Buying Christmas gifts is hard enough for a family that’s all under one roof. But think how difficult it is for folks who are divorced with kids. Several dynamics make this a tricky proposition, whether said dynamics are related to your former in-laws, your children, or their nieces and nephews.
Long story short, it’s a difficult scenario, especially for the first few years. But if you find yourself in that boat, you just might be interested in a piece posted today on Babble.
Anonymous blogger DWK posted some helpful hints today on Babble’s Divorced with Kids blog. As the stepdad of a girl who regularly alternates between our house and her bio dad’s, DWK’s post really struck home. She breaks Christmas down into three different areas.
Kids: DWK correctly points out that kids of divorce make out pretty darn good at Christmastime. Especially the first few years. Everyone involved in their world tends to overcompensate materially in an effort to try smooth over the obvious heartbreak that comes with losing a nuclear family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, moms, dads, you name it. If they’re involved, they’re ponying up some cash. Boy, did I ever see that first hand with my stepdaughter. It got so bad that my wife and I shied away from getting her big things for a while simply because we were worried she’d become materially mis-wired.
Accordingly, DWK encourages readers to not fret too much when it comes to gifts for the kiddos. But it’s not like DWK is just bailing altogether on gifts. Not at all. She does, however, try to defer to practicality. So, for example, there’s no need to compete with an ex and go tit for tat on gifts like computers or Nintendo DSes. Instead, make sure to pick up extra chargers for such goodies.
My favorite part of her advice?
Basically, anything that aids organization and helps with missing one or the other parent is great. My kids have a cactus collection here—this year, I’m giving them each a couple of cacti specifically meant to start a collection at their dad’s too. You could give them another “copy” of the blanket you snuggle under to read or watch television. Listen, this is good for the soul. Any brief resentment (but that’s OUR special thing, snuggling under a blanket like that!) should be immediately squelched. You want your kids to be happy and secure in both houses, with both parents, right?
The Ex-Spouse: This one’s the big one in my book. DWK encourages all to take the high road. That’s our family’s philosophy, too. Not that there’s really a high road to take. Caroline and her ex are on good terms. He and I also get along just fine, so we’re very lucky that way. Regardless, you have to help your child get your ex a gift. The idea should come from your children even if you have to help them in coming up with it.
DWK also thinks it’s important for ex-spouses to give each other a gift. I see where she’s coming from on that front. After all, you want to convey to your kids that everything’s just fine between you and your ex, but, personally, we don’t really think an annual gift is necessarily the way to go. Caroline and her ex don’t exchange gifts, but they are always totally civil to each other and even have nice chats on the phone from time to time. In my opinion, since the gift to your ex-spouse is really for your kids’ benefit anyway, the best gift you can give is normal and healthy interaction on a regular basis. Still, a nice idea, though, to include your ex-spouse when knocking out your holiday shopping. Nothing huge. A magazine subscription out to do the trick.
The Ex-In-Laws: If the ex-spouse is the big one, then the ex-in-laws is the tricky one. DWK suggests taking it on a case-by-case basis. So if you’ve always gotten your ex’s mother something, continue to do so. Same thing with ex-sister and brother-in-laws. Caroline exchanges Christmas cards with her ex-in-laws. I’ve come to know most of them, and though I’m not itchin’ to have them over next Thanksgiving, I do like them all very much. And I really like my stepdaughter’s nieces and nephews, too. While I think it’s important to keep appropriate boundaries, I also think it’s important to further as many of those types of relationships as possible. Caroline’s former sister-in-law? She’s one of my favorite women alive.
So there you have it, my takeaways from a wonderful post by DWK. Do you have any experience in this realm? If so, care to add anything?