War & Peace: Relationships During the Holidays

Several years ago my oldest daughter wrote a short story for her third grade English class. At the time I remember being amazed, in a bittersweet way, by her insight into the social dynamics of relationships. I felt proud as a parent witnessing her maturity and her gift for writing. Yet, I was also sad because she was beginning to understand the cruel complexities of human relationships. My daughter agreed to allow me to share her story. The fable is titled “Why Dogs and Cats Are Not Friends.”

Most people think it’s the dog’s fault that dogs and cats aren’t friends. But that is not true! It’s basically like if you don’t get along with another person. You just look way, way back and find what the problem was. Well us dogs looked way back and here is the real story why we aren’t friends.

Long ago, the dog and the cat were best friends. Nothing could come between them. They shared all their food and played games all day together. But you have to see the snakes were very poor and hungry so one day Chief Snake the III said, “My fellow snakes we are very poor and hungry. You all know that. Well I hear the cats are very rich and had no self-defense. Well if we go steal all their money and food we will be rich and have them for slaves. I will send out troopers tomorrow to capture them.”

The snakes had no idea that the dogs lived with the cats.

The morning troopers were out.

One horrid snake slithered into a home of a widow mother cat and her kittens. This cat was very rich and had two guard dogs at her gate at all hours of the day except for lunch. At lunch they ate inside with the gorgeous cat. The snake happened to slither in at lunch while the dogs were fixing up in the back room. The helpless cat got carried away.

“Help!” she screamed.

Hearing this the dogs ran fast having the sand fly in their eyes. The dogs could barely see that the cat’s tail looked like a snake’s behind.

One of the dogs ran very fast and bit off the cat’s tail thinking it was the snake.

When all the cats saw that the gorgeous cat’s tail was bitten off by a dog, the cats had great hatred toward the fearless dog.

Years later when the great dog’s army attacked the snakes the dogs won back the cats. After the war the dog who bit off the cat’s tail walked up to her and said, “Who bit off your tail?”

“You did,” she said walking away.

All the cats moved far away from the dogs and that’s why dogs and cats aren’t friends!

Well the dogs tried and won the cats back. But because the tailless widow blamed it on the dog who saved her life, the cats stuck their little pink noses up at them.

And that is why dogs and cats are not friends. So the moral of the story is don’t get so mad if you don’t know the whole truth about something.


I recall my daughter’s short story at this time of year for a couple of reasons. One, during the holiday season, relationships become the centerpiece of our existence and the expectation to be social increases significantly. We have holiday parties at home, work and school. We buy special gifts for family, friends and colleagues. Family reunions and festive meals dominate the holiday season. Close friends get together and celebrate as “makeshift” families in order to experience the holiday spirit. The underbelly or darker side, however, to the holiday season is that families and friends often fight like “cats and dogs.”

Another reason the short story is so poignant is because this is the second consecutive holiday season that we, as a country, are immersed in war and our world clearly seems to be increasingly more dangerous. Regardless of your political leaning, if you support the ‘dogs, cats or snakes,’ we, as parents have an obligation to provide our children a lasting memory of togetherness and hope, a semblance of peace and understanding.

My daughter’s fable teaches us that relationships often suffer when misunderstandings and anger prevail. During the holidays, parents can provide their children a safe haven from all the craziness. The great poet laureate and song-writer Bob Dylan wrote:

"Try to imagine a place

Where it’s always safe and warm

Come in, she said, “I’ll give ya

Shelter from the storm.”

Relationships and holidays are bereft with great expectations. Too often our unmet expectations turn into heart-felt disappointments. As parent’s what can we do? The home is a “shelter from the storm” when your children sense their words are being listened to, acknowledged and understood. The home becomes a “safe and warm” place when parents unlock the shackles of their hearts and create moments of peace and unconditional kindness.

Relationships and holidays are most manageable when we recognize our own shortcomings, not the shortcomings of others, and work toward becoming more engaged in the interests of others. Parenting is most rewarding when we witness our children genuinely caring about others. When we share our homes with others and listen to others, we become the role models that teach our children dogs and cats can get along in a peaceful manner.