No dis to my ex, but he spoils our son at Christmas. No sooner does a hot video game or new game system hits my son’s Christmas List than TheEx has it hidden away in the gift closet for him.
That’s usually September. Yes, we start our Christmas shopping early around these parts.
Sometimes, TheEx gets his hands on a hot deal AFTER we’ve discussed who is getting Leading Man #1 what for Christmas. One year my son got a Google Chromebook from me AND, thanks to a last minute Walmart “we must clear our shelves now” deal, a Playstation, or PS, 4 from his dad. Needless to say, the Chromebook was not a hit in the face of that.
Occasionally, I pounce early and get something before kiddo’s dad can. One year I went Christmas shopping for a Nintendo Switch in late August. Other times, I just do my own thing and steer clear of my son’s stated Christmas Wish List. I had 7 blissful years of Christmas gift hits courtesy of the Lego store. Then my son outgrew Lego.
I used to have a formula, when my son was in his pre-teen years: a book, a game (I had a great run with Monopoly for a number of years), 2 sets of Christmas PJ’s (one for Christmas with me, one for Christmas with his dad), a Lego kit, and something “big” he had asked for, i.e. a larger Lego kit, or a specific video game console.
When kiddo turned 16, that more or less went out the window. Autism and Disabled do not mean “doesn’t want the same cool stuff every other teen does.” Unfortunately, as kids get older, the presents get simultaneously smaller and more expensive. The Switch came in a 18″ x 12″ box but ate nearly my entire holiday budget that year. Thus the space under the Christmas tree every year after all the gifts are set out increases but my Christmas budget remains the same. Over the years I have found clever ways – read: clothes on sale at Kohl’s – to fill the space under the Christmas tree.
The key to gift giving and co-parenting is this: stick to your budget and don’t try to match or outdo your fearless co-parent. Maybe you can. You don’t want to. Kids don’t remember the stuff. They remember that you were there. Witness my Google Chromebook Complete Miss of 2016. I don’t think my son remembers the Chromebook. He does remember watching The Polar Express, and seeing the newest Star Wars.
Our mission as non-residential parents is to stay connected to our kids. It is not to spend beyond our means on them. It is not to ply them with expensive gifts. We just need to be there. We just need to show that we are always there for our children, even when we aren’t with them.
You don’t need money to do that. You need time.
In my September 29 podcast, Holi-DAYZE!, I talk about how on holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving, which alternate year to year, when I don’t have my son that year, I celebrate with him on the last regularly scheduled visit I have with him before that holiday. So this year, we decorated the Christmas Tree – a Thanksgiving tradition – on November 10th. Last year, we colored Easter eggs and had an Easter Egg hunt, complete with clues and a basket, in late March. Christmas came a week early last year: on December 16th.
Time is the gift I give my son – the one I think he appreciates the most – always but especially at Christmas. On Christmas I shut down the rest of my life completely, something I do not do the rest of the year, even when I visit my son. There are no work emails that day. I don’t accept calls from the office. I don’t respond to texts from friends. I don’t check email. I don’t answer the phone (much to Leading Man #2’s never ending chagrin).
Time is a gift I give myself at Christmas, too. I cherish Christmas with my son. I’ve kept Christmas traditions alive for a full 18 years, only 4 of which I was married to kiddo’s dad. Every year, we do the same things: pizza, shopping, cookies and milk for Santa, the Polar Express on DVD, and Christmas presents the next morning – whatever morning that is – at an ungodly hour. Then we go back to bed for an hour – or I try to. We get dressed, go to the movies, and hang out together for the day. There are the Christmas PJs, and one gift to open on “Christmas Eve” (whatever “eve” that falls on). The next morning (whatever morning that is) is Christmas morning.
I get it. Time is not enough. You do have to give your kids something for Christmas, or whatever you’re celebrating this December. You don’t have to feel like it’s a spending contest. You don’t have to give them the “Mega Present.” Give them something store bought that demonstrates how well you know them – such as a book they’re interested in, or a board game you know they’ll like. Give them something you’ve made yourself. Over the years my son has forgotten most of the toys I’ve given him. The Star Wars quilt I made him nearly nine years ago still sits on his bed.
Christmas is not a competition between co-parents to see who can give the best gift. Christmas – any day, actually – is about celebrating the best gift you’ve ever been given: that child.
Happy Happy Merry Merry!