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Parents Acting Like Children at Christmas

Dear Robin,

My parents divorced 3 years ago and both are once again driving me crazy regarding the holidays.  

I am married with one child and my husband and I are hosting Christmas dinner this year which is great, except both my parents have told me they want to come but only if I can promise not to invite the other.

I’m sick of being put in the middle but I also hate the idea of one or both of them being lonely on a holiday.  I’d like some good advice on how to deal with them this holiday season and for all the future ones as well.  I’m sure things like this get easier over time, but how do I solve my holiday dilemma now?

Used to Love the Holidays

(Darling Readers, if this looks familiar it’s because you have a keen memory. I am re-running it with some edits today for two reasons: 1) The subject is pertinent especially now, and 2) I am sick as hell AND I fucked up my back so I can hardly move, much less think and type.  Please send sympathetic thoughts my way.)

Dear ULH, 

My condolences for the divorce of your parents, because they seem like equally terrible people who deserve one another.

Sigh. I’m trying to be more empathetic so let me try that again:

My condolences for the state of your parents’ post-dissolution relationship and your position within their ongoing battle.  

These two adults are acting like spoiled children who could use a long time-out.  Using you to wage their petty war against each other on the day we celebrate Christ and how much he loved material goods, Santa Clause, and alcoholic unpopular reindeer is reprehensible.

I Can Empathize, Because It’s All About Me!

When it comes to empathy, I’ve got plenty for you.  

As a COD (child of divorce), a mom who shares equal custody with dad, and the stepmom of three kids, I can tell you that the holiday season can be a very difficult time of the year, and I don’t even have a lousy group of crybabies and assholes giving me ultimatums as you do.

What I do have are several family factions to juggle and it always seems that someone (including me) feels left out, hurt, ignored, and forgotten.  How can we get through the joyous season of gluttony and irresponsible spending as unscathed as possible?

My approach has varied over the years but I’ve come to believe that while you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, you can absolutely make all of the people unhappy all of the time.

Pissing people off during the holidays is a major talent of mine and though I think I’ve finally figured it out (xanax), I have no guarantees that this Christmas won’t end in blood, tears, and a Christmas tree on the roof as it has in the past.

Don’t ask.

However, you came to me for advice and advice you shall receive.

Robin Writes a Script to Save You Time

Because I love to literally dictate to people what they should do in life, I’ve come up with a script for a communication you should send to your parents.  

Copy and paste what I’ve written below into an email with the subject line “Please Stop Hurting Each Other, and in Turn, Me.”

“Dear Mom and Dad:

“You’ve been divorced for 3 years and it is time to move on from all the strife and unhappiness you caused each other when you ended your marriage.  Your refusal to attend family holiday events unless the other person is not invited is selfish and poor etiquette besides.

“Consider this email a ‘cease and desist’ order.  Your behavior is extremely distressing to me and counterproductive to what I hope are your shared goals of moving past the past and into a happy future.

“I love you both.  You know that.  

“But beginning this year and continuing until one of you is in the ground (I predict a death from Chronic Spite if you don’t move past this nonsense soon) I will invite you both to holiday events and you are each welcome to bring a companion.  I will not tell either of you who is or is not attending, as that is my God-given right as a fabulous hostess.  

“I hope you can each find it in your hearts to forgive each other, remember why you married in the first place, and dig up a little goodwill from those memories to ensure we can all survive the holidays intact.  Who knows?  You may just find you can enjoy each other’s company again without the pressure of a miserable marriage hanging over you.

“I know you love me but I also know neither of you have the slightest inkling how hurtful this situation is for me and my family.  I urge you to get together and have a talk about how you can be civil in each other’s company from now on, or you will find yourselves sitting by yourself, without your daughter and grandchildren, as Christmas memories are made without you.

“Love, Your Daughter Who Used to Love the Holidays”


What Could Happen?

I see three possibilities here:

1. Everyone Agrees to Get Along!

If you are lucky, both will respond positively and you can start building new traditions with your reorganized family. Mazel tov! You are now cleared for holiday takeoff.  Please stow your emotional baggage underneath the seat in front of you, because from now on it will be just that tiny!

2. One Parent Says Yes, the Other Says No

If your luck falls more on the average side, one will agree and the other will demur and issue a list of reasons why the other parent sucks and they wouldn’t cross the street to urinate on them in the event of an unfortunate spontaneous combustion incident.  If this is the case, cross that one off your invite list unless and until they grow up and get over their precious pain.

This type of bitter intractability is especially troubling when the other person is extending an olive branch and saying “hey, can’t we all just get along?”  The stubborn parent refusing the rapprochement cares more about nursing their grudges with a Florence Nightingale-like fervor than their own child’s peace of mind.

The intransigent parent no longer deserves an invitation until he or she can drop a few pounds of resentment and self-centeredness and join everyone else in the present, instead of happily being unhappy marinating in the past and their lengthy list of life’s disappointments.

3. Both are Unrepentant Assholes Stuck in the Past and Refuse Your Request

If you are unlucky, will both respond in a negative manner and have similar reservations towards extinguishing their ex-spouse’s spontaneous bodily conflagration discussed above.  

In this case (and you do have my sympathies), find yourself a nice older couple to stand in for your parents each year.  I think you can find them on craigslist, but please get references before you let New Grandpa hold the baby.

All joking aside, and that is really tough for me, if both refuse to come to the table then both should lose their place at the table.  

Finally, consider going out of town once in a while during the holidays. You may as well be depressed somewhere sunny.

I wish you all the best and if your parents aren’t coming for Christmas, please invite me.  I’m quite charming, I promise not to drop the baby, and I’ll bring the pie.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Keith Stone


    I see this type of thing playing out in my future…if parental alienation and apathy hasn’t conquered all… -I like your advice.

    Another option is to have separate events. Yes two Christmas dinners/etc…

    Forgiveness can sometimes just be out of reach because the emotional wounds are so deep…


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