How my parents' divorce ruined our holidays and family life forever

A writer discusses how her parents’ divorce still makes family life difficult thirty years later.

While I agree divorce is bad and hurtful, this woman needs therapy.

The things she talks about regarding expectations of what to call various members of the family, not hurting feelings on Christmas, etc. The not getting to visit her father, the requirement to call a step parent “dad”, not getting acknowledged by other family members-- that is all simply BAD PARENTING on her parents part.

Not feeling able to send a freaking picture calendar of her family because it had pictures of the biological parents’ spouse, that takes the cake-- that is all about HER not being able stand up and create boundaries. That is, frankly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

She has a lot of guilt and anxiety and has taken a load on her own shoulders that is not hers to bear. She needs some therapy to see that she is the one putting these crazy expectations on herself and assuming hurts and slights on the part of her family that may or may not be real. And if they are real-- then boundaries and expectations would be the next thing to set up. Her father didn’t walk her down the aisle, who’s fault is that? She could have said “I want my father to walk me down the aisle”.

I am a child of divorced and remarried parents (my father has had 4 wives, FYI) and an assortment of half and step and former step siblings that could make your head spin But no one ever behaved in the atrocious manner her parents behaved toward her. Again, I think this is less about the divorce, terrible though it is, and more about her cr*ppy parents.


The ‘nut’ of this person’s issue is found here:

I didn’t know that Christmas would still be shuffling back and forth between my parents’ homes hoping not to upset anyone.

This is not how a reasonably well adjusted adult behaves.

A reasonably well adjusted adult does what is best for her, her husband, and her children and tells her family of origin that if they don’t like it, that’s too bad for them.


Her parents divorce didn’t ruin the family’s holidays or their family life. It just made things different for her. And she obviously doesn’t like the change.

"I once thought the holidays would be easier when I had my own family. I didn’t know that grandparents would have expectations about when they got to see their grandkids. I didn’t know that Christmas would still be shuffling back and forth between my parents’ homes hoping not to upset anyone. I didn’t know that I’d have to explain to my children for many years why I have two sets of parents.

“When my children were small, I thought all of the grandparents would like a photo calendar of the children for Christmas. I put together the best pictures from the first three years of their lives. When I flipped through the pages, I realized couldn’t give it to my parents. One of the pictures had my mom and stepdad in it. Another one had my real dad. Everyone would be offended. I kept the calendars, and a day later I bought everyone generic gift cards and a box of chocolates.”

I have to agree with 1ke about therapy. I’d add, learn about boundaries, and get a backbone.

Our parents are all married to their original spouses, and we generally do the holidays at our house. We visit during the summertime when the weather is nicest there, we have the most time, and the kids will be able to go outside.

It’s not that hard.


Also, at some point as a parent, you need to figure out for yourself that it isn’t your job to make your parents happy.


My parent’s divorced nearly twenty years ago and it’s still a very stressful thing for me to deal with. It was a bad, acrimonious divorce, and the drama does not end. It’s a lifelong problem. Only one would show up for my wedding. They refused to be in the same room together fro my sisters. At my grandmother’s funeral they refused to speak or look at each and hid in other corners of the facility. It never ends.

They both get sort of mad at you for wanting to spend time with the one over the other. They both get sort of mad at you for doing stuff with the step parent. You are made to feel guilty for these things through passive aggressive actions and snippy little comments.

It never ends and holidays are the worst. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it ‘ruined’ my holidays and family life, but it certainly made things less joyful and more worrisome.

I’ve been through therapy and stuff and while I wouldn’t refrain from giving someone a calendar, I know for a fact that if I was in this situation I’d for sure have bad, stressful feelings about it. Because it never, ever ends. The snippy little comments don’t end. The passive aggressive statements don’t end.

It makes me sad then to read these comments and have someone who’s feelings are so similar to mine dismissed as “needing to grow a backbone”. I can’t grow a bone that makes my heart not sad when having to shuffle back and forth between parents who hate each other.


This is as I have said before in different ways: the children always pay the biggest price for their parents’ inability to keep a marriage. I have seen this dynamic replay itself too often. Which is why when I hear or read about a marriage in trouble, I pray for their children first.

One reason it is GREAT to be a Christian! Christmas is for us a season, not one day. We can see these relatives on this day and those on that day and the others a week and a half from now and someone else on Epiphany!

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How about both things are true:

a) her feelings are real and valid


b) she needs to carve out a safe, drama-free space for her nuclear family and her marriage to flourish.

And the more a) is true, the more b) is true–because the situation is terrible, she needs to protect her nuclear family from it.

We don’t have divorce to deal with among our children’s grandparents, but there’s an analogous situation. There is one judgy, perfectionistic, probably OCD grandpa in the family. When I was a young bride, I tried SO hard to be the perfect DIL, but nothing I ever did was good enough. He finally softened up 14 years later when we were expecting our third child, by which time I didn’t care. Anyway, our oldest child is very socially anxious, and this past year, she and I finally had a heart to heart about grandpa. Nobody had ever talked to her in detail about the fact that grandpa is never happy, so she had been taking it very much to heart that she didn’t measure up. Up until that conversation, it hadn’t occurred to me that grandpa’s perfectionism could be negatively affecting our kids and that they didn’t realize that there wasn’t any point in trying to live up to his expectations.

Bottom line, we as parents need to protect our kids from dysfunction, even when it comes from grandparents who would do anything for them–except control themselves.


I really sympathize with the author. My parents had a “friendly divorce” when I was five and I’ve felt all of this. Although, I can’t say that it let it actually “ruin” a holiday, as in the holiday was no longer enjoyable. Even though my parents got along very well, it was hard to spend Christmas without one or the other. It was even harder to feel like the “odd man out” when our extended families were having a celebration without us because it was the other parent’s weekend. My parent’s biggest mistake was trying to take us around to everyone on a holiday so that no one felt “left out”. Eventually they realized that method sucked and just decided that we would take turns and if our relatives truly loved us, they would find time to spend with us the other 364 days of the year. Hence, the annual Yuletide world tour ended and holidays became a lot more enjoyable. My husband was not so lucky. He often awkwardly spent Christmas at the home of a step-parent’s parents, watching his step-siblings open their mountain of gifts, while he knew his own cousins were all together celebrating somewhere else.
I am fortunate that my parents get along. For our own kids, we frequently solve the “holiday problem” by simply having the celebration at our home and inviting both my parents and step-parents. In that sense, we’re finally able to have the “family holiday” that we didn’t get when I was a kid. My poor husband’s parents live in two separate states, neither one being where we live, so we have to make special trips to see either of them anyway.
I really don’t think this author’s holidays and family life needs to be “ruined forever”. She needs to start her own tradition and realize that the whole celebration doesn’t need to be on a specific day.


That’s true for protecting the children, but it still stung to read that the only real reaction in this thread was to criticize the author’s response and handling of this situation. No disrespect to your situation with your grandfather, but your parent’s divorce is a much bigger problem in your life than that. It pushed me into some bad decisions when I younger regarding relationships, and even now that I have been in loving marriage with the same man for over tens year I still have residual fear that one of these days he’s just going to end it.

Like I said in my previous post, this is a problem that just never, ever ends. I pray that all readers of this thread have great compassion to the children of divorce, both young and adult with children of their own, and that they have understanding of why they may make the choices and have the responses that they do.

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As a matter of fact, one of the perfectionist grandpa’s kids engaged in extremely self-destructive behaviors. She knew that she could never live up to his standards, so she just gave up. Not going into the details right now (double life, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, abusive relationships, etc.), but whatever bad decisions you’ve made, I’m pretty willing to bet that hers were far worse–in fact, they nearly killed her on multiple occasions and she’s got brain damage from one of her abusive relationships.

Likewise, my parents have been married nearly five decades, but they had huge screaming arguments regularly throughout my childhood and my mom was physically abusive to me and my sister. (She’d literally break kitchen implements on us into our mid-teens and chase us around with a horse whip.) That was a long time ago, but you better believe that that left a lasting mark. (My mom herself grew up in an extremely abusive intact household, so it’s pretty easy to see where she got some of her parenting methods.) Although I’ve been married almost 20 years, it took 16+ years of marriage for me to unlearn some of the terrible things I’d learned from my parents, like their methods of arguing. As a kid, I literally never heard a serious disagreement between my parents that didn’t involve screaming and disrespect, which as you can imagine, is quite the hurdle to overcome once you have a marriage of your own.

And yet I’ve stopped hitting my kids and have learned to be much more respectful and constructive when disagreeing with my husband and with the kids. In fact, I even have a pretty cordial relationship with my mom, believe it or not.

When you’re a parent, you have to protect your kids–that is literally job #1. If this woman’s parents cause her pain and make it hard to parent (and that is strongly suggested by the title “How My Parents’ Divorce Ruined Our Holidays And Family Life Forever”), she needs to do whatever she has to protect her children from that legacy.

And yes, that is the compassionate thing to say. It’s better for the kids, it’s better for her, it’s better for her husband, and it’s even probably better for the divorced parents if she gets better boundaries with them.

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