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Helping Families Plan Stress-Free Holiday Gift Giving

In previous years I have written about holiday strategies for families. It is important to get through this period without problems and divisiveness, and to keep the kids feeling jolly in spite of any parental turmoil. Today I will be a little more specific. There are times when two parents cannot agree on much of anything, let alone gifts for their children. Here are some strategies to help ensure this annual event goes smoothly, along with several traps to avoid at all costs.

Don’t Make it a Competition

Kids are truthful when you ask about their needs and wants, but sometimes this can pit one parent against the other. If your son wants a hoverboard, he may tell one or both parents, but without coordination this innocent wish can go bad quickly. What happens if the dad wants to look like the hero and buys the most expensive hoverboard? Then the mom is hurt because she will look like a Scrooge if her gifts are not equally grand. Or, possibly she bought a hoverboard too, but a less-expensive one. No matter which board is opened first, tempers are guaranteed to flare. Children are already in a delicate position during marital difficulties because many internalize at least part of the blame. Don’t turn gift-giving into a game of one-upmanship.

Gifts Should not Become Punishments

Let’s say dad did buy a hoverboard and it was enthusiastically received. It would not be fair to insist that this toy only be used at the dad’s house. Or, if it was used with great joy at both homes, it wouldn’t be right to take the opportunity to deride the dad for his gift, or express sadness to the child over his/her obvious enjoyment. In addition, never hold a gift over your child like a bludgeon (example – since you love that hoverboard so much, I guess we don’t need to go to Disney World this year). And depending on their ages, children will usually ask one parent for help in buying something for the other. You know where I’m going with this – don’t take this innocent request as an opportunity for sabotage. If you know your wife hates orange, don’t help your daughter buy a gaudy orange headband. Children are pure of heart and will take your gift-giving advice as gospel. If your spouse sends a check, be sure the child knows about it – even better, why not put it into a small box and wrap it up?

How to Successfully Coordinate Holiday Logistics

When two parents are apart, there are logistical as well as communication challenges to be overcome. Even Christmas Day can be a point to negotiate – where do the children open gifts, and who is present? Sometimes it’s not possible for both parents to host their children. In this scenario, maybe two Christmases or similar celebrations can be held on successive evenings. The kids may very well be thrilled at the idea of having two of something they already love. By focusing on the needs of the kids, the issues surrounding the logistics of holidays can be more easily discussed and resolved.

Coordinate Your Gift-Giving

As mentioned earlier, this can be a very sensitive area. One way to ease the competition (spoken or unspoken) between parents is to agree on a specific framework. Diplomats do this for heads of state, and why not apply the concept to parent heads of state? You can decide that each parent will purchase one gift from each of the following categories:

  • Clothing
  • Toys
  • Electronics
  • Sports Equipment
  • Food or Dining Cards
  • Cash or Gift Cards

In this evenly matched scenario, each child will get 12 total gifts – a number that is guaranteed to put a smile on their little elf faces! Of course, the possibility of one-upmanship still exists, so communication is still necessary, and all the other warnings must still be heeded. But this allows more precise requests from the youngsters, and gives them two chances at their favorite things. Swapping one category for another is easy and recommended (for example, trade sports equipment for music equipment), depending on their interests. This is also a teachable moment for the parents, as they must engage with their kids to assess their current interests (which may have changed).

Even if the diplomatic solution is too complicated, there are other ways to handle the annual Amazon shuffle. Parents can agree on a dollar limit each, which can reflect the likelihood that one earns considerably more than the other. Or each can contribute towards a larger purchase, like a teenager’s first car (demonstrating how big-ticket items don’t just appear – they have to be saved for and earned). Communication will also prevent “undesirable” gifts from being opened (or at least provide early warning that a snake is moving in).

Focus on Common Interests

Believe me, I’ve seen it all in my 30+ years of practicing law. The children are often the first casualties in a divorce battle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. No true parent wants their children hurt by a divorce, and it is wrong to draw them into the fray. By focusing on them and how they currently view their world, parents can preserve their innocence while molding and managing their expectations for the future. If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to schedule an in-person or online appointment with The Essex Firm.