I’m a big fan of advice columnist Amy Dickinson. She gives wise counsel to the people who write to her and it’s often based on her own experience. In this letter a woman complains about how her son and future daughter-in-law should divide up the holidays. Amy shows tremendous empathy for the future daughter-in-law whose parents are divorced. As I read the letter, I couldn’t help but wonder: if this mother-in-law is already competing for time with the couple, imagine what she’s going to be like when she becomes a grandma!
How do you handle getting your fair share of the holidays?
Dear Amy: Our son and his girlfriend are approaching engagement. They live in the same city we live in.
The subject came up as to allocating holidays between their respective families. My husband and I are still together after 35 years. Her parents are divorced. Her mother lives within driving distance of us, and her father lives on the opposite coast.
We have always felt that the holidays should be allocated 50-50; every other year to his parents and half to her parents … and that she and they would need to decide how to allocate her half.
Unfortunately, she sees it differently.
We don’t want this to cause any sort of a rift between us and her, or our future in-laws, but we don’t exactly know how to handle it without just giving in. Giving in would leave us feeling as though we’re being punished for staying married (which at times we had to do the hard work to accomplish).
We love our son’s girlfriend and are very much in favor of their relationship.
Is there any kind of normal expectation in today’s divorce-rich society? We’d really like to know what is considered reasonable in this situation.
— Devoted and Caring Parents
Dear Devoted: Here is the holiday norm for adult children in our “divorce-rich” society: Exhaustion, frustration, and the very opposite of that “holiday spirit,” as they race back and forth between constituencies of parents, all of whom love them very much, but many of whom become like demanding toddlers fighting over a sticky candy cane on Christmas morning.
You wonder if “giving in” to this young person’s reality would mean that you are being punished for putting in the hard work of staying together. I wonder if you have a clue, or could even imagine, how this sentiment sounds to the child of divorced parents, or to divorced people themselves.
This young woman’s parents’ divorce is not her fault or responsibility, but she has needs, and she is going to have to fulfil them, regardless of what you think about it. So “giving in” (or not) should be off the table for you.
If her mother lives within driving distance, perhaps you could invite her to join you during “your” years — and you could start a new tradition with new family members. But then, of course, you would have to welcome a divorced woman into your home, and share these young people with her.
If you love this young person, the best gift you could give to her would be to let her do what she needs to do over the holidays, without comment or complaint, or even a pained look on your face.
Life does not evenly distribute its hardship and joys, and so you should stop keeping score.