Dear Chump Lady,
I have a random question that I am sure some of the chumps can relate to. This is for those of us that are recently separated from our cheaters. Most of us had to purchase Christmas presents for our children to give our cheating spouses before we found out about the cheating, and for some of us also during the delusional reconciliation hopium stage as well. How should we handle this holiday season? I personally have no interest in purchasing presents for my kids to give to their cheating father. I am very resistant to the idea of doing that. However, when your kids are young and they have no money of their own — What should we do? What have some of you fellow chumps done?
If you already bought the gifts, I’d handle it one of two ways. A) If the kids know about the gifts, picked out the gifts, and were looking forward to giving the gifts — let them give the gifts when they’re alone visiting their dad. B) If the kids don’t know about the gifts, I’d donate them to some worthy charity.
You’re divorcing, which means that one of the jobs you give up is managing your children’s relationship with the other parent. You don’t triangulate for good (presents) or for evil (“tell your father his child support is late!”). You leave it alone. If your child expresses a desire to give mommy or daddy something, pull out the arts and crafts supplies and let them make a card. Or give them whatever got crafted at school that week. What you don’t do, IMO, is go buy your cheating soon-to-be-ex husband a Christmas present. That’s one shit sandwich too many. You have to get through the holiday season right after D-Day, that’s shit sandwich enough.
You may feel vindictive, like your STBXH doesn’t deserve ANYTHING for Christmas after what he did! You don’t control that. That’s between him and Santa Claus. You only control YOU. And you, Rebecca, do not need to wade into a fluorescent-lit shopping mall in search of holiday kibbles.
But the kids! Maybe it was a tradition to buy presents for daddy together? That tradition dies. You’re divorced. It’s one more thing your kids are going to have to grieve thanks to infidelity. So make a new tradition. Go buy some toys for the Toys for Tots charity. Bake cookies. Take up wassailing.
I’m sure there are a hundred holiday articles out there telling chumps to buy those presents for a divorced parent. Don’t be bitter! Do it for the kids! I don’t think kids should be the conduit for gifts, even in a non-infidelity related divorce.
Here’s my story on that. My first divorce wasn’t over infidelity and my creepy ex would buy me gifts through my son — and I felt hugely manipulated and grossed out. My son saw the gift as from him, and I saw it as something my creepy ex-husband bought. Then I had a 5-year old asking me “Don’t you want to wear the silver bracelet I gave you?” And it was up to me to untangle all of that. I saw the gifts (which went on for YEARS and were also sent to my family) as manipulative. As a way for my ex to make his presence known where it was not wanted. It felt like he was triangulating my son into some weird unrequited courtship. It was fucking AWKWARD. An unpleasant feeling that I’m sure my ex intended. (Consider also that these gifts were sent during the same years he was suing me.)
I got put in the position of if I rejected the gift, I was rejecting my son, hurting his feelings.
Now, back to your original question. In the case of infidelity, if you give the gifts through the children, I think that is a form of the pick me dance — only with little proxy dancers. “Remember your family? We still remember YOU! Don’t you miss us?” That’s why I think you need to take yourself completely out of the equation. If Johnny and Suzy want to remember Dad at the holidays, they do it with their pocket money, their pipe cleaners and glitter glue. If they ask, you say “Hey I don’t give your dad presents, that’s not appropriate as we’re divorced. But if you want to make him something, that’s great. Go right ahead.”
I know you’ll feel a bit sad that your kids are still giving your STBXH kibbles and love you don’t think he deserves. But you don’t control their relationship with him. If he breaks their hearts, or he buys them a pony — you don’t control that either. (See a theme here?) You just control you.
And you, Rebecca, do NOT have to buy him a gift “from the kids.”