The holiday season: despite your personal experiences during this time of year, if you asked most people upon shutting their eyes – they might picture a family meal with love and laughter, it could be a child lighting the menorah or setting a star upon a tree, or a traditional vision of opening up holiday gifts. 

For targeted parents experiencing parental alienation, while we may dream somewhat the same in terms of our, mostly lofty anticipation and expectations, the reality grips hold when communicating with others – where they and their families might be headed or who they are hosting, meals they are preparing and excitement of family members they’ve not seen (some since the COVID onset). 

We alienated parents share a mostly unending flow of emotions, flashbacks, and an understanding of how past behaviors encourage present and future decisions. 

Looking back upon my childhood, while I do not have any negative memories to look upon during the holiday season, I can’t recall many extravagant memories during the holidays. I recall Christmas Eve celebrations at my Aunt’s home – annually lit by a peculiar white tree that always seemed foreign to me. I cal recall Christmas mornings, plus all the pregaming including decorating the tree, finding silly items around the home to regift to my other brothers, and how my mom always insisted on cleaning up the moment the final present was opened. 

When my wife and I were together, we celebrated Christmas mostly with her family where there were always many children around to spend holiday time with. A tradition of items previously touched upon, plus many late-night fires, UNO games going well into the morning and making sure the coffee would be prepared for the next light.

After our divorce and as a custodial father, I served up my traditions for my daughter. We participated in tree-trimming, good food, time off, and even developed an annual tradition of dropping a box of gifts to the pediatric wing of Mount Kisco Medical Center (where she was born) on Christmas Eve just in case there were children admitted. 

“Dad Hates Christmas”

Thinking back on it now, I must have heard my ex say to my daughter dozens of times over the holidays: “Dad hates Christmas”. And while I don’t believe I actually said those words, the truth is that I have never been a huge fan of the holidays, with a well-meaning reason. My ex is a massive spender and every year around the holidays I had to get an earful about how much money she would spend on our daughter, how large the food bill would be hosting 10 or 20+, how big the tree would be, and all of the other things narcissists try to control as to paint the perfect picture. The conversation that always ensued was about the debt she accumulated along the way. 

A recent Gallup Poll suggests that Americans will spend an average of $932 on holiday gifts. Another article, from US News, has many great ideas on planning or limiting your average holiday expenditure, however, the figure I took out of this is 42%. 

42% of people are actually planning to go into debt to pay holiday expenses. Like a white Christmas tree, this concept also seems so foreign to me that I firmly believe it’s part of our American culture to want more, spend what we don’t have, and fight for a few nights of fun only to be left with a mountain of debt on the backside. 

My daughter was barely a toddler when we spent our first Christmas together. It was a special time, with countless memories, drama free, and most importantly clear of financial burden. The fact that Maya had many young cousins on her mom’s side clearly meant that she preferred holidays with her mom’s family and so, over the years we made it work. 

As I enter the second year of holidays and my daughter’s birthday, I had been working to find some balance on what to expect this holiday season. Last year, I was mostly a ball of nerves and just wanted the season to pass and get the hell on to 2022. This year, I am taking a different approach. 

Unsponsored Self Care

A few weeks ago a friend asked me about my plans for Thanksgiving. I believe my usual response would have been that I wasn’t sure, or that perhaps I would visit my brother’s home. At that moment when asked, a subtle smile came over me, from a place I had not even been able to locate or dig into in quite some time. A moment of clarity, where my decision-making was confident and firm. There was no hesitation,

“I’m staying home, resting.” 

She looked at me with the oh I’m sorry you’re going to be alone, but before that look could turn into words, she asked if that was the way I wanted it. Yes, it was. 

I chose, in an unfractured moment without procrastination that I would take the day back, and make it my own. Even as an alienated parent, unaware of my only daughter’s health, safety, and happiness. 

I woke with a purpose on Thanksgiving. I slow-cooked a turkey breast, made homemade stuffing, and Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate brownies which are heaven. I spent four hours outside reorganizing my 2023 garden, digging my hands through the dirt, and getting my green beans into their homes for the holidays through next spring. A bright, warm sunlight poured over my body during the mid-afternoon. 

I even set up a surprise birthday party for one of my closest friend’s 60th. This practice of self-care is super important to alienated parents and all trauma sufferers throughout the year but particularly when our visage portrays simple, happy, and ethical families enjoying time together. Our psyche fails to realize that many family systems are, at their core: unstable.

I didn’t ruminate about the continued abuse, gaslighting, and emotional suppression that my daughter must endure each and every day. 

And for Christmas? A fellow alienated mom from Brooklyn is coming in to spend the holiday week with me at home. It will be low-key; bike rides, the beach, home-cooked meals, and perhaps some commiserating. 

(I’m shrugging my shoulders and wearing a grin. Sounds good to me.)

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