When married, or co-parenting and child focused, parents try to spread the emotional equity around, that time the children get with you and extended family. Often it is Christmas Eve with one side of your immediate family, Christmas Day with the other, the “traditional” gathering spot for the occasion. But Christmas morning was the kids at home time, with tree and presents, up at 5am, kids with parents in tow, close up emotional equity for parents and child. Then the divorce (or separation) and the question is, “how do we divide the emotional equity?”.
Now “visitation” (parenting time) is reduced to a court order and a time frame, “the children will be with the father from 9am to 5 pm Christmas Day and the mother from 4pm to 12 pm on Christmas Eve in even years and inversely on odd years”. Punch a clock, move out kids, the court says so. For those that suffer the “custodial” parents move away the time together is even more limited by distance, perhaps every other year is your time. For the Alienated Parent the holidays heighten the sense of loss you feel each and every day of the year, no contact at all. Regardless of the parent-child status all separated parents will feel the absence and loss of the children to some degree, and so too the children.
For those fathers (or mothers) who are suffering with an alienating ex spouse you can expect them to use the emotional aspects of the holiday and their control of the children to cause turmoil. Baby Mama Drama, withholding access, bringing them late to disrupt your events, excessive gift giving, laying abandonment guilt on the kids, and the ever present bad mouthing are to be expected. The courts are closed and the police will do nothing to enforce an order for your time with your children. Many a disenfranchised dad has found himself standing alone, waiting, to no avail. If it has been occurring through the year, expect it at the holidays and prepare yourself.
It’s important to acknowledge the emotional difficulties the holidays bring on the separated family and to us individually as Fathers in them. For the sake of our children we need to stay child focused (regardless if the ex does or not) and try to make the holiday a normal father-child-family event. Don’t get dragged into the drama and turmoil. Focus on your time together and not on the time that you do not have. But when you are apart you need to focus on YOURSELF, including your emotional needs. The feelings of loss and grief to absent children are normal responses to your quickly changing circumstance, and like all of us fathers, you are having a normal response to the child absence and changing family life.
The APA has tips for handling holiday blues as does the Mayo Clinic who’s tips I find most relevant to the child absent parent. You can also do a search for advice which best helps your particular situation. Social media provides an outlet, the issues discussion page Friends of Protection For Men will be monitored by many and is a good place for us to discuss our issues that day. The stress of being a beat dead, dead broke, and disenfranchised dad weighs heavily on all of us going through this, know you are not alone. We discuss suicide prevention at the PFM Suicide Prevention site and if you, or someone you know is contemplating suicide you can reach out to the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or you can Text a counselor at 741741 (USA). Or search for a provider in your state or country.
From my perspective the best course of action is to stay connected and look to help another person in need. It is now the 20th anniversary for me since I last had my children on the holiday, and yes, I do still miss them. But I have worked to stay connected to those friends and family who care about me and I also look to find those beat dead, dead broke, disenfranchised dads who need a kind word of encouragement and a friend at a trying time in their life.
Indeed, this post is part of that outreach for I’ll put it on social media and check it on Christmas Eve and Day in case someone reaches out. I’m a retired police officer (US Army veteran also) and was part of our critical incident response team in addition to providing peer support and counseling to parents and families in crisis due to divorce and separation for over 20 years now and I can be reached at my e-mail if you wish to talk (note it will not be continually monitored and if in severe crisis use a manned hotline).
The important thing is to not suffer alone and in silence when the kids are gone. Volunteer your time with a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or veterans organization. Go to church, reach out to others, connect, rebuild family and family traditions anew. Do something with somebody. Remember, you are not alone and there are many of us in your circumstance, reach out if need be.