June means the end of the school year (in a typical year, anyway), the beginning of a long hot summer, pool days, and Father’s Day. As your own father’s child, you may celebrate your own father with no problem.
But when it comes to celebrating your ex, you hesitate — and understandably so. He’s not your father and you’re no longer together. You have no real obligations to him, right?
But you have children together. And they might want to celebrate their father. Or maybe they wouldn’t even know it was Father’s Day at all if you didn’t say anything.
So it still begs the question: Do you need to buy a Father’s Day gift for your ex? Here are four reasons you should and four reasons you shouldn’t. You decide what fits your situation.
Why you should:
It helps the kids feel like some things haven’t changed
After divorce, everything changes. New homes, new schools, new schedules, and even new people are part of the kids’ lives post-divorce. Old routines, traditions, and ideas no longer apply.
By helping your kids choose, buy or make, and wrap a gift for their father, you help them feel like some things haven’t changed. You give them a feeling of consistency, stability, and comfort in a life that has dramatically changed.
It shows them how to be kind and generous
You’re divorced so chances are good your kids know you and your ex aren’t exactly best friends anymore. And depending on your relationship both before and after the divorce, they may be very well aware of exactly how little you like each other.
Helping them have a gift for their dad on Father’s Day shows them that it’s possible to be kind and generous even when you don’t particularly like someone or aren’t getting along very well with them. And that will be important for your kids now and in the future as they navigate complicated relationships with friends, lovers, and children of their own.
It shows them it’s okay to love you both
As a single parent, you strive not to speak badly about your ex to the kids. You work hard to avoid making the kids feel bad about enjoying time with their father and to keep your own feelings and thoughts to yourself when they talk to you about the fun they had with him or how much they love him.
But if you don’t help them with a gift for Father’s Day, and he did or does help them get you something for Mother’s Day, the kids can feel caught in the middle. They can feel that maybe they’re supposed to feel guilty about enjoying their time with him. On the other hand, if you help them, they see that you understand the value of their relationship with their father and want to help encourage it.
You won’t have to do it forever
If you don’t have a good relationship with your ex, getting him a gift might feel uncomfortable, frustrating, and might even make you feel resentful. But the key is that you don’t have to do it forever.
Your kids will eventually be adults and fully capable of having (or not, as they choose) a relationship with their father without any help or pushing from you. But when they’re still little, that help or those little nudges from you, might really help them have a good relationship with their dad.
And you’ll be off the hook in a few years, so why not be the bigger person and help the kids get him something sweet for Father’s Day?
Why you shouldn’t:
The kids are old enough to do it themselves
If your kids are older than about 10, they should be able to come to you with ideas of their own and only need you to do the driving to the store, put out the art supplies, or click “Place Order” on Amazon. And if they’re older than 16, and have a license and a job of some sort, they don’t even need that.
Obviously, there may be specific circumstances that change this, but be honest with yourself. If your kids are old enough to do it themselves, then don’t offer more than a gentle reminder that Father’s Day is approaching.
He’s absent or unreliable
It seems like a no-brainer: if he’s not around at all, you don’t need to get him anything. But what if he’s unreliable? He might be in and out, or he might be mostly out and very rarely comes around. But it can still make you wonder, as the day approaches, if you should get something just in case. Or the kids might wonder.
If he’s completely absent, don’t bother at all. The kids probably won’t even ask. If he’s unreliable, and the kids really want to give him something, consider letting them make something. Go online and look for Father’s Day craft ideas that kids can do by themselves.
You can also look for more generic crafts if he tends to be unreliable and you want the kids to face less disappointment. With crafts that aren’t specifically about Father’s Day, you can always claim it for your own if he doesn’t show up. Lavish praise on the little ones and place their artwork in a place of pride — at least for a few weeks or months. And if he does show up, your kids will get credit for a heartfelt gift and you won’t have to do any shopping you don’t want to do or spend money you don’t have.
The kids don’t want to
This is perhaps the simplest of the reasons. If the kids don’t want to give their father something for Father’s Day, then you don’t need to do anything! Gifts from a child to their parent should be because the child wants to give them.
If your child isn’t interested, they shouldn’t be forced. Whether your child is merely being thoughtless or they have a conflicted relationship with their father, their lack of desire to give their father a gift should be the end of any question about your obligation to do so.
You and your ex already agreed not to
Some couples make a mutual decision upon divorce that they won’t buy, or help buy, gifts for each other for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas or birthdays. Whether it’s because you choose to have other relatives help out with that or gifts don’t matter or you have other reasons, if you have this agreement, it’s already settled.
If you’re fresh out of the split and haven’t discussed this, it might be a good time to bring it up. Whether you agree to get each other gifts or not to get them, at least you’ll know you’re on the same page.
It’s the thought that counts
In the end, it really is the thought that counts. So make sure you think hard about your decision to get or not get your ex a Father’s Day gift. Make the decision that feels right to you, even if it’s not what others would say you should do.
Make the decision that puts your kids first. Remember that this isn’t just about giving a gift to your ex. This is about what you’re telling your kids with your decision. Make sure your decision tells them what you want them to know.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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