December is the season for gift-giving. When Christmas comes around, kids and adults alike enjoy wrapping and giving gifts to loved ones and family. After a breakup, your former spouse or partner probably isn’t at the top of your “nice list”. But if you have children together, you may still want to give your co-parent a Christmas gift. Here are some thoughts to consider.
After a messy divorce or emotional separation, you may well be harboring bad feelings toward your ex-spouse or former partner. Divorces are inherently emotional, and the feelings of loss, anger, and grief can continue long after the formal legal process is over. With all that emotional baggage, you would be well within your rights to cut your ex-spouse off your holiday gift list. But when you have children together, that may not be an option.
Remember, your “ex” means a lot more to your children. To them, that person is mom or dad -- part of their family, and possibly part of their identity. If gift-giving has been part of your family tradition, your children will naturally want to give gifts to both of their parents. But the practical aspects of gift-giving can be difficult for children in divided households. Depending on their age and maturity, your children will rely on you to help them pick out, purchase, pay for, and wrap their gifts to your co-parent. It is up to you to put your personal feelings aside and model compassion and generosity for your child’s mother or father, so that your child can enjoy the Christmas season without the added stress of appeasing angry parents.
In more amicable family situations, including when families have used collaborative practices to resolve their family law disputes, Christmas gifts can work as signs that you and your co-parent are committed to cooperation and supporting one another. These don’t have to be fancy or expensive. In fact, the best Christmas gifts for co-parents are the ones designed to support parents in areas where they have said they are struggling. They can also double as gifts for your children and can help strengthen the parent-child bond.
While you are considering whether to give a Christmas gift to your co-parent, you should also think about the effects of gift-receiving on your children. When kids have two Christmases (one with each parent), it can cause stress for everyone involved as children try to balance their parents’ expectations and parents sometimes compete to be “best parent”. Here are some ways you can give your whole family the gift of a stress-free Christmas:
In many families, one parent will have substantially higher income than the other. This can make Christmas feel one-sided and can cause hurt feelings when children see the presents under the less affluent parent’s tree. Child support can help equalize parents’ ability to pay for their children’s needs, but it often isn’t enough to make up for differences in discretionary spending and gift-giving.
To avoid this, talk to your co-parent well before the Christmas buying season begins. Agree on a gift budget you can each afford. It may be less than the higher wage earner would have spent otherwise, and it might mean your children don’t get everything on their wish list, but it will also keep your children from having to hide their feelings when one co-parent gives far more than the other.
Relatedly, children will often identify one do-or-die item they simply must have during the Christmas season. Sometimes, it is a big ticket item financially. Other times its value has more to do with social pressure or popular trends. If both parents choose the same big ticket gift, it can be disappointing for everyone. Be certain to communicate with your co-parent to avoid duplication and the feeling that one parent got the “leftovers” of the wish list.
What about when one big gift is more than either parent can afford to give alone? Depending on how well you get along with your co-parent, you may be able to arrange a joint gift-giving event where your children get their presents from both parents. In other cases, you and your co-parent could share the cost of the item and tag them from “Santa” to avoid pitting one parent against the other in the child’s mind.
This kind of parental cooperation depends on on a “kids first” mentality. You and your co-parent will need to put your egos aside and focus on making your children’s days merry and bright. The more work you and your former spouse or partner do ahead of time, the better off your whole family will be in the new year. And that may be the best Christmas gift co-parents can give to each other.
Kimberly is an experienced collaborative divorce professional with a successful record in reaching positive solutions for families. She can teach you co-parenting techniques to help you and your co-parent resolve your parenting time disputes outside the courtroom. If you would like to learn more about the collaborative process, please contact Kimberly.