If your thoughts turn to Rudolph and whatever games those other, mean reindeer wouldn’t let him play, you are right. Reindeer games happen every holiday season between high conflict parents. Holidays are full of dread, anticipating how the other parent will act out this ye
ar to ruin everything. Now, with a pandemic layered on top, reindeer games are prevalent with the awful game of child emotional and physical “keep-away.”
We are all making accommodations to how we will celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s in 2020. Be on high alert for these reindeer games from a parent, and how to not play along.
The Anxiety Game
Every year, there are a deluge of articles about how to deal with stress and holidays. It is one thing for an adult to take some “me” time with a relaxing book and bath, or a walk outside. Tell that to a frustrated 3-year old in a full-out tantrum. Or to your 14-year old who you discovered has a secret social media account to get around age-barriers. As parents, we are innately attuned to the mental health of our children, as it deeply impacts our own daily coping.
The strain of this year has permeated all age brackets. The CDC just published a report that beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental-health related emergency room visits has increased and remained elevated through October of 2020, with children ages 5-11 having 24% more visits and teens ages 12-17 having 31% more visits than in 2019.
If the other parent has always made your life more anxiety-ridden with being late, not showing up, or questioning your and the child’s every move, take a deep breath, and be as prepared as possible. Your child needs a support system, just as you do. If you don’t already have mental health services in place for your child, take a few crucial minutes to set this up. Now, before it is necessary. Even for a day, try to limit exposure to news and social media, which leads to “emotional poisoning.” Kids need more immediate attention to their anxiety levels, as they need to develop the tools to cope with stress.
The “I’m so lonely and the dog misses you so much” game
You have come to dread 7:00 p.m., when your former partner calls, your child takes the phone into his bedroom, and comes out 20 minutes later, teary-eyed and refusing to talk. The other parent, under the guise of being a loving parent, makes your child feel guilty about being at your house, with you. In short, this is manipulative behavior which negatively impacts your child’s emotional health.
Guilt from the other parent can make you swing like a pendulum. You can become overly indulgent, so that your home is more “fun.” You can become competitive, so that your home is just as good, if not better than the other parent, so that your child misses you – and your two dogs – just as much, if not more, when he is away.
This is another case of helping develop the right tools for your child, and for you. You need to keep yourself in check, so you are not reacting to this guilt game. Don’t ignore this behavior, rather, talk about it with your child. But also make sure your child is heard, and not put in the middle. Having a social worker or therapist in place gives a neutral outlet for your child to talk about these feelings.
The Keep-Away Game
On March 18, 2020, Cook County issued a general order, stating a parent’s regular parenting time shall control in all circumstances during this pandemic. Possession and access shall not be affected by a school’s closure, and the parents are directed to follow the regular parenting schedule in place. This is unchanged, and judges in all counties are following this interpretation of parenting time during a pandemic.
It would be an ideal world if both parents were on the same page about mask-wearing, handwashing, and how many people are allowed into your “bubble.” But this perhaps is another reason why you and the other parent are in separate homes.
If the other parent claims that your child must stay at his home because of potential virus exposure, you must act immediately. It is not his choice to graciously prevent you from possible contact, it is your choice about exercising your parenting time. You cannot let days go by if a parent indulges in self-help and keeps a child away from you. If you are not able to enforce this yourself, get help from your attorney.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, November 13, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6945a3.htm?s_cid=mm6945a3_w