The holidays are approaching, and we’re all making our lists and checking them twice. Most of us are already developing ideas for what to give our friends and relatives, and advertisements coax us to also show our gratitude to everyone from our child’s teacher to the postman, and even our hairstylist! One person probably not at the top of our gift list: our ex.
My ex-husband was someone who I mentally scratched off of my list of people I would every buy presents or do nice things for again. I assumed that divorce meant that I would no longer be concerned with his needs, whether a gift on his birthday or taking a moment to show appreciation. Not only was he not mine to worry about anymore, but I still rested on some resentment from past holidays and gift-giving occasions.
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On more than one of my special days, I was forgotten. There were only so many anniversaries, birthdays, and other important dates that could be skipped over before the desire to continue to make a fuss for his special times diminished. I grew weary of coming up with thoughtful celebrations only to have mine neglected; so, why would I ever continue to plan and give after our divorce?
I had a major change of heart on this issue when I considered the fact that gifts serve many purposes. I no longer had an appropriate reason to give my ex-husband presents, but our children did. Children love to give presents! Unlike many adults, children enjoy giving gifts for some of the purest reasons:
I remember being a child and excitedly plotting what to make or save my pennies for to buy for a special loved one; but, I also recall how challenging it was to want to exercise generosity, but not have the means to. Children are limited in what they can give by what meager funds they may be able to earn from allowance or doing chores, or to what supplies they might be able to find to create a handmade gift.
I wanted my children to experience the joy of planning and giving a gift to someone they loved, and I was in the best position to help them do something for their dad.
I also hoped to instill values in my children that will help their future relationships flourish. I hope for them to become thoughtful and generous adults who remember their partner’s special occasions and have the skill to think of meaningful tributes. I can’t speak for anyone else’s ability or willingness to impart these qualities on them; but, I can do my best to show them the way.
Our first exercise in me supporting my children to celebrate their father was this past Father’s Day. I talked to them about what he liked, what they would like to buy or make for him, and we came up with a budget and a plan. Their idea was rather simple, but sweet. I helped my daughter bake his favorite cookies and they chose a card and a small gift for him. I would have done more than what they suggested, but I let them completely steer the course of what to give him.
I have no doubt that he was perplexed when my daughter came running to him with a present from my house. Quite honestly, his reaction was not what mattered to me. I was most excited to see the pride and happiness that my children felt upon being able to mark his day in a way that demonstrated hey had put time, thought, and effort into it. They didn’t have to feel sad or ashamed that they were empty-handed, and it gave them great practice in executing every step.
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While I decided that my primary motivation was not to directly give any presents to my ex, I realize that my participation in helping our children to do so won’t be lost on him. After all, they can’t yet drive to the store to purchase a gift and they don’t have money to go shopping. It can’t hurt the relationship that he and I have as co-parents for him to know that I’m willing to support something nice for him.
I know that not every co-parent has it as easy as we do. We’re not what I would call friends, but we are mostly peaceful and cooperative. I appreciate the fact that he and I can have a reasonable conversation about what’s best for the kids, and I am thankful that my children have a father who has committed to being in their lives and who loves them!
I have no expectations of receiving anything in return, not even a “thank you,” and that’s okay! I will feel gratified in knowing that I have been able to set a peaceful and cooperative example for my kids. It’s important for them to see that their mom and dad can get along, and that even if two people divorce, they can continue to put their children first.
I think the prospect of adding my ex to my holiday gift shopping list along with my friends and family will become more natural as we incorporate it into our annual tradition. I am glad that I can have a hand in helping my children express their love and gratitude to their father and that I can use this as a tool to teach them the art of gift-giving. I can’t wait to hear their ideas!
I would encourage everyone to add someone unexpected to their holiday gift list. The holidays are the perfect time to practice generosity and model civility and thoughtfulness to our children, even when the recipient isn’t our favorite person. Giving of gifts, after all, isn’t about us and what we want so much as it is about making someone else feel good or showing them our gratitude. In our case, my ex will enjoy a nice surprise from our children, and they will know the joy of giving!
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