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The Post-Divorce Change in My Family that Took Me by Surprise

Divorce means the end to some relationships of course, but fortunately it doesn't necessarily mean your family will get smaller.

My biggest sadness about getting divorced from my husband of 29 years is the knowledge that he and I and our two sons will never again enjoy the easy companionship of being a family unit. For so many years, it was the four of us–traveling far and wide, huddled together watching a movie or playing a card game. Now, if and when the four of us are ever in the same room again, a layer of tension will fall over the gathering, no matter how hard we try to remain cordial.

This loss is guaranteed to get me weepy, and I feel it most acutely at the holidays–the way this season tends to heighten most any emotion. Even though the boys are grown and launched and I know that even if I weren’t divorced I might not see them over Thanksgiving or Christmas, I still feel a gap in my heart to not have them near me during the festivities.

After my 2021 divorce, I had the sense that as much as I love the concept of family, mine–the immediate version–seemed to be getting smaller. But this year over Thanksgiving weekend, I discovered something different.

Read More: The 11th Stage of Letting Go: When Kids Don’t Come Home for the Holidays

New Family #1

On Thanksgiving this year I was in Connecticut with Mike, who I’ve been dating for 18 months. His tradition is to celebrate Turkey Day at his brother’s house, a celebration that includes his brother’s children and his sister-in-law’s extensive family. The bonus was that Mike’s son and daughter–ages 30 and 26–were going to drive from their hometown four hours away to join in this year. I liked all the people who would be at the dinner, but, in my mind, it felt like a consolation prize to being with my boys for the holiday.

I had only met his daughter once and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for her kind welcome.

When I walked in the house, Mike’s daughter turned from her task of putting out appetizers and said, “Oh there you are.” Smiling, she walked over to me and wrapped me up in a big hug. So did his son. I immediately felt a rush of warmth run through my body. I had only met his daughter once and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for her kind welcome. I don’t have experience with daughters and with not much to go on, I was worried that she might have a knee-jerk dislike for me out of loyalty to her mother (though Mike and his wife have been divorced for almost 15 years). Instead, she couldn’t have been more gracious.

The rest of Thanksgiving was crazily cheerful, and felt just as any Thanksgiving should, with lots of busyness, noise, and laughter. Mike’s sister-in-law’s family is gregarious and loving and it was easy to get swept up in the jolliness. I looked around the room and was a bit teary because I’d been lucky enough to be included in the day.

And though Mike and I aren’t married and who knows if we’ll ever be (though he is moving in with me!) I had the sense that I had gained two children. Not step-kids in any official way, but in my heart. I started thinking about the kind of fun I could have at some point with a young woman in a daughter role. Would we ever go shopping together? Have our nails done? Talk about boyfriends and work? I sighed with happiness.

New Family #2

On the day after Thanksgiving, I flew to Ft. Worth, where my oldest son lives. He has just moved in with his fiancee, and I relished the chance to spend the weekend with them and my youngest son, who came up from Austin.

In the middle of dinner, a sense of contentment settled over me.

So, I did get some quality son time, but more than that, I realized I was getting the gift of even more family. The four of us–Jeb, Gus, his fiancee and I–went out to a special dinner on Saturday night with the parents of Gus’s fiancee. I’ve met the two of them on several occasions and simply adore them.

In the middle of dinner, a sense of peace settled over me. I am gaining a wonderful daughter-in-law, for sure. (More chances for shopping, spa visits, and the like?) But her parents will be family too now.

How narrow-minded and pessimistic I had been to think my family was getting smaller. I see now that if you open your eyes and your heart, your family can only keep growing.

Read More: After Becoming a Widow, a (Fun, Funky) Tree of Her Own

By Jeannie Ralston


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