Q: I have a problem with my parents: Divorced years ago, they get along amicably and would both come to Christmas dinner, but my father understandably wants to bring his significant other. My mother refuses to attend if she comes.

My father and his friend have been together for more than nine years and my husband, children and I consider her part of the family.

My father and his friend could spend the holiday with her children again, but it annoys me that my parents won't work this out.

What is the guide for children of divorced parents? Should I spend Christmas with one parent this year and with the other parent next year? Problem with that is this: They are getting older.

A: Most divorced parents learn to be civil to each other and even amicable, but usually don't want to spend much time with the their old spouses' significant others.

Don't be annoyed by this attitude or by your parents' inability to make their own holiday plans. If they knew how to negotiate and compromise, they might still be married.

You can't erase your mom's feelings or tell her she doesn't have the right to have them, because she does. She needs you to tell her that she's doing the best she can. Your mother may be friendly to your dad, but that doesn't mean she's ready to meet--and compete--with his friend.

She may not even find it as easy to be around him as you think. It often takes great courage and poise to talk to an ex, since every conversation dredges up a residue of leftover anger and embarrassment.

Tell your folks that you, your husband and your children want to spend at least part of Christmas with the three of them--your mom, your dad and his friend--and that you'd prefer to see everyone at the same time but don't insist on it. That would probably make your mother more obstinate than ever but she may unbend if you ask her to "do it for me." It would give her a way to save face.

If your mom won't agree to that, invite your parents to visit at different times of the day, giving them as many choices as you can. Supper on Christmas Eve? Brunch on Christmas Day, while you open presents? Christmas dinner? Mulled cider in the afternoon or dessert at the end of the day? A double round of entertaining will be hard to juggle, but the effort will tell your father that he and his friend are truly welcome at Christmas and remind your mother that you have an obligation to both parents, particularly on a holiday.

If you speak gently but stand firm, she probably won't even get upset, although you may not be so lucky. Every holiday usually brings a certain amount of pain to adult children of divorce for they have so many memories to relive. For a warm and helpful picture of this trauma, see if the library has a copy of the out-of-print "A Grief Out of Season," by Noelle Fintushel and Nancy Hillard (Little, Brown). It's worth looking for.

Questions may be sent to margukelly@aol.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.