I am married to a wonderful guy and since we were both married before, we have a big, weird family. I have three kids (11, 14 and 17) and he has 2 (22 and 24). My husband and I have been married for 7 years so you would think we’d have figured this out by now, but the holidays are really tough on us. His kids totally favor their mom (she’s single but has a new boyfriend) when it comes down to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas and my ex-husband’s wife is really pushy when it comes to demanding time with my kids, so it makes it very hard to get everyone together at once.
I want us all to be happy and have a big celebration, but every year it’s a disaster and I end up hurt and upset, which makes for difficult times in my marriage. I’m afraid I’m developing a bah-humbug approach to this time of year.
What can I do to ensure everyone can get together at the same time and have fun?
Sad in Seattle
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I actually whooped and cheered when I got your email last night. I am not pleased that you are suffering, but I am happy that I am not the only one.
I’m going to break my usual habit of mincing words and tippy-toeing around a difficult subject and put this bluntly:
I HATE CHRISTMAS. And Thanksgiving can go fuck itself too.
Let’s talk about me first, because I am a self-centered awful person. After I dump my crap on you, I’ll solve your little problem. Don’t try skipping to the end first because I will know if you do that and it will make me sad. Sadder than I already am, of course, because of the date on the calendar.
The holidays have always brought me intense depression and anxiety. I honestly cannot remember one Christmas in my life that was happy – not one. I know I’m supposed to grow up and get over it so I can enjoy the holidays with my son (and not pass along this crap to him, as his dad is always reminding me) but try as I might, I can’t do it. Why, you ask? I hope you are asking why – if not you’re kind of a jerk.
Since I know my parents make up 2/3 of my readership, I struggled very hard for 30 seconds this morning regarding whether I should answer your email in my blog. I decided to go ahead because I don’t believe anyone will give a damn about what I am doing unless I am honest and real about my own life experiences, since this is really all about me and the way by which I can garner sympathy and page views at the same time.
“Wah wah wah” some of you are thinking, “her parents got divorced. Big deal.” The reason it actually is a big deal is because they did it poorly and they did it more than once.
My parents’ (hereinafter “The Originals”) divorce was ugly: we are talking WW III nuclear shit ugly. I’d say it was the worst divorce in the history of time, but then that divorce (hereinafter “Divorce 1”) was topped by the next one: my dad’s divorce from his second wife (hereinafter: “Divorce 2”).
You want to know how ugly Divorce 2 was? Let me paint a picture for you, or rather, grab one off the internet. Here is a photo of my stepmother’s attorney:
You may find this difficult to believe, but she is actually meaner than she looks. Divorce 2 was nasty, expensive and lasted about 2 years, if I recall correctly. I may be remembering wrong, but since I was in college at the time it’s a miracle I remember anything about it. I was kind of drunk in college; not at all the sober, reflective and serious person I am today.
Since I was really young when The Originals divorced, I have no memory of an Original family holiday. What I do remember is years of being shuffled around from place to place, never having enough time and constantly feeling guilty and sad. There were always fights between The Originals leading up to the holidays and my brother, sister and I would be privy to them. I learned at a very tender age that Thanksgiving and Christmas did not mean to us what it meant to others.
After Divorce 2, things became worse – much worse. The two sides of our previously blended family were now on the rocks, and everyone was sad, hurt and angry. Things got a little better when Dad married his 3rd wife…but you know where this is going, right?
By the way, in true Portland fashion my dad’s 3rd wife is now married to the father of one of my best friends. This town is so incestuous – we put the royal family to shame.
Anyhooters, I hate the holidays. My favorite day of the year is December 26th, or as the Canadians call it, “Boxing Day.” I like the name “Boxing Day” because I picture myself taking all the angst and worry that begins in mid-November and putting in a little hateful box to be opened the following year.
I’ve tried to get into Christmas ever since my son was born because I love the shit out of him and I don’t want him to suffer because of my “issues,” which are legion. Unfortunately, I’m faking it and he’s a pretty sharp kid. Takes after me, obviously.
Similar to your situation, I too have step children and an ex-husband with a wife to contend with. Luckily for me, my divorce (hereinafter “The Only Fucking Divorce I will Ever Have”) was more of a rearrangement of a family than a termination. My baby daddy and I try to do things together every year and that makes it a little less difficult. It helps that we all really like each other. At least I think they like me…
I’m coming around to a point: please be patient.
I asked you in a follow-up email if you and your husband have a good relationship with your ex-spouses. Unfortunately you don’t, so trying to organize a get-together with everyone in AskDesCamp Style is not going to happen. From what you told me, I’m fairly certain a fight would break out, and there’s nothing that improves your approach to the holidays more than fisticuffs between family members and spilled drinks. Especially spilled drinks.
Here’s my advice, Sad:
1. You and your ex-husband need to meet and come to some agreement about how you are going to share the holidays with your kids while they are still minors. In a few years they will be able to make their own decisions, much as your current husband’s kids are doing. But for now, get your shit together and get this settled between you and your children’s dad, or you will end up with kids who hate the holidays almost as much as I do. I say almost, because I win in this department, hands down, against any other Ebeneezers out there.
2. Regarding your step-kids: stop trying so hard. Seriously. I’ve been where you are and it’s not going to work if you keep trying to push a square peg in a round hole. Maybe they spend more time with their mom because she’s single. Maybe they don’t like you. Maybe they don’t like their dad very much right now. Worst of all: maybe they don’t like your cooking. I’m a firm believer in luring people who don’t want to be there to your home through excellent food and wine, so you may want to take a cooking course or two.
In other words, you need to back the fuck off. You are about my age, so I am guessing you are a victim of the Brady Bunch Syndrome. The Brady Bunch Syndrome afflicts many adults who grew up watching the show and who later have blended families. We want so much to create a new family from the ruins of the old – something wonderful and unique that will dull the pain of divorce and make us feel less guilty about the effect divorce has on our kids.
Guess what? What you want may not be possible. It may not even be probable. You need to accept that and know that at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t let it get to you. The holidays don’t need to be infused with drama and pain if you stop loading this time of year with excess importance.
What really matters is how the other 11 months of the year are going. You told me that you all get along and have a good time with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So pick another stupid meaningless holiday and have your Perfect Family Moment then. How about Arbor Day? Or am I BARKING up the wrong TREE?
Stop planning and pushing and trying to make everyone get along. Wait for them to come to you and sooner or later, they probably will. Unless, as I mentioned earlier, you are a bad cook. That’s unforgivable.