Gifts and Cards, What’s the Etiquette with an Ex?


Gifts and Cards, What’s the Etiquette with an Ex?

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Some tips on postdivorce gift-giving

Father’s Day. Your ex’s birthday. You probably remember many significant milestones in your ex’s life. Postsplit, it can feel odd to ignore them, but what is the proper etiquette? Do you buy your ex a gift or card for Father’s Day? Send a nice email on his birthday? And, let’s not forget, as a Solo Mom, you’re setting an example for your children. It sends a message if your ex buys you a Mother’s Day card and you don’t reciprocate on Father’s Day or vice versa. If you’re wondering what to do in these situations, here are a few things you should consider.

How do you feel about buying a card for your ex?

The first year after my divorce I remember standing in the card aisle staring at cards that said, “You’re the best father!” and “I’m so glad you’re my husband!” and fighting the urge to scream. None of the cheery, lovey-dovey sentiments fit my situation. I ended up getting a card on behalf of my son, who was too young to even sign his name.

Many Solo Moms have complicated feelings about their exes, and if you’re newly divorced, you could be struggling to move on. Jennifer Comer is a therapist who specializes in working with divorced women. She points out that for many women who have a child with their ex, “there’s ongoing communication, they’re seeing their ex, and it can be a difficult process to detach.” If one of her clients were thinking of buying a present or card for her ex, Comer would ask her what her intention was, how she’s feeling about it, and what she expects to come of it.

In cases of an amicable divorce or after years have passed and you’re friends with your ex, gift-giving could come from a genuine desire to be nice; however, Comer cautions that it could confuse your children. Most kids pick up on cues—body language, overheard conversations, and observing their parents interact—that tell them how you feel about each other. If you give off an overall negative vibe regarding their father, your kids know, and giving him a card or gift could confuse them or raise false hope that you might get back together.

But what if it’s your children asking if they can buy their dad something?

Talk with your kids about giving gifts to your ex

Do your kids want to buy your ex a card? Are they excited at the thought of browsing the racks at the gift shop and picking something out? Consider making the gift-giving occasion about your child, and set aside your personal feelings about your ex. Mindy Jaffar, an etiquette expert for coparenting and divorced parents, advises giving children a budget, allowing them to pick out the gift, and staying away from anything too personal. If you view driving your children to the store and helping them pick a gift as supporting their relationship with their dad, it can be a healthy thing. Solo Moms who are living on a budget, struggling to pay off legal bills, or dealing with unemployment can encourage their children to make a homemade gift or card.

In the case of an abusive ex, or one with little to no visitation rights, your child’s answer might be a firm no. Forcing your child to go through the motions of Father’s Day or an ex’s birthday in that instance could reinforce negative patterns of appeasing an abusive man, denying your child’s emotions, or putting on a good front to hide abuse. It’s best to pass on celebrating the day.

What about social obligations and manners?

If abuse isn’t an issue, use this opportunity to discuss with your children social obligations and manners, such as writing thank-you cards to guests who attended their birthday party, bringing a present to someone else’s party, behaving appropriately at an adult event, and so on. Explain that people typically conform to these expectations because it’s part of being a member of society and showing care and respect for another person’s feelings, and therefore they might want to consider giving their father something.

Buying a birthday card or present for an ex, however, is a gray area when it comes to etiquette. If your ex gives you something for Mother’s Day, you might feel you should reciprocate. But if you’re buying something for your ex out of guilt, habit, or obligation, it might not feel that great.

A Solo Mom’s mental health takes priority when dealing with an ex. After all, if you’re not taking care of yourself, how can you take care of the kids? If you aren’t feeling good about giving a card or present to your ex, you should “make the best decision for yourself and communicate it matter-of-factly and confidently to the kids,” says Comer. Allow your children to express their emotions, whether it’s sadness or anger, but don’t change your decision based on their responses.

Gift-giving to your ex: Yes or no?

There’s no right answer when it comes to celebrating special occasions in your ex’s life. How you decide to address this will depend on your mental health, the circumstances of your split, and your children’s wishes.

Where do you stand on gifts and cards for your ex? Does your ex give you cards and gifts from the kids?


Dena Landon is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, the Washington Post, Salon, Parent Co., and more. She blogs about being a Solo Mom at Femme Feminism.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


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