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Dear Sito,

My parents are divorced, and my father recently remarried, so understandably, tension between my parents is running high lately. My mother lives out of town, and so she usually sleeps by me on the holidays. She doesn’t really like to stay by anyone else, because she is self-conscious about her situation. She also doesn’t have anyfamily here, as I am an only child andmy aunts liveout of town. So, when she moves in, all the meals are by me.

The thing is, I’m going to Florida with my in-laws for the second half of Sukkot, and so I only have the first half to host my parents. If my mother stays by me, as she normally does, and I have my father and his new bride over for a meal or twoon Sukkot, I know my mom will be heartbroken all over again. But holiday is a time for family, and I don’t think I should go the entireweek-and-a-halfof Sukkot without seeing my father. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Family Friendly

Dear Family Friendly,

I commend you for your genuine concern to please both your parents. Often, children – even adult children – feel a degree of grief and even resentment when their parents divorce, as they begrudge the newfound tensions and the difficult roles they are now forced to fill. Many think to themselves, “I didn’t ask for our family to be broken. Why am I now responsible for keeping together all the moving parts?” Too often, children become part of the rope of the tug-a-war between the two parents, even in a generally amicable divorce. Some parents – perhaps unintentionally –
expect their children to take sides. In some instances, they seek to assuage the feelingsof guilt and shame by casting the blame on the other spouse, and they enlist the children’s support in this endeavor. Moreover, in their state of emotional fragility, they crave their children’s validation and approval, and want their children to understand why they made their choice, and so they badmouth the other side to the children. 

The children, for their part, generally have no interest in taking sides, and wish their parents could just get along and keep the fighting to a minimum so the family canremain stable. As a result, they fall into the unwanted and unenviable role of mediators and diplomats, trying to maintain a close relationship with both parties that are odds with one another. To your credit, you are trying very hard to take everyone’s feelings into account and to ensure that your relationship to each of your parents does not suffer despite the acrimony between them.

Your difficult predicament requires you to take into account the sensitivities and emotions of many individuals simultaneously, as any decision you make out of consideration for one person will necessarily cause somebody else to feel slighted. In a situation such as this one, all parties involved need to muster their resources of compassion, understanding, forgiveness and sensitivity. My first piece of advice, then, is to recognize that there is no perfect solution to this dilemma, and the success of your decision will depend, to a large extent, on the willingness of the other parties to be flexible and understanding.

Essentially, your concern for your mother’s feelings conflicts with your concern to maintain your relationship with your father. While you would never want to hurt your mother in any way, and you recognize her pain and discomfort, you still would like to spend part of the holiday with your Dad. Ideally, you would like the grownups to grow up and just let you enjoy the holiday the way it used to be, with you and both your parents at the table, but you wisely realize that in their situation, such an arrangement would be extremely awkward and uncomfortable. 

I assume that your parents are aware of the predicament in which you find yourself, and I would hope that they are sensitive to the difficulty you currently face. Preferably, they should be part of the resolution. Speak to your dad and tell him about your concerns for your mom’s feelings, and how uncomfortable she would feel if she was in your home together with him and his new wife. Explain to him that you want to spend quality time with him on the holiday, but without hurting your mother’s feelings, and see what solutions he proposes. If he seems unconcerned about your mother’s feelings (which he may), remind him that you still care for your mother. If he feels upset because your mom’s sensitivities prevent him from spending time with you on the holiday, then perhaps arrange to spend some time with him during Hol Hamo’ed.

When speaking to your mom, express genuine care and compassion, recognizing that she is the most vulnerable party in this whole situation. Explain to her your concern for her feelings and that you also want to spend time with your father. As your mother, she is undoubtedly concerned about your feelings, as well, and will likely want to help you find a reasonable solution. By asking her for advice, you put her back into her role of parent and caregiver, which will hopefully shift her focus from her own unhappiness onto the need to solve your dilemma.

If neither of your parents is willing to help you resolve this matter, at least you will have reminded them that you are sensitive to their needs, but that you also need their support. And if they are not prepared to be sensitive to each other, then you will have to make the difficult decision to show sensitivity to the most vulnerable person in this situation – your mother – even at the cost of losing the opportunity to spend time with your father. As difficult and unfair as it may seem, you should feel gratified knowing that you expressed genuine concern to everyone involved, and that you took the time to think through the options and to try to make everyone happy, approaching a very delicate situation in the most mature and responsible way possible.

All the best,Sito