Dear Santa,

Please have my parents stop fighting. I'm really scared and the noise is too much. I pray for them to stop yelling and arguing. Last week I saw my dad hit my mom - she was crying and I didn’t know what to do. I’m really scared and I don’t like it.

Are you living in violence and trying to hide it from your kids? (News flash: your children know about it.) They’re watching, listening and feeling the tension. They see the slaps, hear the crying and are present to the anger. How can you rein it in over the holidays? Is it possible for you to avoid taking the bait, walk away from the fight, and commit to taking the high road? In the long run, this helps you… if you've been in a relationship fueled by anger, it also won't be easy but for you and your children, it’ll be worth it! Walk away from fighting this season.

I want my friends to play with me. The kids act like I’m weird and everyone’s looking at me. Why can’t they just play? I used to be able to have so much fun and now I’m being dragged around to appointments and talking to grown-ups all the time. It’s not fun and it’s not fair.

Your children want time away from school deadlines and away from the pressures of your fighting or divorce. They also need adult help, maybe supervision, certainly time with someone other than you who has the patience to listen. What they don’t understand is the pace with which you’re barking at them and what they’re doing wrong to warrant your frustration. They want time to play with their friends and they don’t understand why you’re always rushing them from place to place, and why they can’t hang out and have fun. They miss their friends and they want their old routines.

You know everything’s up in the air. You know the old routines are gone. And I know, you don't mean to take out your frustration on them. What children of all ages need is the reassurance that you are safe and thus, they are safe. How can you slow down this winter? Where can you find pockets of time to have fun? To do new things, to rally yourself to enjoy being together? As you create new traditions, tell yourself that the divorce and the fighting can wait and go enjoy some fun. You and your children need a break.  

Please make my parents be parents - they want me to decide what to do, like all of a sudden I’m the grown up and they keep telling me things about each other and I don’t really care. Seriously. I have homework to do and friends to see, mom keeps asking me to do stupid chores around the house and I don’t want to be around her or see my dad in a new place or eat in restaurants with him and his new girlfriend.

Putting your children in the middle of decision making is really stressful for them. I know you don’t mean to and I get that it’s really hard not to, but there’s no win in asking them to decide who to be with, whom to see and what to do. This is your role. Your child can’t be physically pulled in half - imagine that the next time you ask them to decide. Instead, reach out to their other parent and make a pact to keep them out of the fight. In the long run, you will both have a relationship with your children but the parent who pulls them apart the most will ultimately lose. (News flash: today's kids are really smart - when I was a kid, when my parents divorced, we were the only family around - your kids know the game you're playing. They're on to you!)

My sister and I want to go have some fun and all I hear is ‘we can’t afford to.’ What happened? Does this mean I can’t do my team sports next summer? Are we poor? Where will we be living? Why is grandpa putting food in the refrigerator and mom is always working now? This doesn’t feel right. Do I have to go get a job?

Children know when economic changes happen in their home. All children see and feel the disparities between households and lifestyle. It is real to them and for those on the outside looking in, it’s not our place to pass judgment. This is important: whether a family is in the 1% or the 99%, children can see, feel and experience the stress of trying to make ends meet or keep up the lifestyle they once knew.

Putting the children first means providing for their lifestyle and making their other home as comfortable as possible… for them! When the fight extends to cutting the less monied spouse’s lifestyle just because it can be done, it's harming your children. (News flash: it’s also mean-spirited and controlling.) When a household can't maintain the lifestyle once had, it’s stressful for everyone. Your children feel it and know it. Reassure them you’ve got this, help them understand the new choices to be made and avoid playing dirty - your children are watching.

This Holiday season, I grant you Mr/Ms. Divorcee permission to find peace and comfort in traditions and new practices. You have time to be with your children and space to step away from the pressure spending time with neighbors and family. Each time you walk away from fighting, you get a much-needed break from the stress of separation. There's a new year up ahead, it's the right time to try on celebrating!

 

Laura Bonarrigo

New York, NY

laura@laurabonarrigo.com