To Buy or Not to Buy: the Question of Holiday Presents

There has been a bit of online discussion on whether alienated parents should continue to buy gifts for children who have shut them out. Of course, this is only relevant for the occasions when if not for parental alienation, such gifts would be assumed.

As the discussion is getting heated, with targeted parents possibly going up against each other, the leadership team of Simply Parent thought it appropriate to weigh in. After all, our mission is to bring us together for a fight against parental alienation, and to stand in the corner of every targeted parent; a corner often left empty by everybody else.

Holidays – birthdays, religious celebrations, mothers’ and fathers’ days, long public holiday weekends – are particularly hard for most targeted parents because they put us face to face with what we don’t have; they rip off the hard-earned scab and pour salt on the wound; their celebration of family confronts us with our loss, whether that is complete loss of our children or the loss of their tender, uncomplicated, intact bond with us.

Holidays when we would give gifts to our kids can be particularly tough if we no longer have contact with them. We know parents who always send the gift, fully aware that it may be mocked, ignored, or even “lost”; parents that buy and wrap these gifts, but keep them in their children’s room, next to the letters they continue to write to them, dated through the years of separation and with an eye on that sweet reconnection one day; and also parents who, perhaps after having done either or both of the above, do not do presents at all.

There are strong opinions that gifts to kids that refuse contact are about unconditional love, especially given that the alienator’s acceptance is the opposite. There are also strong opinions that such gifts endorse or even reward unacceptable behaviour.

Sadly, it is taking sides on issues like this that has led to numerous splits of support groups and organizations within our community. As human beings, we also attack when most vulnerable, such as around holidays. As aptly described in the blog Fighting Grief, sometimes it feels like fighting is the only thing we can do. But let’s not do that this season.

What brings us together is far stronger than what divides us. While we can relate to each other’s experiences when most of the world thinks us crazy, grief is a solitary journey. Pain like ours, pain of losing a child, is a lonely place where words said into your ear sound like far-away echo.

So let’s be kind to one another; let’s ask a question when our instinct is to offer advice; let’s listen to understand, not to validate our own long-suffered position. After all, aren’t we all here because of others’ co-opting for validation?

We will not tell you what to do about presents this season; you have it tough enough without our judgement on whether you are a good-enough parent. What we can do is remind you of what you know in your heart:

  • As long as you are dealing with true parental alienation, your child(ren) are being held hostage; they are being played, manipulated, and made to feel shame for loving you. So whether they still remember it or not, their rejection of you is an act of self-defence, and an act no child should ever have to commit against his/her own self.

  • Whatever you do, don’t do it to outmanoeuvre the alienators: they can turn anything against you. If you don’t send the gift, you’re feeding into the “s/he never cared about you and has abandoned you” narrative, and if you send it, you’re “admitting guilt” or offering a pathetic “too little, too late peep that you care."

  • Whatever you do, try to do solely out of love for your kids, and out of love for yourself. You are justified in feeling betrayed, angry, and disappointed, but if that’s the reason you don’t send a gift, you may regret it: this is probably not the best opportunity for discipline, let alone retaliation. If you’re getting a gift to make a point, you may feel embarrassed later: there is no score keeping in this “game”. Try not to let this unspeakably devastating situation leave you with regret, or make you into a person you no longer recognise or respect.

Whether this season you send gifts, leave them wrapped in the closet, or choose not to go shopping, try – for the sake of your heart and sanity – to do it out of love. Perhaps try transporting yourself into a future conversation with your kid(s) about this occasion. In that future moment, are you defensive and dogmatic, or do you offer an explanation for what you did from an open heart? There is no one way to be a good parent, but there are many ways not to be one, and fear – substitute defensiveness, rage, or grief – is our enemy when we let it drive us.

If this has been of any value to you, please share this with your networks in the same spirit of facilitating a discussion on these most acute, most debilitating questions only targeted parents understand.

Above all, please take care of yourselves this holiday season – and let us help you. Learn all you can about parental alienation from trusted sources, incl. by reviewing the original articles published in Parent Survival Guide in 2017; write your story – yourself – despite the deafening story “about” you that your alienator is telling; peruse through our older blogs, because they may help you feel like somebody can actually relate to what you are going through; and join a Parent Speak Meeting or start one, to offer yourself and others validation and support.

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