Originally published 12/18/2019 by Stepparent Magazine / Revised September 16, 2023

Ten years ago this Christmas, Jack and I gave my three stepchildren the ultimate gift – a new home. Just months before, we’d secretly bought a two-story house nestled on a huge lot with a creek running on the back side. Weeks were spent renovating and decorating it down to the very last toothbrush. The joy we felt picking out paint colors for their walls, stocking the closet with shampoo, and making their beds for the first time can’t be quantified. We couldn’t wait for us to have a place to call home. And we couldn’t wait for them to have a place where they could just be kids.

A Christmas Surprise

Christmas Day arrived, and we scooped them up at the meetup spot for Jack’s visitation. On our way to Christmas dinner, we told them we needed to make a quick stop and say hello to an old friend. When we opened the front door, the living room was sparkling bright with holiday cheer as Michael Bublé sang in the background. The tree was aglow as light bounced from bright silver and blue ornaments and reflected off of the brand-new hardwood floors. Stockings hung on the mantle stuffed and ready to be explored. It truly was a scene from a movie. They screamed in excitement and quickly made their way to their new rooms. Finally, I thought, we’ll be one big happy family.

Traditions and Joy

Ornament painting, cookie baking, stocking decorating, and gingerbread house making quickly became yearly holiday traditions. Spending hours in the kitchen until we dropped while eating too many baked goods to count were absolute musts. The festivities were never complete until holiday tins were packed with freshly baked cookies ready for school delivery. And of course, our favorite Christmas movies – Elf and The Grinch – were watched at least three times as we piled on the couch in our PJs.

A Disheartening Transformation

Over time, happy memories and holiday traditions became fewer and farther between as their minds became more and more poisoned against us. Their anticipation of gifts and enthusiasm of traditions eventually melted as our inability to meet their expectations grew. And then one day, they stopped coming home altogether.

A Different Christmas

Now at Christmas, the tree along with their painted ornaments and decorated stockings remain neatly packed in the attic with hundreds of treasured memories. No baking will be had nor will holiday cheer be abounding. As a matter of fact, if you came by our house on Christmas Day, you would assume it was just any ordinary day.

The Painful Present

Holiday songs like “Where Are You Christmas” are now the precursor to public meltdowns without warning. Just today, I cried so hard in a crowded restaurant; the tears ran down my French fries before pooling up on my plate. The pain is so gripping at times it takes my breath away.

A Different Kind of Giving

Our holidays look much different now. Jack and I volunteer to work so others can be at home making memories we can’t. We check in on our local widows and seek out opportunities to bring holiday cheer to those alone. And throughout this holiday season, we’ll try to give the most precious gift that can never be bought – the gift of time. For truly we know just how fleeting it is.

Picture: Our home Christmas Day 2011

2 thoughts on “The Heartbreaking Journey of Parental Alienation: From a Joyful Christmas Home to an Empty House

  1. Sheryl, this is truly incredibly heartbreaking. And I never EVER thought that I would be in the same situation but it is happening to me too. I learnt 3 days ago that my children will not come at Christmas and have arranged to be somewhere else. I, too, volunteer at Christmas as it is the only way to keep me sane. As for the tears, they appear every day at different times, rather unannounced. I am truly sorry for you both. Big hugs from the UK.

  2. I’m so sorry jack I know how you feel Christmas isn’t Christmas for me I’ve never had one with my daughter as the mother always got her ways and I haven’t had one with my son in we’ll ever even though I was dating his mom on and off

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