As a young kid, it was easy to envy that one person in your class that got two of everything- two Christmas’, two Thanksgivings, two Birthdays… you get the point. All of us wondered how great it must be to have two of our favourite holidays. You imagined having two birthday cakes and think: I’d never have to decide between chocolate and vanilla- I could have both!
Flash forward into adulthood, and it’s not the same feeling.
Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two biggest family gatherings of the year, are now the most stressful times of the year for many children of fractured and divorced families. You face such a fascinating dissonance between the media and retailers sharing all their “family oriented” marketing campaigns while you are left caught in the middle. All your life you were conditioned by corporations to believe that these beautiful picturesque holidays are essential to a healthy family environment, all the while feeling conflicted that you experience the exact opposite.
It’s almost impossible to put into words how fractured and divided you feel inside yourself because of the immense pressure to try and celebrate with each family equally.
Too Many Questions
- How do I replicate that picturesque happy feeling the same way for both sides?
- How do I eat two to three large meals one after the other without looking like a bad guest?
- How do I shuttle from one end of the city to the other with enough time for both sides?
- How do I fit my in-laws into this picture too?
- How do I avoid criticism from each family that I’m always rushing to the next place and I didn’t spend enough time?
Finally, the biggest question of all:
Why the f*ck does this have to be so hard?
Since everything has to occur twice or thrice, this also means that expenses need to occur twice or thrice as well. Three times the amount of money in fuel costs, three times the amount of money in gifts, and three hundred times the amount of stress of trying to make everyone feel just as special, if not slightly more special so they can feel like they’ve got one up on the other family.
Every meal is planned strategically so that you can eat just enough to look like a good guest, but not too much that the next two above average sized meals can still happen without discomfort.
Every gift is less special because you have to push your already tight budget three times further.
And last but not least: Every dinner is on the same day at 6:00 PM, which means you always have to choose who gets “prime holiday time” on the proper day. You have to keep track of who gets what every year and rotate cyclically so that everything is fair. My partner and I have to write it down to keep track of which family get’s Christmas Day Dinner at “Prime Time” each year. We sit down a few days before Christmas and sometimes physically write out a schedule so that we can fulfill every family obligation between his maritally intact family and my divorced ones. His family shouldn’t have to suffer from the hyper scheduling because of mine, and that’s a big piece of the puzzle too.
The guilt is unrivalled to many things related to family. You think about the fact that this guilt is a first world problem.
Stop being an ungrateful snowflake- some people are starving.
You convince yourself to be happy about your mess of a situation because some people don’t have one family let alone three to celebrate with.
Stop being selfish, some people don’t have a family.
You rationalize the unrealistic expectations because you are trying so hard to keep things happy for each family to avoid disappointing anyone.
If I don’t do this it’ll cause a huge fight.
It’s exhausting, and then you feel guilty for not being in your best form because you’re strung out between two-three different places.
Why aren’t there more hours in a day?
I personally feel guilty about leaving my Mom, because after she divorced my Dad my brother and I are the only family she has in the country. I want to spend every waking minute making sure she is not alone, but I’m constantly pulled away from her. She doesn’t have a backup plan or another contingency. If I’m not there with her, she’s by herself. Nobody wants any member of their family to be alone- especially not during a holiday that celebrates being together.
Why am I putting myself out there only to be told by every family I have to visit:
You’re leaving already- but you just got here!
You hardly ate anything- do you not like it?
You’re running late? But dinner is in 10 minutes.
Why don’t you stay longer? We hardly see you!
It’s so conflicting to feel angry about visiting family, because you should want to visit your family. It’s just such a frustrating circumstance that you can’t help but feel angry. It seems like everyone just sits at the their house waiting for their kids to arrive while you shuffle around from place to place trying to keep everyone feeling the right amount of special.
It’s hard to be told that you’re being selfish by the people selfishly expecting all your time and attention go to them.
You hate having to set alarms on your phone that tell you that unless you leave in the next ten minutes you’ll be late for the next family’s turkey spread. You want to spend time with everyone equally, but because your parents got divorced, you don’t have that convenience. You have been robbed of the ability to feel anything less than a terrible child for having to divide yourself so ruthlessly in order to keep all families feeling like they’re the priority. It’s a terrible feeling that makes you feel terribly angry and guilty not just at yourself for not being able to handle it better, but at the situation for having to require this stress in the first place.
You wish you could clone yourself multiple times so that you can give every family the time they deserve.
You Are Not Alone
If you are a child of a fractured or divorced family and feel any of the above, please know that you are not alone. As divorce rates skyrocket throughout the first world, this issue and these feelings are becoming more and more common. It’s hard to talk about how you feel in these situations because you don’t want to be selfish, but in a situation where you feel like everyone around you is pulling you every which way, it’s okay to have this discussion with yourself and acknowledge these feelings. In fact, if you’re able to, it’s ideal to have this discussion with your families too.
We know you want to spend as much time with us as possible, but please understand this:
- We don’t want to have to turn down an extra helping of the meal you prepared for us.
- We don’t want to have to set timers on our phones and be the ones to leave abruptly before the event is over.
- We don’t want to seem like bad guests that only bring a small dessert or a cheap gift.
- We don’t want to have to choose between our family members and we don’t want you to feel any less special.
- We do all this running around because we love you all equally and want you to feel like we’re trying to make time fairly for everyone.
With our scheduling and stress and running from place to place we are just trying to keep it together, and often times we are so run ragged that we lose our ability to enjoy our holiday.
We also don’t want to be put under this constant pressure. If each family gets four hours of time in order for us to see everyone, please don’t pressure us to stay longer. Don’t tell us that we shouldn’t go to the other side to celebrate with them too. Don’t make us feel guilty for having to deal with a situation that we have no control over. Don’t tell us that our in-laws aren’t our “real” family, because they matter too.
We’re not together anymore as a family and that’s okay. We’ve accepted that.
Just know that we are trying our best.