Although one domestic law attorney in St. Louis gets opportunities to focus on families practically 365 days a year, Page Law founding partner Tonya Page particularly enjoys concentrating on the essence of families during Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It’s a time to reflect on what you’re thankful for and what you have throughout the year,” she says. “Although Thanksgiving typically centers on immediate family, it’s also about others who you’re thankful for, and a time for giving back.”
As a lawyer by day, Tonya handles every aspect of families: adoptions, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, annulments, protection orders, divorces, mediations, child support, paternity action and grandparents’ rights. She often witnesses the heart-rending elements of family life but believes that Thanksgiving can be an upbeat time of year that helps restore everyone’s souls.
Tonya’s favorite Thanksgiving memories from her youth are of celebrating with extended family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, along with any of their friends.
“I have eight first cousins on my mom’s side, and we were very close. So, many of my memories are of having a big Thanksgiving meal, followed by playing for hours with my cousins. Our Thanksgiving celebrations would often last all day into the evening,” she recalls.
Another memory that stands out in Tonya’s mind from her childhood Thanksgiving celebrations is that everyone was welcome.
“There were always friends of mine or of my cousins who came to our family celebration, either because their families lived out of state and they weren’t able to travel home that year, or just because they liked to hang out with our family,” she says.
Tonya says if her mom or aunts thought there was someone who didn’t have somewhere to go on Thanksgiving, they would always invite them to her family’s gathering, even if it was someone they didn’t know that well.
She says they also took plates of food to people who weren’t able to come for some reason if they believed they were alone on Thanksgiving.
“I remember thinking it was nice of them to include others, but it wasn’t until I got older that I truly understood how much their thoughtfulness and generosity meant to others,” she says.
Tonya continues those traditions at her own Thanksgiving celebrations.
“So many of my friends and acquaintances have shared with me that they appreciated always being welcomed and included in our family celebrations, and that means a lot to me.”
She’s appreciated everyone being good sports through the years, especially during the first year she hosted Thanksgiving at her house.
“I woke up at 3 a.m. to put the turkey in the oven and set my alarm to check on the turkey at 6 a.m. Even though that time was supposed to be halfway through the recommended cooking time for such a big turkey, when I opened the oven, my turkey was already way overdone—think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation turkey!” she says. “Although it was so overcooked it had split open, it didn’t taste too bad, at least not covered in gravy. Luckily for my family, we also had a spiral ham as a backup.”
Her favorite current Thanksgiving tradition is gathering everyone at her house.
“My motto is 'the more the merrier!' I typically cook the turkey, and the rest of the meal I have catered, while our family and friends also bring sides or desserts,” says Tonya, who admits she’s not the greatest cook and handling the meal this way makes the day less stressful.
She says she also enjoys going Black Friday shopping.
“Crazy, I know! This is an annual tradition I do with one of my best friends after our Thanksgiving celebrations with our families are over.”
A Thanksgiving custom at her law firm, which she shares with her husband, John, is that early in the week, they have a potluck lunch for which everyone brings their favorite dish to share before playing games.
“Every year, we give the staff off on Thanksgiving Day and close the office the day after Thanksgiving as well so everyone can enjoy a long holiday weekend with their family and friends,” she says.
Tips for Those Who Face Holidays without their Children
Thanksgiving is a holiday all about togetherness. When families aren’t able to be together post-divorce, emotional wounds can reopen quickly and remain raw. Images come to mind about trying to ease the stress of a Norman Rockwell-model holiday when the portrait of the family is incomplete.
Tonya provides guidance and tips to parents who face Thanksgiving without their children, due to most custody plans having provisions for either sharing holidays or alternating holidays.
“I try to encourage clients not to focus on the actual date of the holiday but the celebration of the holiday when they have their children around the holiday. For example, although Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, if the client won’t have the children on Thanksgiving Day, I encourage them to plan a Thanksgiving celebration the weekend before or after Thanksgiving,” she says.
Tonya encourages her clients to create new holiday traditions, such as going to a movie, joining a friend or extended family member at their celebrations, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter.
Psychologists recommend using technology to say a quick hello to missing family members and friends on Turkey Day but not to dwell on social media. Then attention can be turned toward what self-care steps support individuality, such as curling up with that book that still needs to be read, binge-watching a TV series or cleaning out overstuffed closets. Sometimes, Thanksgiving is a great day to take an uninterrupted nap!
Gratitude for Families
“To me, family is everything. I absolutely love my career and get satisfaction from helping people during the difficult times in their lives,” says Tonya, who wanted to be an attorney for as long as she can remember.
However, the moments she says she looks forward to the most are spending time with her husband and kids.
“Sometimes what I do can be stressful, and there’s nothing better than when I pick up the kids from school or walk through the door at home, and they run up to me and give me the biggest hug!” she says.
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