It’s birthday time in our family. John’s birthday is on April 28th and mine is on May 7th. And so that brings up the question of gift giving after separation and divorce. John and I first confronted this issue shortly after he moved out of the house, since it was October and we were heading into the holiday season. At that time we were hardly speaking to each other, except to make arrangements for handing the kids off from household to household, and money was very much an issue, since we were in the thick of divorce negotiations. I’m not sure how he summoned the emotional reserves, but John approached me a few weeks before Christmas with the suggestion that we each help the kids get Christmas gifts for each other. In other words, I take the kids shopping for a gift for John and he take the kids shopping for a gift for me.
I was surprised that John came up with this idea, since it seemed that he had nothing but animosity for me at the time, but he explained that he thought it would be good for the kids, and I couldn’t argue with that idea. My own parents were divorced, and I remember many Christmases and birthdays when my siblings and I scrambled at the last minute to do something nice for my mother. We often felt guilty because we didn’t have much of our own money to spend, and we often didn’t really know what to get her. So the idea of making sure our kids didn’t have to go through that, regardless of our feelings for one another, was very appealing to me.
In fact, I had already made arrangements with a friend to take them out to shop for me. As I recall, she had already taken them, and they were very clear about what they wanted to get me. She told me the amount that the gift cost, and I reimbursed her. And she even helped them wrap the gift. I didn’t mention to John that this had already occurred because I didn’t want to dissuade him from what I thought was a better long-term solution to the question of ongoing gift-giving. We decided on a budget for each other, and then helped the kids figure out a suitable gift within that range. As it turned out, that was the Christmas of The Blender. I think the kids were really into smoothies, and they had blenders on the brain, so they got one for John, and they ended up getting two for me – one with my friend and one with John. It was sweet, and the kids seemed happy.
Since that time, John and I have continued this tradition. We have a basic set amount that we earmark for Christmas and birthdays, but we have been flexible with that amount as life circumstances have dictated. There have been times when money has been particularly tight, and so the gifts have been less expensive, and there have been other times when we have had more money to spend. The best gift I have ever received was actually during a time when John was particularly tight on money. He told the kids before Christmas that he didn’t have any money to spend on a gift for me, but he helped them come up with a creative idea. Jordan plays the guitar, and James plays the bass, so John suggested to them that they practice a song to perform for me. I don’t know how long it took them to decide on the song, but they chose one of my favorites – Blackbird by the Beatles – and they must have spent quite a while practicing because the end result was impressive. I’ll never forget Christmas morning that year. We had opened all the gifts under the tree, and then the kids said to me, “Mom, you go upstairs and entertain yourself for a while. We need to get ready to give you your gift.” Truthfully, I sort of suspected that they were going to play something for me, and I even suspected which song because I had overheard Jordan picking the tune on his guitar in the previous few weeks, but when they called me downstairs and they were all lined up with their instruments, looking expectantly at me, I was already blown away. They told me to sit on the couch, and as soon as Jordan started playing the first notes of the song, I was in tears. They were so sweet, singing and playing, and hearing the lyrics of the song, which speak to me of resilience and hope, just took my breath away. I wept and wept. Here is a link to a YouTube clip of them performing the song (during a practice session). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Jdi4uXFabE Incidentally, I discovered a little later that day that the kids had placed bets on how long it would take me to cry.
So I guess the takeaway here is that, regardless of how you feel about your ex, remember that your kids love that person and they want to show them their love through gift-giving at special times of the year. If you have it in you to support them in their desire to honor their relationship with their father or their mother, you will actually strengthen your relationship with them – because you are supporting their expression of love. It’s worth the effort.