When my ex-husband and I were married, we had a budget and I would do most of the Christmas shopping. But, after we divorced he sent me a text letting me know what he’d gotten for the kids. I was so upset when I saw we’d bought almost all of the same things and we argued about who was going to return what and what we should purchase instead. When we were together he was happy to hand the shopping responsibilities to me and I was happy to take them. But now, he had more of an opinion on what he wanted to get the kids and it was only fair to take the time to sort it all out.
At first, I didn’t really want to deal with it because Christmas is hard enough after divorce for everyone. I wanted to do my own thing and not have to answer to anyone about what I was getting my kids for Christmas. Then I realized this was about them — and giving them the best holiday they could have given our new family dynamic. My ex-husband’s concern was that we would buy duplicate presents and the kids would be disappointed but wouldn’t have the heart to tell us. It was also important to him that it wouldn’t be uneven and one house wouldn’t be known as having a lot more, or better gifts.
I realize it’s a privilege that we were even in the position to hash out Christmas gifts. But it would have been a point of contention if we hadn’t done these things over the years:
It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. A phone call will do and make you feel a lot better in the long run. Even if you don’t want to decide on specific details, it’s nice to come together and get an idea about what you were thinking for gifts, rather than just wondering if your ex is also getting them that major gift they want more than anything.
I also feel like communicating took out any kind of secret competition my ex and I would have been tempted to indulge in over the holidays. Trust me when I tell you two adults can still have the urge to outdo each other or feel the need to make up for certain things. Your kids can sense this whether you think they can or not and in the long run, it’s not worth it. It will be another reminder of tension and conflict and they don’t need that.
Instead, we end up working together. A few years ago, for example, he got them all new cell phones for Christmas and he let me know that would be their only gift from him. That was a huge help because I got them all new accessories for their phones and did a little extra stocking stuffing because I know how much they love the stockings. There was a part of me that felt like I couldn’t compete with a gift like that but instead of getting discouraged, I went with his theme and it took a lot of the guesswork out of Christmas shopping.
Have your kids make separate lists
Now that my kids are older and we’ve spent quite a few holidays co-parenting we are comfortable asking our kids to make separate lists. I wish we had thought of this before because they actually really like the fact they get to make two Christmas lists. Who wouldn’t?
Remember your kids need loving, supportive parents above everything else
I know a few divorced co-parents who have a really hard time because one of them isn’t able to afford as many gifts as the other. I know how hard this can be, how it can make you feel like you can’t measure up, or they’re able to make your kids happier than you are.
But what your children really need is for you to show them love and support. Sure, certain gifts may make them really happy in the moment, but in the end, they need to see that we are fine with the fact we can’t give them certain material things our ex can. Let them enjoy the extra gifts without making them feel guilty about it or bad-mouthing your ex-partner. It will take a lot of the joy out of the season and that’s the last thing you want to do.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.