Your Only Rule: PREPARATION!!!
“It’s an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.” -JFK
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin
“Don’t depend on the enemy not coming; depend, rather, on being ready.” -Sun Tzu
“Be prepared.” -Boy Scout motto
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” -Malcolm X
“Confidence comes from being prepared.” -John Wooden
“Plan your work for today and everyday; then work you plan.” - Margaret Thatcher
There’s total consensus in Quoteland about the importance of preparation. Despite era, country, expertise, profession, party, race, gender...a universal agreement exists about how critical preparation is to success. So let’s apply the practice of preparation to high-conflict holiday parenting! If you’re new to high-conflict parenting, please see my general interaction guidelines published in my August blog ‘5+1 Parallel Parenting Must-Dos’. Seems like I always circle back around to these during the special times of year when the stakes are higher and events are more precious.
WRITTEN PREPARATION: THE HOLIDAY PARENTING TIME PLAN
The holiday parenting time plan needs to be 100% in writing and highly specific. Worst case scenario, without a written plan, there is no legal recourse if you find yourself in the situation of needing to call the police about custodial interference or kidnapping. Best case scenario, without a written plan, there is plenty of ‘grey area’ for a former spouse to manipulate, scare, and aggravate. To make it as useful as possible, the written plan should have several specific elements to prevent conflict:
One of the guarantees I can make about high-conflict holiday parenting is that someone is going to try to introduce chaos and sow seeds of discontent. That’s what makes it a high-conflict situation! As the stable parent, be steady, consistent, and resolute. Do not deviate from the written plan outside of a 100% documented emergency. No day swapping. No time changes. Work your plan (it’s why you have it). Deviating from the plan teaches the dysfunctional party that you do not actually require adherence to your written plans and agreements...a horrible and dangerous message to send. At all costs, unless it is an emergency, avoid last-minute changes and communications. Often, in high-conflict situations, standards are intentionally not met to facilitate antagonistic communication with the other parent. Don’t take the bait.
PREPARATION FOR (ugh) INTERACTING
JUST DON’T. Stick to the communication rules of high-conflict parenting observed the rest of the year: Speak as little as possible. Speak in writing. In advance. Speak through email aligned to my guidelines...maybe even supervised email (depending on the severity of your situation).
DON’T get tricked into the holiday spirit that does not apply to your situation. Don’t be swayed by sappy holiday movies and nostalgic movies. Changing your interaction rules, set for your own well-being, sends messages counter to your position and will create months and months of subsequent cleanup. Thinking about texting some holiday pictures of the kids to be nice? ABSOLUTELY NOT! See my July blog for High-Conflict Back-to-School Tips for guidance on this. Or try this...imagine that I’m going to bill you $25 for every word you speak. Rules for the other 364 days of the year apply to Christmas!!!
Your strict limitation on communication does not extend to the kids. If children are old enough, and one parent can’t see the kids on holiday, and that parent has requested it, you can facilitate a phone call...but do not be a part of it. Not even a perceived part of it.
What about the Grandparents...
Typically, my advice is that communication with grandparents is the responsibility of each grandparent’s child. In high-conflict situations, even well-intentioned cross-communication with your ex’s parents can be fraught with discord. You run the likelihood of info you share being passed along to the high-conflict party. You also run the risk of the other parent viewing grandparents as an acceptable, alternate avenue for communication with you, which it is not. Recognize that is no longer your job to make up for your ex’s lacking parenting or social skills.
PREPARATION for GIVING
This is a grey area. How do you handle a child who wants to buy/wrap a present for your ex? You want to support your child’s giving nature, but you don’t want to send a mixed message about your position.
Remember, you’re NOT dealing with a typical person in a high-conflict situation. For example, narcissistic parents interpret this act as the other parent still loving and wanting them. Parents with financial grievances will pick at your spending. You just can’t win this one...so avoid the conflict.
A nice middle-ground is to encourage the kids make something independently. When the child asks to buy a particular gift, say, “That’s a great idea...why don’t you draw a picture of that?” Then let them do the wrapping. You want the gift to be construed as 100% from the child...and it’s a great way to help your kids really own gift giving and their relationship with their other parent. You can still be hands-on in your child’s gifting arena for grandparents, teachers, and friends.
Jason Castle is a family lawyer who specializes in high-conflict cases. He's also a former prosecutor & social worker. Hear his latest divorce thoughts!