As a divorced parent, I dread the holidays my children spend with their dad. When other families are going to church, gathering around the table and sharing stories, my loneliness is indescribable. Even if I'm a welcome guest at a gathering, I'm lonely. It’s painful to watch other families be together and not know what my children are doing.
A couple years ago there was a billboard in town that read: “Divorce is contagious. Don’t catch it.” Driving past one day, my 9 year-old asked, “Is that true, Mom? You caught the divorce?”
“Yep, that’s why I tell you to never sit on public toilet seats,” I said.
The ridiculous message “Divorce is contagious” is akin to telling my kids our family was unlucky – like getting stuck next to the kid with the gooey eye in reading group, or being sent home from school with lice after sharing a piano bench with Bedbug Barry in music.
Our divorce, on the other hand, was no accident. It didn’t happen because we had a compromised immune system and ate at a Sizzler. Quite the contrary, our divorce was a decision I made after years of sober consideration, thousands of dollars spent on marriage counseling and two years of sleepless nights on the couch.
Unintentionally people make ridiculous comments: “That’s kinda nice to have every other weekend to yourself.” I think, you're not divorced. You can't fathom the empty feelings I get walking past clean bedrooms, living in deafening silence and not tripping over soccer balls. I’m a parent. I chose to have children because I wanted to raise them. I didn't check the part-time parenting box. So when a billboard looms overhead like a black cloud and sends the message to my kids, that if only their mom had used her high heel to flush the toilet at the Kwikie Mart, this all could have been avoided, I get kind of upset.
In 2010, James H. Fowler released a study called “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too” which claimed divorce is contagious. What a turkey! Although the study received a lot of hype and media attention upon release, (Fowler sat on the couch at the Today show and Good Morning, America) all the hoopla was premature. The truth is, it was only hoopla, as Fowler’s study remains unproven. The study still hasn't passed the peer review process, has never been published in a scientific journal, and has since come under increased criticism and attacks from colleagues. Maybe I'll erect a billboard that announces, "Being a self-righteous asshole is contagious." I'd sure love to sit on the couch with Matt Lauer.
When children are involved, divorce is rarely an easy decision, but rather, one that is toiled over for months and possibly years. Having to live apart from one's children for any length of time is devastating. Not being together for birthdays or holidays physically hurts. Unless you've been through it, it's hard to fathom.
I get it. I feel your pain. A couple days ago I ironed my boys' shirts, packed their fancy shoes and belts, so they'd look nice for the holiday with their dad and his family. I'm not there to make sure their shirts are tucked in or to smooth their hair with my spit. And sometimes the loss feels like it will tear me in two.
However, I will make it through the day. It's just 24 hours, like any other day. Besides, it's the one day emotional eating gets a get-out-of-jail-free card.
So if you're not with the ones you love today, please know you're not alone.
Besides words of comfort, I offer these coping tips*:
- Wear sweatpants. You might as well be comfortable while your family whispers in the kitchen about your poor choices.
- Think of others. Call someone else who may be alone today. Although you don't feel like doing a good deed, it will make you feel better. I promise.
- If you're around people, be generous with the hugs. They're cheap medicine.
*Liesl Testwuide is not a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or board certified in any field for that matter. However, she sometimes wears glasses which make her look smart, and, like a doctor, she has poor penmanship.