Co-Parenting & Gift Giving: Answering Your Top Questions

Divorce can be a difficult time for you and an even more challenging time for your kids. Most children crave consistency, naturally respond positively to rituals, and can be distressed when their expectations don’t meet reality. Feelings can be even more heightened during holidays, birthdays, and during annual milestones (such as vacations, back-to-school, and more). Kids also respond differently based on their ages at the time of the divorce.

Along with holidays and rituals comes gift-giving and recognition through presents. Whether that be presents they receive or watch their parents receive, these activities are often important for their lives to feel “normal” despite their new family structure.

In this post, we provide insights into ways you can create consistency for kids through carrying on a new version of gift-giving, post-divorce.

Keep family rituals in tact, when possible

Especially in the first year post-divorce, creating consistency for the kids can reduce their anxiety and uncertainty about the new parenting situation. Kids are used to both receiving gifts as well as seeing their parents receive gifts.

Maintaining some gift-giving (if financially able) with your co-parent during this initial year or two is a way to foster a healthy relationship with the other parent by keeping known rituals intact. Gifts can be small, yet meaningful, such as a framed photo of your child or personalized journal. Some kids blame themselves for the divorce or even feel bad for their parents, and watching their parent without a gift to open on their birthday or other holiday can further cultivate anxiety, stress, and self-blame for kids.

While divorce can be financially disruptive, maintaining existing rituals in the ways kids receive gifts can make them worry less about change. At the same time, if your children are accustomed to being showered by gifts, begin to identify new forms of displaying love other than material items. This will be especially important as single parenting ramps up and family time can be more limited. Doing things together and spending quality time in each other’s company will begin to mean so much more than material things.

Follow your child’s lead

After keeping things in tact as much as possible in the first year or so, it’s important to follow the lead and observe how your kids are adjusting to gift-giving and receiving. Most kids love to get gifts, but begin to notice whether they prefer your time and attention rather than material items and lean into their tendencies and cues.

As far as kids honoring their parents with gifts, they might ask to buy a birthday gift for your co-parent to honor them, while other kids may be comfortable creating a hand-drawn card and not ask about gifts at all. Follow their lead and don’t push the topic. Let them direct the process so it feels authentic for everyone involved. 

If they do show interest in picking out a gift for their parent, allow them to choose something in a reasonable price range and encourage them to wrap and present the gift without getting involved in the process. Help them consider gifts of time and experiences as well.

Consider a conversation

Some co-parents may want to set limits and expectations around gift giving to eliminate competition and create certainty, especially for the children. Some co-parents may even decide to use this same strategy to set limits on the gifts they give their kids, setting a financial limit on big holidays that they collectively commit to, or maybe even pooling money for a bigger gift that can be shared between families. Other families may define expectations around co-parent gifts and commit to taking the kids shopping for the other parent’s birthday, for example.

While these conversations may only work in constructive co-parenting situations with high trust and respect, it may be worth attempting a dialogue to ensure that expectations are clear and fair across families.

The way kids are impacted in a divorce shouldn’t be taken lightly. While there is so much you can’t control about how they feel and how they will respond, honoring family rituals around gifts and celebrations is one thing you can impact. Look to create consistency initially and then allow the rituals evolve based on the responses from your co-parent and your kids. 

If you have other questions about financial planning for the kids post-divorce, involving gift giving or other topics, contact Amy Mahlen for a free consultation.