Pre-Christmas for Alienated Parents

Christmas-Tree-Nature1024-226431Hi all — I know Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time for many of us.  I’ve recently connected with a group of divorced Dads and am seeing my own feelings replicated so often among them.  I would encourage you this Christmas Season to take some of these suggestions and run with them to keep you from the fetal position on the couch for days at a time.  And yes, I’ve been there.  But in the future — you don’t have to be.

Some of these are predicated on the fact that you would have a group of friends to do stuff with this holiday season.  If you don’t feel like you have this, here’s your first step.  Do a Friend Audit.  Make a list of all the friends you have.  Doesn’t matter if they are just acquaintances, work friends, relatives, or people you’d like to get to know (keep potential romantic interests in the friend zone for this audit).  Keep at it until you have a list of about 15-20 people.  Great if there’s more.

Then do a Loneliness Forecast.  Get out your calendar.  There’s sure to be stuff there already for Christmas parties for work or family events, etc. You should be okay keeping busy there, but look for holes in the calendar.  These would be days where you don’t have anything going or evenings you know will be hard because maybe you have traditions you used to do with your kids that you won’t be doing this year (like on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day).   Note which days these might be and start to plan things and find friends from your list that you could invite.  The key here is to anticipate the difficult days ahead and plan accordingly.

Here’s reality.  Virtually every single or divorced and all alienated parents are looking for friends and stuff to do around the holidays.  People are off work, there’s that evil liar “nostalgia” that works around the corners of your mind and there’s just plain loneliness.  So with all that in mind…

Jim’s suggestions for not letting Christmas get you down.

  1. Look for other Singles, lonely people you know and divorced dads/moms and schedule things to do on Christmas Day.  One of the dads in my group has a Christmas breakfast tradition with his mom and invited our whole group.  I think 10 guys are going.  I wish I could be there, but I’m spending Christmas away at my parents.  Another friend has invited the crew out to see a movie that afternoon.  Over Thanksgiving I fed the homeless and went to a pub to watch a game with a buddy and his kids.  Both great distractions and made for a great day.
  2. Spend time with the rest of your family.  Go visit your brother, sister, parents, nieces, nephews, grandma etc.  I’ve done this the last 3 years and probably won’t always do it, but it’s great for me right now.  They live on the other side of the country, and yeah, it costs money, but it’s good for my soul.
  3. Find Christmas events to go to with a group of friends.  Christmas plays, musicals, skating nights, Christmas parties, etc.  Do as much of this stuff you can.  Getting out around other people is essential for your sanity this time of year.  Staying home alone will cause depression, discouragement and hopelessness.  Know yourself well enough and plan ahead for this.
  4. Keep expectations low.  Don’t build yourself up into a big frenzy that this is the year you’ll hear from the kids.  This also helps if you do hear from them — you don’t want to gush and cry and get all weird on them if that happens, you just want to be gracious and kind and loving and the parent you’ve always been.
  5. Mix it up.  Plan a date for one night (find someone online or through a friend, it can be a first date, but it gets you out and mingling).  Do something with the dudes one day (paintball? Watching a bowl game?).  Find a thing to do with a mixed crowd — friend Christmas party, or Karaoke night, New Year’s Eve on the town, etc.  Don’t just invite the same friends, you’ve got a list — use it.
  6. Serve.  Nothing helps you get in the Christmas spirit better than doing something for the less fortunate around us.   Do the white Envelope thing (google it).  Serve at a soup kitchen.  Get two guys together and deliver Angel Tree Presents for kids whose parents are incarcerated.  I did this with two buddies and it was incredible.
  7. Perform.  I have been an “extra” along with 150 of my closest friends two years for my Church’s Christmas Program.  There’s 15 shows over 2 weeks and you spend huge amounts of time together.  It’s a great place to make friends and feel like you’re part of a family.  Anytime you do a show with people, there’s bonding.  Jump in.  Do something you haven’t done in a long time.  Be daring.  You are a better person for doing it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you who read this.  I hope I’ve helped in a small way to make it more bearable for you all!

Santa Jim

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Is an apology in order?

Spoke with my son’s counselor the other night.  She indicated that he still feels like I have never apologized to him.  I actually have — numerous times — both in person and via email.  But the fact remains that he doesn’t feel like I have.  It is very very hard to apologize to someone who rarely talks to you — and even when he does, it’s not civil, there’s no respect and he is more than willing to accuse, blame and insult me at every opportunity.  It’s not his fault, it’s how his mom has trained him to act toward his father, ever since he was little.  His mom’s favorite show was “Home Improvement” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” I think mostly because they painted the father as a complete idiot and the wife as the most rational person in the room.  The three of them used to watch those shows constantly, laughing hysterically at the stupidity of Ray Romano and Tim Allen.  I think it’s the main reason I love watching shows like “Last Man Standing” now.  Sure Tim Allen is goofy at times in it and he can be ridiculous, but he’s also wise, respected, valued and important to his family.  I think Tim noticed the problem with Home Improvement and worked really hard to improve it and do the show he wanted to the second time around.  I love that.

apologize

After hearing that my son was still needing an apology, I wrote him this letter via email.  I have a program called “sidekick” that allows me to track if he has opened my emails or not and he has read it at least three different times.  I think that bodes well for him feeling like it moved him a bit.  Either that or he’s showing his mom and his “new father” as he calls her boyfriend…  But I’m going to think positive about it.  Here’s the letter — maybe it can help some of you craft something similar for your kids?

Dear Son —

You probably should read this after school and in a quiet place by yourself.

Just thought I’d write you a bit about how I’m feeling of late.  I just want to say I’m continually in a state of sorrow because we don’t have the relationship we once had.  I always imagined that the older you got, the closer we’d get and the more you’d come to me for advice and input into your life – whether that was about a job or problems at school or with women, or just feelings you had that you didn’t know what to do with.  I don’t think there’s anyone that knows you as a whole man and gets you like your dad does.  I know I feel that with my dad quite frequently.  He always amazes me with his wisdom about who I am and what I really need — not necessarily what I think I need, but what I really need.
I dreamed of being that type of dad for you very early on in your life and worked hard to be there for you through all your sports and school and conflicts and anything you dealt with as you were growing up.
I am so sorry that I was unable to continue developing that type of  relationship with you after your mom and I separated.  I know I didn’t handle things the way I should have much of the time during that process.  I never ever expected I would get divorced and really had no plan or idea of how to manage that so I did fumble a lot of the early steps in the process and I think that wounded you deeply.
I have tried to reach out to you regularly to let you know that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere and I will always want to be in your life at some level.  I realize that you have a surrogate dad situation with your mom’s boyfriend and I think that’s great and you need strong male role models in your life, but I also know that no matter how many of those you have, everyone still wants their dad to love them and accept them and be proud of them.   I want to be that for you, Joshua.
I hope that through your counseling sessions and your discussions with role models in your life that you will come to a place where you can realize that your Dad is a flawed human being.  He makes mistakes. Just like you do.  Just like every human does.  That doesn’t mean he has to be out of your life.  It just means he needs forgiveness and grace like you do.
I pray for you constantly.  As do your grandparents and Uncles and Aunts and many of my friends.
I look forward to the day when we can have some kind of relationship again.  I hope there is room in your heart to forgive me for the things that I have done to wrong you at some point.  I miss you.  I love you.
Dad

Great Article for Men and Women as they explore dating…

9 Signs You’re Dating a Man, Not a Boy

The Power of a Friendship Family

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For those of you who are enduring the difficulty and pain of a parental alienation syndrome situation, I want to encourage you more than I ever have — Find a new friendship family.  I waited about 2  years after my divorce to really embrace this concept, and I’m kicking myself for the lost time and the loneliness I went through in that timeframe.

I said in a previous post that I joined a divorced dads group.  That group has helped me build relationships not just with other men, but with their extended friends (both male and female) and even their kids.  Spent Thanksgiving dinner watching the really bad Cowboys game with one of these guys and his kids and went to an event with the group yesterday and his kids are now calling me their “Uncle.”  That, my friends, is good for the soul.  For a man who hasn’t had a hug from his kids in over 2 years, to have a 7 and 10 year old run up to hug you and ask you to throw a football or push them on a swing is, well, it’s affirming, it’s beautiful, it’s a God – thing.

The group usually does something every weekend and often will involve karaoke or dancing or bar-hopping or just hanging out at a friends’ house.  The women that hang with us are actively planning trips and getaways for themselves as well.  The community felt by this group is pretty incredible.  I was gone for almost a week out of the country on a “bro-trip” with my college roommate and I genuinely can say I missed my “family.”  I couldn’t wait to see them all again.  I brought presents home for several of them.  I’ve been in this group for a bit more than 2 months, and I already feel like they are my family.

So here’s my encouragement to you.  You can only do what you can do to get your kids back.  Worrying about it, lawsuits, arguing with the ex, fighting for every conversation — all of those things are necessary at times.  But it can also take over your life.  Which can also be its own vicious spiral.  The nastier things get, the more the kids are told you are evil and the nastier things get.  I’ve cut back a lot of the back and forth with the ex recently, and I think  a lot of that is because it’s not foremost in my mind at any given time.  I’ve got friends, I’ve got stuff to do, I’ve got two jobs, etc.  PAS has a way of making many of us very bitter and angry and the power of a family of friends is that it takes the edge off of much of that.

Now some input here — I haven’t really told many of these people what I’m going through.  I figure it will come out organically at some point and it has a bit to a couple of them, but I’ve made a strong effort not to be “THAT guy.”  You know, the one that is labeled “alienated Dad” (In spite of the name of this blog) and everyone just seems him as a bitter, frustrated, one-topic dude.  Each of you is unique in your own way and you aren’t a one issue person.  You have many influences and outlets in your life (and if you don’t — you need to seek that out and find them).  So find a group like that — don’t use it to whine and complain, but use it to build relationships.  Then let these new friends into your life slowly and it will eventually come out and you’ll have people who know you for who you are not for what has happened to you.  You’re not a victim.  You’re a survivor.  But that’s a whole different post in and of itself.

So go find your Friendship Family.  If you can’t find one, become the guy that starts building one.  You’d be shocked how many lonely dads, lonely moms and singles are out there looking for community.  Find a good sized church and start connecting people.  Go to Meetups and do things afterward.  Look for guy friends like you look for girlfriends.  If you’re a guy, maybe look for guy friends first, and vice-versa.  More important to have a wingman than a girlfriend.  Did I just write that?  Wow, maybe I’m making progress…