When Thanksgiving Is Hard :: Gratitude in a Difficult Season

Halloween has come and gone, and that means we’re moving right into what many consider to be the happiest (and often busiest) time of year — the holidays. Thanksgiving is just a week away, and soon the kids will be coming home with hand turkeys, pilgrim crafts, and adorable paragraphs about all the things they are grateful for this year.

It is a special time of year — one that is usually heartwarming and encouraging. But what happens when you and your family are in a difficult season or had a tough year?

There are so many reasons Thanksgiving can seem difficult:

Maybe you or your spouse lost a job, and the search for a new one seems endless.

Maybe you lost a pregnancy this year.

Maybe it’s another year of wishing you were pregnant.

Maybe someone in your family is sick, and the road ahead seems dark and uncertain.

Maybe you lost someone in your family this year, and you’re still struggling with how to move forward.

It can be easy (and completely understandable) to feel overwhelmed when life has been hard for your family. Giving thanks can feel difficult, paralyzing, or maybe even impossible.

There is no magic solution to making it through a difficult Thanksgiving or holiday season. Our family is facing such a season ourselves this year. But I will say that for us there is comfort in taking time to stop and recognize the blessings we do have — even when these can sometimes feel overshadowed by the sadness of the past few months.

Start small.

Start by taking it one day at a time. Each night at dinner you can have each family member share something they are grateful for — just from that day. Did someone wash your breakfast dish for you? Did someone share their snack with you today? Or did someone text you just to check in?

Focus on the ones who “showed up.”

If there can be a silver lining to challenges in life, perhaps it is the reminder of how many people in your life genuinely love you and will do anything they can to make your pain a little more manageable. Maybe it’s your mom circle who took turns watching your kids so you could handle the life things you needed to do; maybe it’s your co-workers who organized a meal train to make sure you didn’t have to worry about cooking; or maybe it was friends from far away who sent UberEats gift cards for the nights when cooking dinner just wasn’t in the cards. Though of course you wish you never had to learn how kind and loving these people are, focus on the kind acts that appeared in the midst of dark days.

Be gentle with yourself.

It’s hard to be in a season of gratitude when life has been overwhelming for your family.  It is especially hard when you’re the mom and you also have to take care of everyone in your family. Make sure to take time for yourself, too. If it means a movie afternoon for the kids, that’s OK. If it means dropping the kids off with a friend so you can grab a cup of coffee and wander around Target, that’s OK. If it means changing up your family tradition this year and doing something different, that’s OK. I lost my dad as a teenager, and I still remember that we spent our first Thanksgiving without him staying in a hotel where our main focus could be swimming in a pool in November. That was what we needed that year, and that was OK.

Do what works for you and your family this Thanksgiving season — worry about next year, next year. In the meantime, try to find those little moments of light in the darkness and be grateful for each one.

Katie grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania before heading to college in the Philadelphia area. She earned a degree in Accounting but after a very brief stint in public accounting, tossed her Judy’s Tenkey and joined a service program teaching 2nd grade in Washington, D.C. She fell in love with teaching and never looked back. She taught everything from 2nd grade to high school seniors during her 9-year teaching career. Katie met her husband during their early teaching days but it wasn’t until a few years later while they were catching up over a cup of coffee in Baltimore that they realized it was something more than friendship. The math teacher (Katie) and the Physicist (her husband) were engaged on the Most Epic Pi Day of Our Lifetime (3-14-15) and were married a year later. They moved to Boston in 2016 when her husband accepted a job in Longwood. Katie taught nearby in Mission Hill until May 2017 when she stepped out of the classroom to stay home with her favorite student yet: her now 2-year-old son. She works part-time at a Pregnancy Center near their home in Brighton. She loves coffee, baking gluten-free (out of necessity, not preference) treats that actually taste good, writing about food allergies, and running (when it’s actually warm in Boston)