Even after a divorce is final, the negotiation process does not end, especially when there are children involved. One common discussion driver is the holidays.
While the issue of where holidays are spent is usually covered in a divorce or parenting agreement, how those holidays are spent can be an entirely different matter and often requires additional conversations.
One important area to cover is the gifts that are exchanged during the season. Gifts can become a major point of contention if parents do not have a consistent vision of what to provide their kids. Misaligned expectations can cause resentment between parents and even with kids.
As with any issue, being proactive can set you up for success. Here are some tips to consider as we move into the holiday gift giving season:
Negotiating Holiday Gift Giving After Divorce
Start with a conversation: Hopefully, you and your co-parent communicate about your kids productively and can have a conversation to set expectations. This conversation should cover the different issues around this topic: what your child asked for, the budget for gifts, who is giving what and how to deal with questions regarding Santa.
In my experience, starting with a curious mindset sets a good foundation for a conversation. Most people get defensive when they feel attacked, so stick with non-judgmental questions. For example, “I see Mary asked for an American Girl doll” is a better starting point than “I suppose since you are a “Disneyland Dad” you will be getting her an American Girl doll.”
Consider past history: If this is your first post-divorce holiday, think about how you have handled gift giving in the past. Having two homes does not mean that your kids need twice the number of gifts they previously received. Some parents feel guilty about their divorce and are tempted to compensate with over the top gift giving. This is not a good strategy as it is hard on budgets and creates unrealistic expectations.
Consider budget: As mentioned previously, your gift budget should be realistic and ideally, fairly similar for both parents. It can be confusing to kids if one parent goes with multiple lavish gifts and the other one goes with more modest ones. That said, you should give what feels comfortable within your budget, even if you cannot get your co-parent on the same page.
Stay within your values: Every family decides what they think is appropriate for their kids. If you don’t believe in cell phones or designer clothes for your 6- year old, stick with your values during the holidays. Again, ideally, you and your co-parent will be on the same page, but if you aren’t, realize that you are only in control of your own actions and act accordingly.
If you celebrate Christmas with Santa gifts: Decide how you want to handle Santa with your co-parent. Perhaps Santa comes to the house the kids wake up in or maybe he comes to both houses. There isn’t a right or wrong way to solve these issues. What is more important is being on the same page so that you don’t end the magic of the holidays for your children.
Extended family: If it isn’t hard enough to get on the same page with your co-parent, you also need to consider extended family. As you do with other issues around divorce, communicate clearly to both of your families how you will be handling gift giving and what is helpful from them. For example, you can let overly generous grandparents know the financial limit for gifts.
Ultimately, the holidays are about family connections and making memories with your kids. Many parents complain about the materialism of the holidays and yet feel enormous pressure to give extravagant gifts. The best gifts you can give have nothing to do with price tags and are all about time and love.