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Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Coping with the Holidays: Tips for Targeted Parents

How helping others may be the best gift to yourself.

As the holidays approach, I hear from many targeted parents how hard it is at this time of year. Many targeted parents are not able to be with their children during at least one if not more holidays of this season. The children are either shared with the other parent and/or the children are refusing to spend time with them despite the court ordered parenting plan. Either way, it can be hard to avoid feelings of anger, jealousy, resentment, sadness, and hopelessness as targeted parents see other parents having so easily what is so hard for them: the opportunity to create loving family memories with their children. I wish that I had a magic wand and could make all of alienated children no longer be alienated. I wish that I could help them understand that they don’t have to choose between their parents, that they have a right to love and be loved by both parents. Absent of the magic wand, all I have is my compassion and caring for targeted parents and my advice, hard-earned from years of working with and talking with targeted parents. What I want to do over the next several blogs posts is to share some of that advice with targeted parents in the hopes that somehow it helps to lighten the load.

My first piece of advice derives from a story I heard about Alfred Adler, one of the early leaders in the field of psychology. In the story, Adler is talking with a client who is depressed. After hearing about how sad and lonely the client is, Adler assigns him a task for homework. The assignment is to do something nice for someone else. The client is confused because he thought he was in therapy to talk about him and his thoughts and feelings. He explained to Adler that he was much too depressed to think about doing something nice for someone else. In response, Adler was purported to have said something like, “Well, if you are really really sad, then I will change the homework. Now, the assignment is to go out and do two nice things for someone else.” The point is that Adler understood that sometimes the best way to lift our spirits when the world is not going our way is to help someone else. Decades later, brain research actually documented that there are changes in the brain when we engage in acts of kindness which result in an uptick in our own well-being.

Holidays can be so painful for targeted parents who are deprived – often repeatedly – of the pleasure and joy of being with their beloved children. There may not be anything that can be done in the immediate moment to rectify the situation so the only question left is how the targeted parent will cope with the negative feelings engendered by the loss. If Adler were here today, we would suggest acts of kindness for others in order to make the world a better place and in the process increasing our own sense of well-being – even just a little. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of such a boost than targeted parents. Maybe the best gift you can give yourself is the gift of the pleasure of helping others.