Christmas Shopping With The Ex Factor

Filed under: Opinions


"Hey kids, you know what Mommy would absolutely love for Christmas? A tarantula!

Revenge may be a dish best served cold. Not to mention creepy and crawly. But you should probably avoid passive aggression when helping your children buy Christmas presents for your ex-wife.

Don't use your kids as weapons. Show some maturity. Have the tarantula delivered to her office anonymously.

Intimate knowledge of your ex-spouse's likes and dislikes, fanaticisms and phobias, can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. However, if you are a good and kind person, it can help your child with difficult decisions and maybe help him grow a little bit.

Now my ex-wife tells me she'd adore a tarantula. No, seriously. She loves all animals, no matter how gross and disgusting. I called her. She says she'd much rather get a tarantula than her own private collection of "Thomas the Tank Engine" DVDs.

My son needs to know that. Given a choice, he'd probably go with the DVDs. Kids often get the presents for their parents that they covet for themselves. This isn't necessarily selfishness, just an immature understanding about how different people like different things. Women in their 40s are simply not the target demographic for "Thomas the Tank Engine."

Fortunately, I know what my ex-wife likes. She likes animals, original Perry Mason novels and tall mochas with soy milk. Gift certificates to coffee shops and used bookstores as well as donations in her name to humane societies are bound to score a hit on Christmas morning. I can direct my son accordingly.

My divorce was amicable. So I still take pleasure in knowing my ex-wife and expressing that by helping my son buy Christmas presents. On the other hand, a friend of mine was married to Vampira. He knows what she needs for Christmas. However, you really can't take small children shopping for wooden stakes. Ed says he tells himself the shopping experience is for his children, not the Princess of Darkness.

Good man, says Bonnie Ross, a family therapist in Oregon. "Make the event planning and purchase an adventure of fun and awe," she says.

So, being the mature grown-ups we are, we have to make this -- what do they call it? -- a teaching moment (barf). Be it an amicable split or misery dipped in sin, we parents with exes must figure out how to play nice during the season of joy.

You can start by making the child an integral part of the process -- not just in selecting the gift, but in how to pay for it as well. Set a price. "Have the amount you want to spend in mind," Ross says. "Then the child – if he or she chooses to increase it up to your limit -- can actually pitch in and earn part of it."

That way, it can be a learning experience for the child. In more ways than one.

"The child gets the clear and important message that they have two caring, mature adults to lean on," says Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist who writes the column "Ask Advice Mama" for ParentDish.

And that's an even better Christmas present than a tarantula.

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