Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I separated almost a year ago, and we’ve remained on friendly terms. We have two young children together, and we’ve tried to make things as easy as possible for them. With that said, I’m wondering if I should give my ex a Christmas gift this year, as a nice gesture. The only catch is that we’re both dating other people, so I don’t want to cause problems or have my intentions misinterpreted.
A: Wow, if every divorced couple could behave like you and your ex, the world would be a far better place. No divorce is easy, and it’s best for everyone involved when both parties can focus on what’s good for the kids instead of on hurting each other. I applaud you (and your ex) for taking the high road.
There are a few times of year when I feel gift-giving between exes is absolutely appropriate, and in fact, I encourage it. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are perfect examples. Showing your appreciation for the other person, as a parent, is always a great message for the kids.
Holidays and birthdays can be a little trickier. In these cases, I don’t see gift-giving as mandatory—but I wouldn’t discourage it either. Since you and your ex are on friendly terms, there’s no danger to giving a gift—as long as you steer clear of anything that’s too personal or reminiscent of your past together. A family game or movie would both be terrific gifts that could include the other partner. (Be careful with titles and content, though, as “Kramer vs. Kramer” or “The Way we Were” are guaranteed to cause a problem!)
Outside of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthday and Christmas, I’d vote for skipping the gift. When Groundhog Day comes around, showing up with yet another package could be cause for alarm. If you feel compelled to show your gratitude to the other person, a card or letter would be the best way to go.
Regardless of the occasion, it’s important to encourage your children to give appropriate gifts to the other parent (and, perhaps, the new significant other). If the kids are in elementary school, you’ll probably need to help pick out the present, and pay for it. Gifts from children don’t need to be elaborate or expensive because, it really is the thought that counts. Most parents would be thrilled to have a hand-made project or even something as simple as a ShrinkyDink frame with a school photo.
High school-aged kids should be able to come up with their own gift ideas. You’ll just need to provide transportation (and, possibly, some money). Encourage your teen to write a short note to the other parent, perhaps with a favorite memory of the year or a few words of what they appreciate most about him.
As far as the impact gifts from you might have on your ex’s new relationship, just come right out and ask him. If your gift would make the new woman in his life uncomfortable, stick to a card. But overall, I’m think most people would much prefer to have a gift-giving ex than a plate-throwing one.