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Are you absolutely dreading facing your extended family members this Thanksgiving because of your contentious divorce? Coping with the disruption and trauma of divorce is always difficult, but it can be particularly hard to handle when relatives (well-meaning or not) insert themselves into your situation in an unwelcome way.

For your own sanity and your children's peace of mind, you need to establish a few boundary rules with your family members -- before Thanksgiving arrives. Here are the things everybody needs to keep in mind:

No negative comments about the now-absent spouse

You don't really need to be thinking about your spouse, your divorce, your property settlement or custody case during the holiday dinner, so ask everyone to just avoid the topic entirely. In particular, let your parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins know that no negative comments about your ex will be allowed. That helps you keep your mind on the positive aspects of the holiday.

It also prevents the kids from hearing unpleasant things being said about their absent parent over the dinner table. Kids often feel especially anxious when they feel that they're being asked to criticize a parent or "take a side," so keep that situation at bay.

No negative comments about your ex's extended relatives

Has your mother always vaguely disliked your mother-in-law? Did your father-in-law and brother usually differ greatly in their world view? Well, now isn't the time to discuss it. Tell your family that you need them to all remember that your children love everybody -- on both sides of the family tree. They don't want to hear anything bad about their grandparents or aunts and uncles in the other half of their family.

If someone slips up, it doesn't have to be a disaster. Just gently steer the topic back to something acceptable or steer the kids out of the room (whichever seems easier).

No matter how contentious your divorce may be, let yourself take a break from thinking about it during the holiday weekend.


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