Dear Dr. Jann: Should my husband still be getting presents with his daughter for his ex now that she has another child and a new partner? Shouldn’t his ex’s new partner be the one to get her the gifts with the step-daughter?
Dr. Jann: From the tone of your question it appears that you think that your husband’s responsibilities to teach his daughter manners and respect for her mother stopped when they signed the divorce papers, but that’s not true. Because mom has a new partner does not resign dad from his dad duties. If dad wishes to relinquish the responsibility of buying the mother of his child a present “from the child” during the holidays, then that is up to him, but it is not automatically implied. As we have said many times before, signing divorce papers severs the tie between husband and wife, but their responsibility as mom and dad continues forever.
It is inappropriate, however, to buy presents for the ex “from the ex” when both have remarried. It is important to qualify this statement. Divorced parents may have worked through their issues and developed a friendship over the years and exchanging presents may seem natural, but once either remarries, present should be offered to the new couple or from the new couple as a gesture of goodwill. Otherwise you will have a bunch of angry new partners wondering what is going on.
You may never feel comfortable exchanging presents with your ex. If that is the case, then presents “from the kids” when they are too young to buy them themselves is all that is needed. Once they get older, get a part-time job or have an allowance, it may then be appropriate to suggest that they spend their own money to buy presents.
It’s not easy to marry someone who coParents their children. Many worry if their new spouse is truly interacting with their ex because of coParenting duties or because they are secretly still in love and want to get back together. Or, it can just be a big fat irritant reminding you that your partner was once married to someone else. Either way, it’s tough to let the old school divorce jealousy mindset go — when an ex is polite, many worry that there’s an ulterior motive behind their actions. If everyone openly hates each other all the adults feel safe in their roles.
But, all that insecurity doesn’t help the kids. So, in direct answer to your question, it’s dad’s responsibility to buy a present for mom “from the kids.” If dad is not around, then it would be bonusdad’s responsibility if there is a bonusdad in the picture. If there isn’t, then it’s grandma or grandpa’s responsibility or another relative or good friend. Peace on earth, goodwill toward everyone.