Holiday Hell: Help!

Dear Robin:

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

Dear Sad:
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.

I am a Child of Divorce.

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?

Divorce 3.


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?

Hahahahahahaha: I slay myself.

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.


This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Debbie

    Easier said than done Robin. There is so much pressure this time of year. It’s also very hard to be rejected and unacknowledged. It creates intense problems which is why second and third marriages have such a high divorce rate. The pain is so bad at times it sometimes makes me regret (gulp) getting divorced. Sometimes I think that staying in a bad marriage was better than this sh*t. Thank you also for bringing up the Brady Bunch. We all compare ourselves to the wonderful blended family that Carol and Mike made. It is a totally unrealistic expectation. There is never any mention of ex’s, child support, alimony, or conflict of any sort. Kids call both parents mom and dad. My “step kids” can’t even muster up the effort to say hi or use my name even though I have done a lot for them in five years. Personally, I came from a a happy, intact, married/no divorce household. My parents were lucky. More accurately, my mother was a lot smarter than me in choosing men. My ex husband made himself a rule from day one that he wouldn’t date women with children. While I alway fancied myself smarter than my ex, in hindsight his decision was very smart. He doesn’t have to deal with any of the crap I have to deal with.

    My other problem i that I am a terrible cook, but living in Florida, I could always order in a great holiday meal from Publix. It’s not much more expensive than cooking on my own, and if no one sees the packages, it really does taste like a homemade meal. I will try your suggestion, but I do need to feel a little less rejected before I put in the effort, even the small effort to order in food.

  2. John DesCamp

    I can’t argue with anything you said. And I have to respond to that posting because otherwise you’ll think I was hurt or angry. Neither one; just disappointed that it wasn’t different, and not sure why, at the time, my formers and I had our heads so far up that we forgot to give priority to the innocent victims of our conflict. You and P have done a great job of putting your son first, and it shows. I guess it shows that we didn’t. So, go on and have a Happy Thanksgiving. You have much to be thankful for. Love you,

  3. John DesCamp

    By the way, you forgot to mention my blue ribbon excellence as a cook..,,,,,

    1. askdescamp

      Why do you think we hang out?

      1. Ali Whiting

        Seriously?! It’s a day. Get over it. Stepkids want to be with their mom and Dad is making you crazy he wants the kids? Big deal. Give them a kiss and send them on their way. Make reservations and enjoy yourself. Have your “Thanksgiving” with all of the kids next weekend. Frankly, if you’re a crappy cook, you should plan to do it the week before the holiday so there are no unfavorable comparisons made. Since you didn’t do that-set up a taco bar. You can’t really mess up taco meat.

        I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with my sons in 8 years. Occasionally we share dessert later in the evening. My kids are relieved that Mom doesn’t stress them out over Thanksgiving and where they are going to eat a piece of turkey. (Dad stresses them enough.) Be honest- you really don’t want to be the hostess of Thanksgiving dinner. What you want is everyone together for a relaxed, enjoyable meal with conversation & laughter. So aim for that result instead of focusing on what date it says on the calendar. Do it before, do it after- hit the reset button and start a new tradition for how & when your blended family celebrates Thanksgiving. (And – dessert!!- most likely your ex and his wife will be disappointed that you’re not fighting with them about it..)

        Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Nerd, Lamenting

    Sure am glad I wandered over from JSJ. I think I like it here ( and I don’t warm up easily). Bah humbug.

  5. Linda

    My advice, read John Grisham’s book Skipping Christmas!
    I personally love the holidays, Thanksgiving being my favorite. I have wonderful memories of both days. My daughter was born on Christmas Eve so I enjoy that day more than the actual holiday.
    My sister and her partner go through trying times with his three children during the holidays. My partner is going through it now with his soon to be 13 year old. But we KNOW where that child would choose to be if he had any choice in the matter.
    I think I got off the track here. I agree that a reset button needs to be implemented and start a new tradition!

  6. John Waldorf

    I hate Thanksgiving, but love the food. I love Christmas because we get the fuck out of Dodge…..

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  8. tracy

    I have embraced July 4th as my favorite holiday because it does not involve family, hurt feelings, me cooking complicated dishes or cleaning my house. We BBQ outside with friends then go watch the fireworks. It’s really the perfect holiday.
    Christmas and Thanksgiving mean juggling my divorced parents and a lot of other obligatory shit that I can do without. I too suffer from Christmas hatred and it comes from having divorced parents and years of trying to appease everyone.

    Our generation should really start a movement that allows us to just spend the holidays with friends and the just relatives we really like. That would be a nice Christmas. Can we just do that next year?

    1. echinachea

      Another reason to love the 4th of July above all other “holidays” is that there is a hell of a good chance, even in Oregon, that the weather will be warm and sunny and everyone can be outdoors, using paper plates!

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