Every year, it’s the same old fight with kids caught in the middle. As other kids are dreaming and scheming about their Christmas booty, kids of high-conflict separated parents are embroiled as emissaries taking contentious, emotion-laden messages back and forth between their parents to sort out exchange time.
They are exposed to the toxic animosity and bad mouthing of one parent against the other.
These same kids have to reconcile their own worth, knowing they are half of each parent, and given each parent portrays the other as bad, they extract the meaning that they are therefore entirely bad, being composed of both parents. This view of self carries them to adolescence, where they give up on a reasonable life in favor of early onset sexual behaviour, drugs and crime as they assuage their poor feelings of self worth.
Further, if the parents cannot reach a consensus on how to divvy up Christmas day, then by default the one with the kids from Christmas eve has control of their release or until the police arrive, thus turning Christmas into a criminal activity and total embarrassment for the children.
What a despicable tradition. And what of these children come adulthood?
Firstly, these children often seek to have nothing to do with either parent on Christmas when they are of an age to control their destiny. Secondly, with their parents as role models, as much as they may try to do things differently, they all too often find themselves in the very predicament they swore they would never be a party to. Misery begets misery.
If you are a separated parent in a high-conflict situation, there are other solutions to duking it out with your ex. Rather than running to court, each advising of the shortcomings of the other, consider alternate strategies for conflict resolution, such as mediation or collaborative law.
Regardless whether you consider mediation or collaborative law or negotiating on your own, you should consider how rigid you truly need to be with respect to holding out for your preferred outcome.
Did you know that low-conflict separated parents have figured out that kids don’t really need to see both parents on Christmas day? Indeed, some parents switch off on Boxing Day on an alternate year basis, and some even elect to have the kids every Boxing Day.
From the child’s perspective, those parents who settle their dispute, typically with one being very flexible, get to enjoy a conflict-free Christmas with traditions special to their circumstance. Given they no longer have to worry about the parental conflict, they are then free to dream and scheme about their Christmas booty just like other kids.
As these kids age, and they will, they come to see the differences between their parents. They come to understand who the instigator was and who was reasonable. Come their adulthood, they are more apt to choose the reasonable parent over the one observed to make life miserable. The parent who was flexible has a greater chance of a life-long relationship with their children over the parent who was seen to create conflict.
This year, if you are a separated parent in a high-conflict situation, give your child the gift they truly deserve — peace on earth and goodwill towards all. Settle your dispute in the favour of your kids versus your preferred outcome.
Freedom from conflict will last a lifetime, the electronics, maybe a year.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW, is a Canadian social worker and parenting columnist living in Dundas, Ontario. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.