may appear to the uninitiated, and as counterintuitive as it might be to invite someone to share your table who has the potential to push your buttons so badly, it is possible–eventually–to stretch enough to give kids the chance to share a meal with their mom and their dad at the same table. No, it’s not for everyone. No, it may not happen right away. And no, it’s certainly not easy. But it is possible. It’s possible to discover that after divorce, life really isn’t over.

By Susan Stiffelman. AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon.