It’s that time of year again! Get out the baking supplies, decorations, wrapping paper, and Sunday sales section. The holidays are simultaneously a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of stress. This can be doubly so if you have experienced a divorce and have holiday timesharing issues with your former spouse.
I think these conflicts are generally born out of parents wanting the best for their children. They want to provide the kids great experiences and wonderful memories they can carry with them into adulthood. The problems arise when the best intentions of parents conflict with the already agreed-upon parenting plan.
Now, if you have an actual co-parenting relationship with your former partner, you are most likely able to put the kids first in the majority of your disagreements (which do arise even in the best situations). Perhaps you are lucky enough to be able to work together to come to a compromise when one of you wants to shake things up a bit for the holidays, and for example, take the kids on a trip.
However, many parents and children after divorce are not that lucky. Hostilities are still present, and Mom and Dad have not recovered from the emotional toll that divorce exacts. In these scenarios, deviations from the holiday timesharing plan can lead to an all-out war. If this is what you are experiencing, I can imagine your stress levels are off the charts. It’s challenging and I daresay heartbreaking, because you must know that any war between parents will affect those who you aim to protect from all harm: your children.
According to psychologist Donna Hicks, when children have the experience of seeing their parents treat each other with dignity, a lasting imprint is made upon their brains. Kids who are given this gift, forever know how all others should be treated (Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks, Ph.D. page 81). And I would expand on that statement and say that when the children see you behaving in a dignified manner and giving others dignity, you set the stage for how the child will expect to be treated. Dignity flowing both ways becomes normative for them and anything outside of that is an aberration and therefore wrong.
Unless you have ninja-like conflict concealing skills, when you engage in contentious combat with your former spouse, the children experience the array of negative emotions associated with conflict, right alongside you. They then develop other ideas about how to treat people – and what is acceptable treatment from others. The lens through which they see the world can be forever changed depending on your choices.
So, my advice to you during these holidays is to make the right choices based on what will make your children the happiest and at peace. To follow are a few thoughts I would like you to contemplate:
Try to negotiate with your spouse. Attempt to rationally and unemotionally talk the conflict through. If this does not work, call your attorney and she may be able to talk to your spouse’s attorney about the situation. Your last resort should be the Courts.
One thing I really don’t like to hear about is the holiday visit from the police. This is because seeing the police pull up to the house when parents are fighting is traumatizing to your children.
How do you think a child feels when he sees the police outside the door knowing that his parents are at odds with each other over getting to spend time with him? I think he would experience immeasurable anxiety, fear, and feelings of insecurity.
Children suffer when parents are in conflict. And the theory put forth by Donna Hicks is that we perpetrate an indignity upon our children when it is within our power to prevent their suffering but choose to do otherwise (Hicks 73). You also reduce them to the subject of another power struggle, another battle. I know this is not intentional. But it is an example of how we unknowingly cause indignities to other human beings.
Sure, you call the police when there is an emergency. I urge you to do this when anyone’s safety or well-being is on the line. However, timesharing issues are NOT an emergency. It may feel that way to you. But, the police most likely will not see the minor breach of a civil agreement as an emergency and most likely nor will the Court.
If you have purchased tickets to take the children somewhere and your spouse decided that they now can’t go, this may be the exception to the rule. In some circuits you may be able to get in for an emergency hearing. In some circuits, however, unless irreparable harm will be done by what you are trying to prevent or have happen, you are looking at a 5-month wait to be heard.
My best advice to you is to try to work this out between you and your spouse or enlist the aid of your attorney to help negotiate this matter. Witnessing the display of dignity and respect between parents may be the dearest gift you can give your children this holiday season.
I would be honored to help you resolve your conflict. Please call Mara Law, P.A. at 386.672.8081 to schedule your consultation.