Splitsville: The Ugly Competition To Buy The Best Christmas Gift

Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand thatdidn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

Separated parenting is all about working together to do what’s best for your kids. Over and over again, we talk about the importance of communication. We constantly remind ourselves to put our kids first. Parents everywhere try to work together on discipline, education and holiday schedules. It’s all a balancing act and we work hard on it because we love our children.

Alright, now that we’ve all agreed on that, can we please talk about the competition to buy the best Christmas present?

No one wants to admit that we’re all angling to have the most awesome gift. I mean, that type of jealousy is petty and immature. It doesn’t help the family’s relationship. It creates hurt feelings. It doesn’t help anyone, except maybe your child who gets some super presents because everyone wants to be top dog.

But… but… it’s impossible to suppress that “perfect present” urge. We spend weeks, months even, trying to come up with the best gift. One that will make our children’s faces light up with joy and excitement. It’s heart-breaking to have all that effort overshadowed by another toy. It’s not like this game is exclusive to separated or divorced parents. I’ve seen plenty of grandmothers try to play for present supremacy. Most of them openly admit that they want to be the lucky contestant who guesses the best toy of the season.

But what can seem like a little friendly rivalry between extended family takes on a whole new meaning in the confines of a dual-household family. Then, it seems to become combative and mean-spirited.

This is a safe place. I feel like we should be able to admit that this natural urge to make our children the happiest exists. I’m not saying that we should act on it. I’m definitely not suggesting that parents should start racking up the credit card charges so that Christmas can turn into a proxy “Who Loves You More” battle. But we can acknowledge these feelings and hopefully find a way to deal with them that benefits our kids. After all, that’s our main focus, right?

So how do we curb the gift-giving competition that exists deep in the most shameful part of a parent’s psyche? For one thing, we stop equating gifts with love. This is actually an important exercise far outside of the holiday season. In general, giving toys or prizes or treats doesn’t equal showing affection. And kids know the difference. You might want to buy your child an amazing toy because you love them with all your heart. But that toy doesn’t communicate your feelings to your child. It’s just a toy. And the biggest and baddest present definitely doesn’t equate to the deepest love.

The holidays are about so much more than whatever’s wrapped under the tree. If we want to show our kids how much we care, we need to focus on spending time together as a family. We need to instill in them the traditions and appreciation that made our own holidays so special growing up. Show them the magic of Christmas through the tree trimming and the caroling. Build gingerbread houses. Anything to spend time together. This is what makes this time of year so important and enjoyable.

The desire to buy an amazing gift isn’t ugly, in and of itself. But to let that urge overshadow what’s truly important about this holiday, that would be a tragedy. Once we make that realization, the competition just doesn’t seem nearly as important anymore, now does it?

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