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When two parents decide that they’re better off separated than together, it can be a difficult but necessary change to transition into. This is only made more difficult by things that come up at the same time every year which hold special meaning, memories and traditions such as birthdays and the holidays. Despite the difficult emotions the holidays may bring for divorced parents, this is also a time for celebrating with family, starting new traditions and goals, and yes—buying presents. So how do co-parents navigate holiday gift giving together, but apart? With some of these helpful tips from experts in the fields of parenting, psychology, and divorce.
Tip #1: Make a List
When parents are married, making a list isn’t as much of a necessity because the two will be able to have a discussion, and even go shopping together (or leave it up to just one of the parents). However when parents are divorced, it’s more difficult to determine what the children have and what they need between two homes. It’s also difficult to avoid double presents if the child has expressed interest in a gift to both parents. This is when a list comes in handy. Parents should list the things the child wants, the things the child needs, and the things the parents would like to do for the child that he/she needs or wants but doesn’t know yet. Co-parents can make lists together, or they may choose to make the lists apart, and come together to form a master list comprised of the two. This will ensure the children’s needs are being met, and that they do not receive two of the same gift (so long as parents communicate with each other over which items on the list they will be gifting).
Tip #2: Set a Budget
When co-parents decide to do gift giving separately after a divorce, it’s always a good idea to set a budget. This can help ensure that one parent isn’t going all out while the other struggles to make ends meet. This can be based upon finances, yes, but parents should also make an effort to present gifts with equality in mind to avoid any unnecessary conflict that can arise when one parent spends more, or is made to look like the more fun or indulgent parent in the eyes of the child. It will also eliminate any competition between co-parents to outspend one another. This will help to keep things consistent in the eyes of the children, which will help with post-divorce adjustments, according to parent coach Jennifer Wolf.
Tip #3: Pool Together When Needed
Depending upon one’s religion, individual needs, and traditions during the holidays, parents may want to explore pooling their budgets together for certain things. These could be large ticket items, more expensive needs the children have, or gifts that will be given from Santa. It’s a great idea to give smaller gifts separately in each home, but to share in the giving for some items.
Tip #4: Come Together for the Sake of the Children
If co-parents are on good enough terms to be in the same room together without fighting, it may be a good idea to do a shared gift exchange with the children. If it’s too difficult, that’s completely understandable, and perhaps not the best idea this year. However for those who are able to do it, it can help create a sense of normalcy for the kids, and aid in their transition. It also helps ensure there is no competition, or animosity that arises out of the act of gift giving with the children.
Another great way to come together for the children is to take them shopping for the other parent and any extended family the children wish to purchase gifts for. This will only help fuel positive vibes during the holidays, and help the children adjust, as they will feel like they are still a part of a family, even if the dynamics have changed a bit.
Coming together for the kids can also mean gift giving separately, but staying on a united parenting front for the kids. This means that if one parent doesn’t think the child should have a certain item, both parents should try to agree on this so that one isn’t undermining the other. It also means that both parents should try to join in giving a gift the child really wants, and that both parents should allow the gifts they give to be taken to the home of the other parent.
Another part of coming together for the sake of the kids means refraining from criticizing anything the other parent gives the children, even if it isn’t something one believes is in the best taste. This is something for co-parents to discuss, and figure out before the holidays together in an effort to avoid unnecessary conflict or competition. PhD Amy J.L. Baker says that some children naturally feel torn between the two parents during the adjustment period after a divorce as they travel back and forth between two homes. This is why it’s extra important for parents to refrain from involving the children in any conflicts, as it will only add to these feelings, and can make for a difficult adjustment.