Holiday Shopping With Your Child For Your Ex

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Holidays, Single Parenting

Divorced parents may find themselves shopping for their exes during the holidays. Credit: nkpix, Flickr

If you're divorced, you might find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to help your child buy a holiday gift for your ex-spouse -- and possibly a stepparent.

It can certainly test your character.

"Hey, son, I have an idea. Give your mommy a bag of broken glass and your new stepfather a big box of Band-Aids. Tell them you want them to share."

Resist the temptation to expose even the slightest hint of bitterness, Bonnie Ross, an Oregon-based family and child therapist in private practice said in an interview with ParentDish.

"Make the event planning and purchase an adventure of fun," she said.

Here are tips to make the experience better for both of you:

Make the child an integral part of the process. This doesn't mean your child should only select the Christmas or Hannukah gift. Involve her in the financial part as well and make the outing a teaching moment about sound holiday shopping decisions.

Set a price. "Have the amount you want to spend in mind, perhaps even lower than you had in mind," Ross said. "Then sit with your child and have him/her brainstorm possibilities within your lower price range. Emphasize the gift is for the parent, not the child. Then the child -- if he or she chooses to increase it up to your limit -- can actually pitch in and earn part of it."

Remember that you are really shopping for your child, not your ex. This isn't about your ex, said Susan Stiffelman, a marriage and family therapist and resident AdviceMama for ParentDish. "It's a tremendous act of love -- for the child -- when divorced parents help their child shop for gifts for the other parent," Stiffelman said. "The child gets the clear and important message that they have two caring, mature adults to lean on."

Talk with your ex. "If talking points work with your former spouse, talk about how you want the child to feel personally invested in the gift and, that by doing a bit of work toward partial payment, you hope that they learn a bit more about personal giving," Ross said.

Help with a homemade gift. There's nothing wrong with children giving homemade gifts and cards whether during the holidays or for other occasions, like birthdays. "I'm for homemade cards personally," Ross said. "If not homemade, then definitely at least a heartfelt note."

Keep the magic in the holidays. offers a Web site to help divorced parents cope with Christmas shopping and other holiday traditions that can be fun but also stressful following the breakup of a marriage.

"There is a certain amount of magic and wonder about Christmas that no child should be robbed off," the Web site tells parents. "How you deal with your separation and divorce during the holiday will have a lot to do with how much magic and wonder your child experiences during the holiday season."

One other thing to remember, Ross said: Your ex-spouse might well go holiday shopping with your child for you. If your ex is the cranky sort, he or she might want you to send extra money. After all, why should he or she have to spend money on you?

"At this point, swallow and remember why you are no longer with ... blank," Ross said.

If you are a spiritual person, just ask that the good Lord bless them and keep them -- far away from you.

"Children don't sign up for divorce," Stiffelman said, "They are, in effect, the innocent bystanders of a huge disruption to their lives. When parents rise to the challenge of putting their children first, they will find the strength to put their own hurt and anger aside to help their children know that both of their parents support them through the holidays."

Related: More on Divorce & Custody

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.