The Real Christmas Gift for Kids

Even though parents argue as to the best residential schedule, choice of school, faith, holiday time, Christmas and extra-curricular activities, these issues are simply not as predictive for the outcome of children of separated parents as conflict alone.

More to the point, the greater the parental conflict, the greater the risk for the child having a poor developmental trajectory. Children who are subject to ongoing parental hostilities are more apt to have school related problems, social difficulties, early onset sexual behavior, a greater likelihood of drug/alcohol related problems, school failure, vocational difficulties and then issues in their adult intimate relationships. The parents of these children are at risk of having problematic relationship with their children not only as youngsters but when their children are adults too.

To the degree one or both parents can remain neutral in the face of provocation and conflict, the children are better served and the risk profile is improved. This may mean one parent acquiesces to the demands of the other, assuming not totally lopsided, dangerous or abusive. In so doing, this parent elevates the need of the child to be spared the parental conflict and thus subordinates their needs or wants to facilitate peace. While this parent may fee like they are losing something in the moment, this parent may actually gain the better life-long relationship with their child in return.

That child, come adulthood, eventually develops a realistic appraisal of both parents and comes to appreciate the sacrifice of one in the face of the demands of the other. That adult child, no long bound by parental control can then re-right the balance and chose to prioritize the parent that more facilitated peace.

Imagine, letting go of Christmas Eve and Day each year in the name of peace for your child. Imagine developing your own ritual of celebrating Christmas on a day other than December 25th. Imagine being able to concentrate on the joy of your child opening gifts in the absence of animosity and anger. Imagine your gift to your child, peaceful co-existence with their other parent, and the return on that investment in your child’s ability to concentrate at school, form relationships and then be appreciative of your choices in their adult life.

In the run up to this Christmas, two parents in two different families opted to not celebrate Christmas on December 25. One went so far as to relinquish anytime with the child during the entire Christmas break. The other whose work schedule changes regularly, even through Christmas, relinquished both Christmas and New Years each year, appreciating that even though entitled, the changing schedule could interfere and undermine time with the child anyways. As such, this parent opted that their child would never have an interrupted Christmas and New Years because the child would always be with the other parent then.

In view of these two parents’ flexibility, it was difficult for the other parents to not show flexibility too and reciprocate with other time. Often as one let’s go the conflict, the preferred vision or version of an outcome, and advances the goal of peace, the other parent is almost forced to accommodate too or risk showing themselves as ungrateful, mean-spirited or inflexible.

Conflict will abate if at least one parent facilitates peace through flexibility and advancing this need of the child ahead of their desires. If a parent fights for what is fair, you may win the battle yet lose the war. The collateral damage includes the child directly as well as the potential for a meaningful life-long relationship with your child come adulthood.

When the one parent presented the schedule shown to the other, the fight was over and their child became the beneficiary.

Peaceful co-existence… While you cannot control the other parent, you may make different decisions yourself; decisions facilitating peace – the real determinant of your child’s outcome.

For Christmas, at least this year, give your child the gift of peace. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

                        author

Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead and the parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator. His book, Marriage Rescue… MORE >

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