One of the toughest aspects of my post-divorce life has been holidays. Everything looks and feels different now and it is in these moments that I find myself longing for my family unit, but I've learned great lessons along the way. 

It's been nearly 3-years since my husband and I split. Every year as the holidays arrive, I feel the anxiety rising. I want nothing more than to create magical moments for my children and to witness the joy that comes with having young children during the season, but it's not that simple these days.

The first holiday I spent without my kids was Thanksgiving 2017. I remember being all alone in my house, sitting down on the floor and writing this.

The white picket fence is gone, but this Thanksgiving I’m more grateful than I have ever been.

I’ll admit I’ve fought for “picture perfect” my entire life. For a long time, I felt I had done all the “right” things. I went to college, attended church, married a great guy, had two beautiful children, a boy, and a girl, I saved my money, bought a home, I had my dream job, and we even had the perfect little dog.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be sitting here on this beautiful Thanksgiving Day alone. Today, to the outside world, my life probably looks a little less than “picture perfect.” Over the last year, I’ve been through a divorce. This is the first holiday that I haven’t had my children their entire lives. And so we begin the back and forth tossing of children that so many of you are used to. I’ve quickly learned this is a road that many have traveled.

The truth is, that white picket fence, picture-perfect life, never really existed. I’m not sure if it exists for anyone. If it does, its something you have decided to create in your mind out of the craziness that is your own life, but I don’t know if “perfect” really exists. Some of my problems early on in life were my unrealistic expectations, some of it was unexpected challenges that I didn’t know how to deal with. As great as my life looked in Christmas cards and on Facebook, I viewed it as not perfect at all. I was sad inside. I always wanted something more. A bigger house, a nicer car. I wanted to be prettier, more successful. Probably to much fault of my own I became miserable and very ungrateful.

There are many layers as to what led to my divorce, but as much as it kills me when I see the struggles and disappointment that the divorce places on my children I am grateful for it. My divorce has taught me to be grateful for things I was never grateful for before. It’s made my children more grateful and more resilient too.

I am grateful for the time I have with my children. They only sleep in my home about 4 days a month because of my work schedule, but those nights and those mornings that I wake up to their smiling faces I am grateful. I still get to pick them up from school every afternoon and for that, I am so grateful. I love them more than words could ever express.

I am grateful for an ex-husband who treats me with respect. I know there are moments when he wishes he could just punch me in the face, but aside from the fact that it would get him arrested, he doesn’t, and he bites his tongue because I know he respects me as the mother of our children. I am grateful for his kindness towards me all the time.

This past year I have also realized what “family” really is. I have an amazing family. I have parents who drive 9 hours or spend hundreds of dollars several times a year to visit us because they love me and my children. I talk to my mom nearly every day and I am so thankful I have a Mom that I can call. I have a sister who also puts forth so much effort to see me and support me and love me unconditionally. I don’t see my brother as much as I’d like. I haven’t been the best big sister, but I love his big  6′ 4″ hugs that never judge me and always cheer me on. I have wonderful grandparents, aunts, and cousins as well.

The most valuable lesson I have learned though when it comes to family is that family often comes in that not so picture-perfect frame.

Life is beautiful. I’m thankful for all of it. The highs. The lows. The blessings. The lessons. The setbacks. The comebacks. The love. The hate. Everything."

This year I am introducing my boyfriend to my family for the first time. It comes with a lot of nerves. I want them to accept him and love him as I do, but there is no telling how it will go.

I have my kids with me this year, but I worry that they will be missing their father or that they will shy away from having my boyfriend in a new environment. An environment that their father was in for 15 years. So wish me luck and good luck to you in whatever road you are on this holiday season. May your days be blessed and may we all remember that there is always something to be thankful for.