Dr. Ruth Peters writes in a recent article, “the holidays are about family, love and some presents — it shouldn't be a materialistic free-for-all.” Unfortunately, in separated or divorced families, the focus is all too often misplaced onto the gifts. Dr. Peters recommends that such families consider and coordinate the gift-giving, and she stresses that cooperation is the key.
Jennifer Lewis, M.D. and William Sammons, M.D. suggested some general gift-giving guidelines in their book, Don't Divorce Your Children:
- Children pay a cost that is too high to bear when gifts replace parental time and attention.
- If your children prefer your gifts to your time, then the relationship is in big trouble.
- Minutes mean more than dollars. “We don't have enough time together,” is said just as often by kids as by adults.
- If you leave the price tag on or you make a point of what the gift cost, it's not really a gift — it's a notice of debt or obligation.
- Gifts are fine, but a definite luxury when finances are tight for either parent. Don't put your child in a bind by having a gift cost a support payment or somehow seriously hurt the financial status of the other parent.
- If you spend money on the kids and expect an emotional payback proportional to the dollars invested, spare the children your disappointment if their reactions don't fulfill your expectations.
- If you have more than one child, the gifts need to be comparable in value to each child. That does not mean they have to cost the same. But if one child's “price tag” is always greater than the other's, the message of favoritism may be sent.
- Don't spoil the holidays by competing with the other parent or putting the other parent in a position of resenting your gift. Such acts ruin the celebrations for the children. If you are escalating into one-upmanship, call a truce before the losses get to be too great.