Winning the Holidays

The holidays are here. We love them . . . while very aware that they mean quite different things to our clients and their families.

We’re frequently asked, “what do you tell parents who are in the process of or are already divorced about how to handle the holidays?”

Simple, we tell them, “You can’t win the holidays. Even if you think you can or, in fact, think you have, you can’t and you didn’t . . .  because whatever you do that makes you think you won will come back to bite you. Hard.”

Everyone knows that spouse or ex-spouse or ex-spouse-to-be or ex-spouse-stepparent and/or a host of other combinations that interact over the holidays are going to have moments when things are strained, if not tense.

The holidays tend to add another layer to the family(s) dynamic – first, the extended family may be around more which could lead to other family dynamics that just make the parents’ relationship, such as it is, more fraught with potential conflict. Then there’s the children ‘splitting’ time with their parents over the holidays, a situation the adults in the room should – and need to know – is more Gremlins than It’s a Wonderful Life.

Speaking of Gremlins –  it starts off with the greatest Christmas gift of all time, but it comes with a lot of rules. Break one of the rules and . . . well, it’s not pretty. That’s what eventually happens when one or both the parents try to ‘win’ the holiday through lavish gifts, parties, ostentatious gestures, or just being ‘the really cool parent’ and letting everything go.

They use the holiday to clearly ‘win over’ the kids while hurting the other parent by [they think] diminishing them in the eyes of the kids. show what a better parent they are. Buying love doesn’t work. It might seem that way after you see the light in the eyes of the kid you just bought a PlayStation 5 for who was being grounded for failing four out of five middle school classes by the ex. It won’t last, it will make everything worse – now, tomorrow, and probably well into the future.

Okay, this can happen anytime of the year, but the holidays are absolutely perfect – gifting is expected, fun is expected, expectations hang in the air.

We’ve seen parents try to win the holidays. It happens a lot and  . . . it never works.

Long term, however, it’s a disaster in the works. Kids figure these things out and they do it quickly – they’ll see through it, that’s not a maybe, it’s a certainty. Eventually, it will cause resentment (and disillusion, and …) with the children, on top of the resentment the other parent will inevitably feel watching it from the outside.

Which, of course, feeds back into that dynamic making it incrementally worse. And on and on and . .

Not to mention the fact that the world doesn’t need more kids growing up to be haunted by horrible memories of the holidays. Better they grow up knowing that mom and dad did their best – across the board.