Article written by Axis Geffen
Following a separation or divorce, it can be tempting to out-buy, out-gift or outdo your co-parent during the holiday season. Often, one party is a little more financially secure. This means it can be gratifying to flaunt that financial freedom through lavish gifts. For example, previously forbidden technological toys such as cell phones, tablets, or video games. We urge you to resist the temptation. If you do, you may realize that the holidays are actually a time where you can build a stronger bond with both your co-parent and your child.
To ensure a truly happy holiday, communication is key. It is natural to want to spoil your kids. However, responsible co-parents should take the time to civilly discuss significant gifts in advance. That means BEFORE it has been purchased, and BEFORE it has been given to your child. Also remember, kids are smarter than we give them credit for. If they detect one parent is trying to out-provide the other, they will use this to their advantage. They will play one parent off the other to get the most out of both. It's not bad behaviour; it's human nature.
The Types Of Gifts That Warrant Advanced Discussion:
Electronics, computers, laptops, tablets, phones, etc.,
Electronics such as computers, laptops, tablets, and phones should always involve an advanced conversation between co-parents. In many cases, the non-purchasing parent may feel slighted, embarrassed, or offended personally by purchases in this category. This may be because they lack the means to provide these items for their child(ren). Additionally, they may have concerns such as privacy or exposure to social variables that they either aren't prepared to monitor or don't know how to deal with yet.
In a co-parenting environment, it is important to consider the other parent before giving this type of gift. In some cases, you may also need to take into account your co-parent's partner too. If you do not discuss your gift in advance, you risk your co-parent denying the child your present. While it might seem harsh, this is something your co-parent has every right to do in their own home.
It has happened before that a parent has purchased a cell phone for their child without talking to their co-parent first. As a result, the other parent said the child could only use the phone at their other parent's house. Maybe they didn't like the camera, access to the internet or social media. Or perhaps, the co-parent didn't want the other parent being able to consistently check in at random. The bottom line: just because a gift was purchased, doesn't mean the other parent has to accommodate it in their home.
Video Game Systems, Specific Video Games, etc.
Video game systems, as well as specific video games, are another category of gift that should be discussed first. While one parent doesn't see an issue with games such as Call of Duty, the other parent may feel differently. Perhaps they don't want their child(ren) playing graphic and violent war simulations. Remember, it might feel like a no-brainer purchase, but be aware of things such as the level of graphics, nudity, violence, language, etc. featured in these games.
As today's popular games often include adult themes, it's better to discuss these purchases with your co-parent. Together, agree on how a gift will be used, where it will be used, and where the lines will be drawn. It is important to note that a gift you might think is edgy, funny, or a great shot at your Ex can be documented and used against you in court.
Movies, Music, or other media that deals explicitly with mature themes
I remember a situation a number of years ago where a parent did not know how to broach the subject of puberty. In attempt to address the topic with her male child, she purchased a few adult magazine subscriptions. (Yes, this really happened). I recall another situation where a parent purchased multiple extraordinarily graphic and violent movies for their child. This was because the parent felt that, in their absence, the child needed to "toughen up." At the end of the day, the parent's intent is overshadowed by the effect on the child and the impact socially and mentally. Before buying anything of a questionable nature, it is always best to discuss it with the co-parent.
How To Discuss Gifts With A Co-Parent:
Especially in the beginning, starting conversations with your Ex over anything, let alone gifts for your child(ren), can be difficult. The main things to keep in mind are to remain calm and open to what they have to say. This is not a contest, and it's not about who will win at the end. You should be prepared to discuss your reasons for wanting to buy a certain gift for your child(ren), and you should be prepared to hear "No way!" several times throughout the conversation. In the end, you must respect that your home has its respective rules, and so does your Ex's home. If your Ex refuses to allow the gift in their home, you must accept it. It means that if you really want your child(ren) to have whatever the gift is, they may only have access to it when they're at your home.
Ensuring a happy holiday in a co-parenting environment might be stressful. But a "silent night" is not the answer. Instead, communication should be the #1 thing on your wish list this year. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Co-Parent Holiday Help Desk series where we discuss teaching your kids to safely use their technological gifts.