Co-parenting can be hard any time of year, but the holidays often make it even worse, especially if the co-parenting relationship is strained in the first place. Many parents often feel the need to compete with each other when buying gifts for their children, often over extending themselves in the process.
Regardless of your relationship with your ex, every expert will tell you the key to a successful co-parenting relationship is to put your children first. Dr. Robert Emery, author of the book Divorced with Children says that former partners do best when they treat their co-parenting roles as a job. "Most divorcing and divorced parents, I think, will do better at their job, parenting and co-parenting, if they treat each other like business partners: Your relationship is formal, structured, relatively uninvolved, governed by clear rules of behavior, polite but not overly friendly."
That especially applies to the holiday season. If you're co-parenting it's a good idea to try to set expectations ahead of the holidays around gift giving for the children so it doesn't turn in to a competition about one upping each other. Divorce and Children suggests that coordinating gifts can be helpful when co-parenting and ensuring your child doesn't receive a double gift. If you child has an expensive gift on their list sometimes splitting the cost and giving the gift jointly is a solution. If your child does happen to receive a duplicate gift make sure you don't make a big deal about it because it can cause them to feel guilt they shouldn't be feeling.
Parents also need to agree ahead of time to not try to 'outdo' each other when it comes to holiday gifts. Set a budget and stick to it, and if possible communicate with the other co-parent about what you've purchased. Trying to be the parent who bought the 'must have' gift can cause a lot of strain not just financially, but the children are often aware when this is happening. While they may enjoy getting showered with gifts in the beginning, they'll soon begin to realize that it's about more about one upping the other parent than it is about gift giving.
Dr. Jann Blackstone author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation writes that the first and foremost things all parents have to do when co-parenting is to put their children first, and that applies to the holidays as well. She also writes that co-parents need to respect each other and compromise. You may not agree with a gift your former partner wants to give your child for the holidays, but you do have to respect that it's their right to give it.
Setting a budget and having an open line of communication is key to setting a spending limit with your co-parent this holiday season. If you don't have a good relationship with your co-parent, Empowering Parents suggests simply setting your own limits. "If your relationship with your ex-spouse is strained, don’t compete with them by buying too many Christmas gifts for the kids, and don’t buy more than you can afford." They also suggest having a rule that says that anything the other parents buys stays at the other parents house, to avoid any conflict.
"If you are able to communicate with your ex-spouse, agree on the amount of money that you’re both going to spend on gifts. If you are going to work together for the good of your kids, you should decide together beforehand how much money you’re going spend on gifts and keep to that figure."