Dear Margo: Between a Rock and a Hard Place on the Holidays

How do I tell my boss I can’t work every holiday? Margo Howard’s advice

Between a Rock and a Hard Place on the Holidays

Dear Margo: I need advice. I work in a chain restaurant as a cook making minimum wage. My manager recently told me I have to work three of the four holidays coming up (Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day). I offered to work Christmas Eve and New Year’s, but not the other two.

I am a single parent with three small children, and I feel it is unfair that I would have to work a low-paying job on days when I should be spending time with my family. My parents have also said they really don’t want to babysit when they are busy hosting our large extended family in their home. They are loving grandparents who enjoy my children; they just would like to enjoy their holiday without the added stress and responsibility of keeping three kids happy and entertained.

Do I have any right to tell my employer I can’t work on holidays? It’s not right that the higher-paid employees in the company get to enjoy the day off with their families. — Working for a Scrooge

Dear Work: First, I would try reasoning with your boss, asking if someone without children could take the other two holidays. I would also tell him that four holidays is excessive and that you think your consenting to two is generous. I don’t know whether there are “rights” in this matter, but if he rejects your arguments, you must decide, in this rotten economy, whether the job or the holiday is more important. Perhaps check around first to see whether there’s another position for you. I wish you luck. — Margo, empathically

When the Time Has Come To Give Someone the Heave-Ho

Dear Margo: This soon-to-be empty nester is desperately seeking advice, or she may fly the coop! My husband of 20 years, a well-respected professional, is distant in every form of communication between husband and wife. When I try to have a conversation with him, the usual response is: “Can’t you see I’m doing…” or “I don’t want to talk about it now.” Then he gets angry when he hasn’t been brought up to date on family events.

I compliment him on the work he does around the house with his “handyman” skills, but I never receive any compliments whatsoever. It’s like he has built a huge fortress around himself. In the evening, while watching TV or reading the newspaper, he’ll be writing a “to-do” list. If I ask him about it, you’d think I was asking him to reveal a top government secret. If I ask what’s on his mind, the answer is “nothing.” If I ask what he plans on doing today, the answer is “I don’t know.” When I ask for an opinion about how we should fix something or handle a situation with our children, he tells me, “Quit nagging.” If he doesn’t get his way, he behaves like a toddler, storming off and then more of the silent treatment.

Our children are heading off to university very soon, and I don’t think I can tolerate this anti-social and “top secret” behavior anymore. I am faithful to this man, and I have kept my sanity by creating my own social network and activities with the children that do not involve him. Heeeelp. — Tired of Life Outside the Fortress

Dear tired: What are you sticking around for? If there is a redeeming feature to this uncommunicative and icy man, I couldn’t discern it between the lines. I think flying the coop sounds like the perfect response to this turkey, and the timing is superb. Something is eating him, but all right, already. I would do him the courtesy of announcing that you have had it with his peculiarities, and that unless he can give you a good reason not to, you are filing for divorce. — Margo, justifiably

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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206 Responses so far.

  1. avatar mayma says:

    I have to agree with Margo on Letter #2. Why stay? Be sure to get a lawyer first though. I suppose you could ask him to go to marriage counseling, as one last courtesy, but when he (likely) refuses, you can proceed from there.

    As for letter #1, I guess I don’t understand the question. You offered to compromise by working two out of the four holidays. Okay. Then what happened? You want validation for the way you handled the situation? Or you want Margo to agree that your boss is unfair? Why? It doesn’t matter whether Margo thinks it’s unfair, since you work this job and seem to have no recourse except to find another one if you don’t like the conditions. You aren’t in a position, apparently, to demand anything different, so you have to hope that the boss will agree to your offer of two out of the four days.
    (As for the grandparents, that is a different story. Why should they babysit? Why can’t one or two members of this big extended family help out with babysitting on that day? Hell, they can rotate every few hours, can’t they?)

    • avatar sandra b says:

      Seriously – my point blank question to him would be ” Is there a reason why you are stlii in my life? Get out.

    • avatar bluehour says:

      Looks like regardless of how LW1 got her current place in life…the real point of the letter is what do I do? And she can a. Try to swap with a coworker b. Talk to her supervisor and see what happens c. Just do it d. Get another job. I do agree that the advice to ask childless workers to cover is stupid. Other than that I am not going to superimpose my own feelings because there just isn’t enough info in the letter.

  2. avatar Violet says:

    On letter 1, in this job market, I don’t think you get to act like a diva on the holidays. You work for a restaurant, and it is expected you’d probably have to work on holidays. The answer to your question about whether you can tell an employer no when they ask you to work is, as long as they are complying with the law, you can’t. You can just ask nicely, and be prepared to quit or be fired otherwise. I know this is harsh, but the employer doesn’t care about whether you spend time with your kids on Thanksgiving. They are running a business.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      LW1 is not acting like a diva! She asked if she could be allowed only to work half the holidays, instead of ALL of them. Look, many if not most people are OFF during the holidays, and usually those who work, work some but not all of them because most employers understand employees want to spend some time with their families, so they have employees share the burden, not place them all squarely on one person. I think she needs to look for another job today where the burden is shared and that she can assume right after the holidays. She can quit right before Christmas, have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off, then go to a job where the burden of working on holidays is shared. I mean, just how many people come into fast-food joints on Thanksgiving and Christmas anyway?

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I know the chain restaurant business pretty well having worked in it for 15 or so years.  I can say with about 99.9% confidence that you do not have a *right* to dictate your hours on holidays or any other day.  I have been thinking and I don’t know of any job that gives you *rights* to have holidays off absent a union contract that specifies same.  Perhaps the higher paid employees have the days off because of seniority or because they requested them months in advance.  But slavery has been abolished and you have an absolute right to quit your job so that you won’t have to work on holidays.

    My mother was a nurse which meant that the business (hospital) was like chain restaurants open 7 days a week 365 days a year.  (Some chains do close on 12/25).   I think in all the years she held that job she had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off..NEVER!  She left in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner countless times.  It was a pain for us but my parents needed two incomes. 

    Here is a thought.  Get some more education so that you can find a job that gives you holidays off.  However, I must warn you that when I was getting my higher education I spent many holidays studying and writing papers etc. and missing out on the family celebrations.  Eat Turkey, retreat to bedroom or apartment and study. 

    LW#2: You know the answer.  Tell him you want counseling or a divorce.  Given your description of the situation it sounds like divorce will be the result but you never know.  Good luck.   

    • avatar luna midden says:

      There are many many jobs out there where you have to work holidays-I realize that the job market is bad, but if she is really only making minimum wage-she should try for anything else. I worked on  holidays for many years-I worked as an RN until I became disabled, my husband works MOST holidays-he works for Mass Transit in a large city-that to never closes. (and he is a supervisor-but they have a reg. schedule so if it is a holiday-it does not matter.)

      LW has to get some seniority or find a job, say, in her kids’ schools-as an Aid or cafeteria worker. School is closed, you are off. Yes, many people are saying go get an education-I agree. While that does not guarrantee a job, it at least helps your resume and you might not have to be paid minimum wage. As a single parent-she might qualify for free training, but SHE HAS TO LOOK-starting with county, city gov’t agencies. 

      Her parents might have an ‘attitude’ if they are constantly ‘dumped’ with the kids. They might be tired of being the ‘babysitters’ every day and night. She obviously can’t afford a babysitter on min. She can’t afford MUCH ON MIN. 

      But for as to whether her boss is being fair-if there is no union, there isn’t much she could do. Even with unions-I was in a union and so is my husband-It was not covered, so, we had to work it out. At the hospital, we were told we had to take 2 or 3 holidays out of the 4 or 5 (depending if we worked nights-people wanted New Year’s eve off too.  If there was no agreement, the senior employees got first choice. And Abby-PEOPLE do not like being constantly asked to give up Christmas, Thanksgiving-IF THEY HAVE NO KIDS. Despite not having kids, there are some who really want to be with OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS on the holidays. (I have kids, but remember this coming up over and over again by some who did not want to work ANY HOLIDAYS because they ‘have kids’ even when they did not have any seniority. Not fair at all to make others who have put in their time-to feel GUILTY.)   

      lw2-why doesn’t she start a new life right now? If she is anywhere near accurate about the way he ignores her-He would  not even notice if she went off and did whatever. Just keep a post it board with any FAMILY UPDATES with a check box on them.      

  4. avatar ZippyDoDa says:

    LW1-I don’t have kids and it really irks me when those that do will use that excuse for reasons why they cannot work on holidays. Hey, I want to spend time with my family too. Just because I don’t have any children doesn’t mean I am expendable. If you take a job in an industry that is open on holidays, then you are just going to have to deal with it. And if you are still there for the future holidays, make sure you give advance notice as to what you can and cannot work. 

    • avatar Sleepwalker says:

      Wow…everyone seems to think that an education and going back to college is the miracle solution to LW#1’s problems. I guess I missed that day of classes where a degree guaranteed you a job because I’m still busting my butt trying to find employment…any employment (and yes that includes fast food) at this point in time.

      You know what college did for me? I got a great education that doesn’t put me any further in life than the other million of 4-year graduates who are all trying to find work. It did however leave me $20K in debt and struggling to pay it off. It’s even worse for mother’s trying to get through college, not only do they have to keep working full time, pay for child care while they’re working and taking classes, they still wind up in debt living in the same crappy economy as the rest of us.

      I do agree though that LW#1 may have to suck it up for a year or two and work the holidays. She might have luck looking for work right now considering it’s the holiday season and they may be more generous with holidays off but in the end, she’s not going to end up any further along. The thing that surprises me is that she’s going to have to work all day on those holidays…most fast food places that I know of are only opened limited hours.

      • avatar Sleepwalker says:

        Gah…wasn’t meant for this entry in particular…sorry.

        • avatar KarrinCooper says:

          Sleppwalker – I agree! I have a College Degree in Journalism with a Minor in Medieval British History. (the Minor was for me….not a job *lol*). I have NEVER worked in my Degree field. A Degree does not always help, but it does get you more pay.

          LW #2 – when the kids fly the coop, you should too! I mean WHY are you still there. Sorry but to me, the way your hubs acts is akin to emotional abuse. You stuck it out, now go be happy!!


          • avatar sandra b says:

            There is no work in your degree field and you knew it going in to it. You go into college with one of two goals: getting an education that would get you employed or getting an education. Grow up; either your degree will get you employed or not, but you still need to own it and pay your bills. People who think any degree is a job guarantee never learned anything in college.

          • avatar KarrinCooper says:

            Actually when I got my degree in 1984 there WAS work in my field. So try that again fool.

          • avatar sandra b says:

            your’e the foll in your short sighted investment

          • avatar Community Manager says:

            Karrin – please see our Comment Policy. Your “so try that again fool” comment crosses the line. Further comments like this will be deleted and your posting permissions put at risk.

          • avatar SKY says:

            I understand that telling someone to “grow up” and implying that they “never learned anything in college” is not the same as calling someone a fool, but for some reason it just kind of bothered me to see karrin reprimmanded and sandra b not. But I guess foll is perfectly acceptable…Ehh, such is the nature of advice column comments sections.

    • avatar georgi says:

      I absolutely agree.  Margo, I love you but you are wrong to suggest that someone without children should pick up extra holidays so LW can be with her kids.  I understand the needs of people with children, but they assume it is their right to take off when necessary to go to dr’s appts, school functions etc.  Yes those things are important, but that does not mean that childless people should have to always pick up the slack.  Childless people are entitled to have lives and holidays too.   As to the comment that management gets off, that is true, sometimes.  But remember, this is not the 70’s if someone is in management in a hospitality or restaurant business, they work a lot of hours and they don’t get to just walk away at the end of the shift.  They work weekends, twelve hour days.  They take the heat when something goes wrong. It is a tough business and all of the employees, regardless of level or child status have to work a lot.  Some people love that, some don’t, perhaps LW should think about ways to improve her skills and get into a different field. 

      • avatar Lila says:

        Zippy and Georgi, I agree. When I was brand-new in the Army, it was common practice to pressure singles to take the overnight duties on holidays. Wrong answer! If someone wants to volunteer and trade duty days with a parent, fine, but singles want their holidays too.

        It’s supposed to go according to the duty roster, which divides duty days into weekdays and weekend/holidays, and soldiers are on the roster in a set order. There is a standard way to account for days the soldier is unavailable due to travel, etc. When your number falls on a holiday, that’s just how it is; others also serve their share on holidays.

  5. avatar impska says:

    LW1: If an employee is paid more than you are, that means your employer considers them to be more valuable than you. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that higher paid employees would be given precedence when requesting holidays off. There is nothing “not right” about it.

    In fact, minimum wage positions in most industries – including yours – experience very high turn over. There is a good chance that the people who are being paid more have seniority over you and they are likely to stay with the restaurant much longer than you are. Why would they invest in your morale over that of a senior member of their workforce? Anyone can do your job – that’s why it’s a minimum wage position. A good manager, on the other hand, is hard to find. In fact, it would be “not right” if the company favored minimum wage workers over more qualified, more valuable employees – and it would be a serious management error.

    It’s too bad you made three kids before you managed to get yourself the skills and education to get a decent job. You don’t mention your co-parent(s), so I suppose you also made three children before creating a solid foundation for a relationship – and the fact that the other DNA-donor(s) can’t take any of the children for the holidays suggests you pick losers.

    It would be wrong to punish your childless co-workers for your poor decision-making.

    You sound immature, entitled and whiny. And I suspect you already over-burden your parents with your free childcare needs, which is why they don’t want to work with you over holidays. Look to yourself and accept responsibility for your life.

    • avatar Carol David says:

      Wow, a little harsh, aren’t you?

      • avatar sandra b says:

        NOT AT ALL! People need to own their lives which are a complete reflection of the choices they made. Grow up. Put up. Shut up.

        • avatar S Hughes says:

          What if it was not her choice. e.g. She got divorced and her husband skipped out on child support, or she lost her better paying job and had to take that one.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          Actually I tend to agree with Sandra—and yes, I majored in English. But I also have a work ethic and a brain and know how to make my degree work for me. It pisses me off rather highly to read sob stories on Yahoo about people who go $100K into debt for a women’s studies degree, and drag their parents into bankruptcy with them. There’s talk about reform in the student loan system—personally I think every single degree should be rated on a scale that determines the ease of finding a job, as well as how many graduates found jobs in their field—and anything lower than a certain average should REQUIRE full disclosure by the university and a mandatory counseling plan for the parent and student BEFORE entering the program.

          • avatar Nblueeyes says:

            gotta say your comment is pretty harsh considering that you don’t know this womans situation and why she is having to work a job she obviously does not like for minimum wage. I have been a waitress before and it is one of the most incredibly underpaid, under appreciated jobs out there. I feel sorry for you that you have to be so negative around the holidays that you can’t have one once of empathy for someone like LW1’s situation where she is not going to be able to spend anytime with her family. Hopefully you never have to endure this, god forbide anyone feel sorry for you.

        • avatar Community Manager says:

          Sandra – please see our comment policy – “Grow up. Put up. Shut up.” Really? Comments like this are not needed. Thank you.

          • avatar Diana Danh says:

            Look, I am a liberal as you can get, but even I have a problem with someone who has three kids working a minimum wage job. You can get birth control and child support and grants to go to school. I’m pretty sure her parents are tired of being asked to babysit, she probably doesn’t pay them what a babysitter should make. Grow up, put up, shut up are pretty cutting words but I can think of a lot nastier ones that COULD have been used.

          • avatar Lilitu Aster says:

            About your birth control remark, my brothers and I are all living proof that birth control isn’t always 100% and even for someone who is pro-choice, not everyone is able to handle an abortion.

            Btw where does it say her parents are tired of the free babysitting?

    • avatar lg says:

      Wow, way to make assumptions. Her “DNA donor(s),” as you so “cleverly” put it, could be out of the picture for a countless number of reasons. They could be dead for one, or possibly incapacitated in some way. Or maybe they are working as well, just to name a few. So why you’d ASSume otherwise is beyond me.

      Also, with the job market in the state it is in, I think, once again, you’re making quite a leap assuming she has no education and didn’t have a “decent” (in your self-esteemed opinion) job before having her children. There are former CEOs who are pizza deliverers now, so it’s entirely plausible she has a “decent” job before and has many valuable skills.

      So please get off your high horse and stop making yourself look like a pompous, know-it-all jerk.

      • avatar impska says:

        Why did I assume?

        Because the LW didn’t write “My significant other and I both work minimum wage jobs with jerky bosses and neither set of grandparents is available…” or “I’m a poor, highly educated but underemployed widow of three…” or “I am a former CEO, my wife in a coma and I only yearn to spend the holidays with my three small children…” “My ex has to care for his cancer-stricken mother and eight soon-to-be-orphaned siblings…”

        And you know how I know that none of those things are relevant? Because when someone is going through hard times, their friends and family step up and help them out. Unless those hard times are the LW’s entire adult life, and are brought on by constant poor choices. That is when your parents tell you things like “I don’t want your kids around for the holidays even though I’ll have a house full of your relatives who would be happy to see them and help me babysit.”

        If anything remotely similar to what you mention were true, people would feel sorry for the LW. They would want to help the LW. But they don’t. His/her parents, coworkers, boss: no one is willing to give the LW any slack.

        So why should I? Sometimes people need a dose of harsh reality.

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          “And you know how I know that none of those things are relevant? Because when someone is going through hard times, their friends and family step up and help them out. Unless those hard times are the LW’s entire adult life, and are brought on by constant poor choices.”

          O, impska, I do wish I knew every single person’s experience on Earth just as you do. Then I could call myself god.

          I realize that this is what is referred to commonly as anecdotal information, but it all true, and highly relevant. I once had a decent job that paid enough for my husband and I to afford to decide to start a family. My employer showed every employee the paperwork for our new insurance that was being processed. I got pregnant. It was uneventful. Supposedly…

          Then, as happens in life, everything went pear shaped. The employer had lied through his teeth…there was nothing in the works. I had money in the bank, and we prepaid for the normal, vaginal birth that my doctor (highly regarded ob/gyn, female) told me to fully expect. Nearly ten months after conception…yes TEN…I ended up having an emergency c-section that my doctor should damn well have told me about…because my pelvic bones are too narrow to allow a field mouse to fit through, much less a ten pound baby. My son’s delivery and subsequent hospital stay cost $15,000.

          My family did not offer to help. His family refused to watch our child on the grounds that it would “tie them down too much”. No, we weren’t estranged from anyone. I helped his mother clean her house and took care of her every time her drinking made her unable to function. Nor did I ask for help. I took my baby to work…which wasn’t easy.