Coordinating Kids' Gifts with Your Ex

Updated on November 07, 2018
J.B. asks from Boston, MA
9 answers

For those still parenting with an ex, how do you coordinate holiday gifts? My ex and I have two adolescent children who still get Santa-style gifts - they don't literally believe, but they put together wish lists. When my ex and I were still a couple, we of course went through the lists together, shared ideas for things they hadn't thought of, vetoed items, farmed out ideas to relatives and purchased from that list.

Now that they're older (12 and 14), the wish lists tend to include bigger-ticket items like electronics and things that might be something that multiple gift givers share (e.g. a gaming system gifted to all of the kids from all of the grandparents one year, a chromebook for one child last year that was a gift from me and my in-laws, etc.). This requires coordination, but overall it's a good system that works for gifters and giftees alike. In addition to helping my relatives with ideas, the coordination also helps so that my ex and I don't get the same things or give then twice as many presents/spend twice as much as before, which would be ridiculously wasteful.

The issue is that pretty much every interaction with my ex is mildly irritating. Not terrible or abusive or unbearable, but just as annoying as it was when we were still married. For example, I emailed him the kids' ideas for what would be good gifts for them this year. It was a good list - items at a variety of price points, things they have wanted for a while and will use, etc. I asked him to let me know if he would like to purchase anything from that list or had something different in mind. So of course he comes back picking apart their choices ("that's dumb and expensive and they won't use it, he doesn't really need X, what he really should get is Y, Z is overpriced and you could get the same thing for...."). What I really want to respond is "shut the eff up and just let me know what you're doing" but I didn't because I'm civilized even through gritted teeth. The thought of 6 more years of this is not appealing. do you do this? What systems do you have? FWIW I know this is a bit of a nice problem to have. My oldest son and step-daughter have absentee biological parents who didn't participate in gift giving for any occasion, so I am grateful that he's not that bad. He just annoys me. Thanks!

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answers from Santa Fe on

I would have them give one list to their Dad and a totally different list to you. That way you don't coordinate at all. Let them deal with their Dad.

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answers from San Francisco on

My kids were 15, 18 and 21 when we split. I never even thought to coordinate over gifts. I just got them what I wanted to get them and could afford. Their dad gave them money because he was never a good gift shopper (that was always my job.) The kids were happy and I was happy. If I HAD tried to coordinate I'm sure my ex would have been just like yours, critical and picking my choices apart.
Just do your thing and enjoy it! Giving is so much better when it's fully your choice and desire. And if the kids happen to get any doubles just make sure receipts are kept and tags are in place for easy return or exchange.

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answers from San Diego on

Don’t waste your breath trying to coordinate with him. You get your own gifts and let him get his. Save your time and energy.

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answers from Washington DC on

ha ha!

well, i'm glad at least that your excellent decision to leave him continues to be validated!

i'd have done exactly what you did- send him the list to have the first crack at it. what a maroon he is to faff this up too.

can you do a civilized-even-though-gritted-teeth version of what you post here?

like, 'thank you for that brilliant critique of our kids' christmas lists. that is extremely helpful. can you please let me know ASAP what if any of these gifts you're going to get? and if none, please give me an idea of what you ARE getting so we don't inadvertently duplicate.

you blithering idiot.'

maybe not the last.


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answers from Boston on

ETA: Just read Suz T's hilarious response and Military Mom's "Dear AssHat" salutation. You ladies make me laugh! Thanks for the chuckles!

Original answer:

You are such a good person. You really are.

I’m not sure I’m much help here, other than for moral support. My husband’s ex was brutal in this area. I can’t tell you how many things he planned and asked/informed her about that she then undermined. We planned a vacation (she had all summer off with the kids, we got 2 weeks), and magically she had them on vacation on Cape Cod the week before we did. We got tickets to Disney on Ice on my husband’s weekend, the kids told her, and magically she went with them the day before. And so on.

You’ve always worked pretty well with your in-laws (out-laws??) so I suppose you could continue to talk to them and work out a shared gift. You run the risk that he’ll feel you did an end run around him, or that he will kvetch to the kids about something he thought was extravagant or useless was bought by the rest of you. Only you can decide whether you care.

I guess I might say to him, “If you want to go in on a gift together, let me know by Dec. 1 or I’ll figure we should do our own thing.” That doesn’t help you split the cost, I know, but it reduces your stress of trying to be the diplomat when the other side isn’t interested in a treaty. Just because it's better than it could be doesn't mean it's a good system you have to continue.

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answers from New York on

Rather than send him a list of what the kids want, why not send him a list of what you intend on purchasing? Like this: Dear AssHat: I am writing today to let you know that I am buying Bobby a hoverboard and Johnny a new car. I am letting you know this so we don't duplicate on any of the larger gifts. Best wishes, J.B"

The smaller gifts really don't matter, it's the large ones that you wouldn't want duplicated. Let the kids get them their own lists, or let him reach out to the kids on their own. Again, don't let the micromanaging get out of control here :)

For the larger ticket items, see if your side will split those costs with you and make the gift(s) from you and Grandma/Grandpa. For God's sake, don't go in on gifts with your ex. Really, I know you think you are doing it for the kids, but I'm telling you the kids really don't care and all you end up doing is spending your hard earned time and sweat infantalizing your ex.

Happy Tuesday :)

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answers from Portland on

I am not divorced, but I enjoy reading your posts, because I think you parent so well and are handling this with so much grace.

I think one parent generally takes the lead with Christmas. That's me. We have one side (hubby's) who is difficult. I have the lists of my teens (like yours) and you would think it would be easy. No.

I've tried everything to be accommodating - taking their wishes into account, breaking it down for them by price point, making suggestions (thinking that would be easier for my MIL), you name it - I've tried - all going through hubby since it's his family.

In the end, I did as another suggested - I did my own thing. It upset them, but we did our own Christmas. I let them get what they wanted - and give to them in person. I felt it's a gift - you ask them what they'd like (or not) - but leave me out of it. It was causing me stress - starting in October.

You could say, if you're not going to work with me - then you can give them money and they can get what they like off the list - I'm going ahead (put however you graciously do) :)

The point is, don't let this affect your Christmas with your kids.

My friends who are divorced don't work with their exes. They just go ahead and get their own gifts, and don't worry about what ex is doing. Keep receipts. Usually, the parent who has them Christmas Day does the big Santa type (big gifts). Those would be the big ticket items. So they do them every second year.

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answers from Washington DC on

Wow. This would be hard and no fun to deal with. If I were you I would only work with the Grandparents or other relatives that are easy to deal with. I would respond to the ex by saying, "thanks for the input and be sure to include gift receipts with whatever you decide to get them." I would MUCH rather deal with returns than him!!

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answers from Norfolk on

While it wasn't as polite as you wished it could be - he was giving you his thoughts.
"this instead of that" is an alternate suggestion even if he criticized everything on the list.
You can just mentally fast forward through the nonsense and look for the one of two meaningful sentences - the gist of the response - and ignore the rest.
Sounds like he's trying to get a rise out of you.
Ignoring the crappy run on commentary is probably the best way to tick him off.

3 moms found this helpful
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