Dealing With a High-Conflict Ex-Wife During the Holidays
No Peaceful or Easy Feeling
The court order says very specifically that Christmas with the kids begins at 6:00 PM on the last day of school. Yet there you and your husband sit, in the ex-wife's driveway, staring at a dark and empty house. The "ours" children you have with your husband are in the backseat asking where their siblings are and wondering why they are not coming out the front door.
Your husband shakes his head because the thousands of dollars he spent on lawyer fees for a new court order did not improve the situation. You resist the urge to flip the bird to the dark house and swallow your anger. Your children are once again missing their brothers and sisters on yet another holiday. As your husband backs out of the driveway you turn to deal with the tiny tears in the backseat and vow this will not ruin the upcoming celebration.
Sound familiar? If yes, this article is for you! I will outline some steps for stepmoms to take that will save your sanity during the holidays.
Does the ex-wife in your life ignore the court order and withhold the children on holidays?
You Didn't Cause It
If you read my first article I suggested you, the stepmom, cease all contact with the ex-wife as of yesterday. I continue to endorse that statement, especially during the holiday season. You will soon see that even if both your and your husband do not contact the ex-wife she will manufacture "evidence" and drama to justify withholding the children for the holidays. (Photo of actual messages received from the ex-wife I deal with. Names changed to protect the children. Yes holidays have a very specific section in the court order and no, it never makes a difference.)
If you are a sane and decent human being and act accordingly, there is absolutely no action on your part that has any influence or control over the actions or behaviors of the ex-wife. You and only you are responsible for your actions and behaviors. The ex-wife, and only the ex-wife, is responsible for her actions and behaviors. Make sure your behaviors reflect the best version of you (no yelling cuss words at that empty house during the Thanksgiving exchange!). Make peace with whatever shit show the ex-wife decides to unveil during the holidays and understand all that drama is hers and hers alone.
When the ex-wife goes low, do not go high. In fact, I advocate to not do anything at all. Let her sit over there and look like a lunatic all by herself. Do not react in any way. Do not speak to her. Do not call her out on her behavior. Do not feed the drama llama. As a veteran stepmom of 8 years I can say with confidence that during all the holidays over the years not one single action my husband took resulted in a different outcome. The only thing engaging in "the fight" changed was the fact that the children had to endure more heart ache and drama. The ex-wife still did not follow the court order and in the process our holidays were miserable due to the constant back and forth.
You Can't Control It
As much as the ex-wife may allude to your ability to completely control your husband you actually cannot control anyone but yourself. (I've personally been accused of completely controlling and changing my husband and all I can think is: WTF? I can't even get him to remember milk at the grocery store! Mind control my ass!)
Sane and decent people want the children to have both parents in their lives and they want the children to have happy holiday memories rather than ones full of drama and anxiety. You will drive yourself to the looney bin if you constantly try to control the outcome by somehow forcing the ex-wife to follow the court order. If the ex-wife is going to hold the children hostage for the holidays there is nothing you can do or say to change her mind.
The best you can do is have the police arrive with you for the exchange and have them document the refusal. In some states the police have the power to do something but in most states they do not. Be sure to get an official police report and then file a motion for refused parenting time. Any make-up time ordered by the court will all be after the fact and you will never get that holiday back.
How many holidays have you lost due to the ex-wife?
You Can't Change It
For a truly bitter high conflict ex-wife, no amount of time is going to make her behavior better. If she kept the children on holidays out of spite when they were 2 and 4 years old she will keep them out of spite when they are 12 and 14 years old. Time does nothing to ameliorate the apparent need for revenge, especially if the ex-wife has a personality disorder. (Think Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)
Understand that no amount of giving the ex-wife what she wants by switching weekends, giving her extra money, doing a favor for her, giving her extra time, accepting her offer of extra time or literally any thing else on the entire planet is going to suddenly change the ex-wife into a reasonable person. Nothing. Full stop. You cannot change crazy. The months leading up to the holidays are often rife with mini-dramas leading up to the big holiday drama. If you are dealing with an ex-wife with a personality disorder there is absolutely no "best" way to handle the situation that will prevent the big holiday drama. You do you and let the ex-wife live in her own drama.
Decide What To Tell Your Children
If you have children from a previous relationship or children with your husband you have to decide what and when to tell them about the upcoming holidays. Young children will not be as aware that siblings are missing during the celebrations but older children, especially if they also have two homes, will understand that some family members are absent from the home.
You and your husband must decide together how to approach the other children in the home about the situation.
The children of the ex-wife are going to miss out on holidays and family traditions. You cannot go back in time and give the kids a different mother. Even when all the children are 18 and you no longer have to abide by a court order dictating exchange times and holidays, the ex-wife will still be the mother of these children. You will be free of her but they have to deal with her and holidays for the rest of their life. This petty and childish holiday drama will not magically end once the children are all adults.
It is not fair to the children to endure this kind of hostility, especially during the holidays, but this is their reality. You and your own children, spouse, and extended family do not have to be miserable for every holiday for the next decade because an adult (aka the ex-wife) cannot act like a decent person. The only thing you can control are your actions and feelings. Be a good person to the kids and let the rest go.
It will be easier for you as a stepparent to accept this reality than it will be for the biological parent who is missing out on holidays with the children. Absolutely offer support and comfort to your spouse when things get tough. However, try not to let the grief and sadness take away your personal joy for the holidays, especially if you have your own children or "ours" children. Being a stepparent is one of the hardest things you will ever do and self-care is an imperative part of being the best parent or step-parent you can be. The holidays are particularly difficult when parents are divorced and this is especially true if one of them is hell bent on revenge and punishment. Take back your personal power and enjoy the holidays despite the drama!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.