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Gift-giving presents unique challenges for divorced parents

If you are a divorced parent, you may already realize that giving gifts to the kids now is far more complicated than it was during your marriage. Maybe your ex is the bigger wage-earner, and that is reflected in the gifts the kids receive. Or perhaps you gave the kids some great gifts — along with the stipulation that they can only use them when they are staying with you.

It's a veritable minefield. But the holidays don't have to be explosive as long as co-parents set some ground rules and agree to cooperate to promote good will for all.

Plan who will give what

Discussing ahead of time which parent will purchase what gifts for the kids can avert hurt feelings and disappointments. Parents don't have to talk in person if emotions are still running high from the divorce. But communicating via email or text can prevent issues like duplicate gifts or neither parent buying their child's coveted request.

Let the kids take their gifts with them

If you bought your son the latest PlayStation, it's only natural that he will want to take it with him on Dad's weekend with the kids. Denying him the right to take it over to the other parent's is not going to endear you to your son and can come across as petty and controlling.

Agree on price limits

This is especially important when the parents have wildly disparate incomes. Perhaps your ex is a substitute teacher who works sporadically and doesn't earn a lot of money as he works toward his degree in early childhood education. On the other hand, you work as a nurse anesthetist and earn a salary in the mid six-figures.

Obviously, the amount that you can afford to spend on the children's holiday gifts far eclipses that of their other parent. It may be tempting to overspend, but that could send the wrong message to the kids' impressionable minds. They may assume that a parent's love is equal to the money they spend — and that's not fair to anyone.

Consider joint gifts

This is a particularly good idea for big-ticket items like electronics. Both parents can contribute (equally or whatever they are able to afford) to one gift that is signed by both co-parents. This is a good demonstration of a united front after a divorce and shows kids that you can still work together even though you no longer are married.

Agree not to compete with gifts

Holiday gift-giving is not a competitive sport and shouldn't be treated as such. Children don't want to feel as if their parents are trying to buy their love, either.

Give the gift of presence

Long after purchased gifts have been outgrown, broken or discarded, your children will treasure the memories of spending time with their parents. Make sure that when you are with your kids that you are fully present, not scrolling through Instagram or answering work emails. Be present in the moment for your kids.

If your holiday gift-giving is a true nightmare scenario this year, you may want to revisit your parenting agreement. You may need a modification that clearly spells out gift-giving rules that are fair to all involved.

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