Parental alienation at any time of the year sucks. But it’s most excruciating at Christmas. And I should know. I watch my husband, Rhys, go through this every year.

Regardless of what family court ordered about the division of the childrens’ time between Mam’s and Da’s houses at Christmastime, a vindictive ex will do exactly what they want.

Assuming the mother has physical custody of the children and is practicing Parental Alienation, this means she will keep the children with her on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and perhaps even all of Christmas Day. Da is lucky to see his kids for a few hours in the evening, after the kids are all Christmas-ed out. Or he might get them on Boxing Day or after, when their yuletide cheer is getting decidedly frayed around the edges.

But the pain of the parent being alienated at Christmas doesn’t stop there.

All year long he works his ass off to meet the Child Maintenance demands. He works long hours, pulls extra shifts, does anything and everything he can to put food in his children’s mouths, clothes on their back and a warm roof over the heads. His kids always come first, as they always have, even if that means he shivers in the cheapest, coldest housing and survives on canned soup from the nearest food pantry.

Meanwhile, his ex tells the children he’s a deadbeat Da who doesn’t pay a dime towards their care. ‘He’s making loads of money,’ she claims, ‘but he doesn’t care enough to give me a pound to feed and clothe you!’

They believe her.

When Da finds out abut her claims, he pulls out all the paperwork, proving his wages are being garnished, proving he is the one caring for them monetarily.

The children don’t believe it.

All year long their Ma squirrels away the Child Maintenance (support) she receives (well, the part she doesn’t use for booze and gambling.) The children are clothed in ill-fitting, holey clothing from charity shops, clothes they’ve long out-grown. Their food is the cheapest frozen food, devoid of both flavor and nutrition.

Suddenly, the floodgates of ‘her’ generosity open. Their Christmases are awesome. There are mounds of presents under the tree. Expensive gifts. Computers. Smartphones. Everything they ever wanted.

For the month preceding Christmas, their Da barely eats. He exists on crackers and coffee. His mates notice he’s losing weight and buy him a bacon butty now and then. Every spare pound he can save or scrounge is carefully put by for Christmas. The children never know it. When they finally arrive for Christmas with their father, the refrigerator is full and there’s one gift for each of them.

It’s all he can afford.

Greedily, they rip the wrapping paper from their gifts. Disappointment fills their eyes. ‘Is this all!?!’ they demand, disgusted.

He chokes back tears. He knows what they’re thinking. ‘The man makes thousands, Mam told us. He doesn’t contribute a dime towards our care and this is all he gives us for Christmas!?! What a Scrooge. He doesn’t give a shit about us. Living high off the hog and can’t spare a pound for his kids. What a deadbeat!’

They don’t know he starved himself for them. They don’t know how hard he works and how much he pays. They don’t know how much he loves them.

Even if he told them, they’d never believe him. Nothing he can say or do will ever convince his children of how much he loves and cares for them. That he, not their Mam, actually paid for all their expensive Christmas gifts. They’re too brainwashed by the woman who (supposedly) gives them so much stuff!

So he doesn’t bother to tell them. But he does cook delicious meals for them, but doesn’t eat himself so they have enough. He gives what he has to give: his time, his attention, his love, good food.

They’d rather play their new video games.

Parental Alienation has ruined yet another Christmas.