Don’t Let Your Ex Be Your Grinch

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Nov 29th, 2018

Whether it’s your first holiday season post-divorce or your tenth, this can be the most wonderful time of the year…for our exes inner Grinch to come out to play. Gift-giving, family traditions, and time between families, almost everything can become a point of contention. If you let it. Here’s how to not let your ex be your Grinch this holiday season.

The Presents Problem

A divorced mom I knew saved and scrimped to buy her son the huge Lego kit he wanted. Only to find out that her ex had bought him the same one and given it to him earlier. Instead of the squeals of excitement she’d been anticipating when he opened his present, her son just shrugged. Her ex knew what she’d been planning to buy and purposefully undermined her.

It’s okay to be hurt if your ex does something petty in the realm of Christmas gifts. One of the purest joys I’ve felt as a mom has been watching my son open his presents and rush to play with them. Express your hurt in private and try to keep it from further ruining your child’s day. Then turn lemons into lemonade.

They went to the store the next day and exchanged the kit for not one but two big Lego kits that had been put on clearance.

Give Experiences, Not Things

Often, we find ourselves in different financial positions than our ex. Still paying off legal bills, or trying to collect on child support. That’s been the case for me, except for a brief period I was allowed to live elsewhere and make more. As much as we may preach that the season isn’t about presents, many divorced parents fall into the trap of one-upmanship.

My brother could just casually drop a hint to my mom that our dad wouldn’t buy him a new gaming system and voila! Guess what was under the tree? None of us were immune from playing one parent off the other; ask me how I got my ears double pierced. But it’s not a healthy game to play and doesn’t teach your children good life lessons.

I’ve focused on creating traditions and experiences rather than on buying gifts. We go ice skating every year, last year outside on the Frog Pond in Boston. Spend one morning baking kringlar and Christmas cookies while listening to carols. Decorate the tree together while I tell stories about the ornaments’ origins.

While some activities do cost a small amount, like skate rental, you’re giving your children experiences that last far longer than a toy they’ve broken by February.

Holiday Feasts

I can’t cook. It’s a running joke among my friends and family, but it’s the truth. Once, when my son was four, I was trying to make dinner and set off the fire alarm. He kept playing, unconcerned, and yelled out, “Mommy, are you cooking again?” What I can do is bake, which is why we do cookie day.

Lean into your strengths this holiday season. Can’t cook a turkey? Let your kids eat it at your ex’s, or with grandparents. It’s pointless to drive yourself bonkers trying to prepare the perfect feast, spending hours on YouTube watching videos or buying kitchen implements that you’ll never use again. I once spent hours cooking ham and mashed potatoes only to have my kid ask me for pizza instead.

It’s also a good idea to accept that your ex may let your kids eat nothing but candy canes or chocolate Hanukkah gelt before dropping them back at your place. Arguing about their diet, particularly in front of your kids, won’t get you anywhere.

Time with Both Families

The holiday season is a time for family. Unfortunately, this often means that both families want time with your kids. While you likely addressed Christmas, Christmas Eve, or Hanukkah in your divorce decree, a lot of other events come up. Family get-togethers, holiday parties, even school concerts, there’s a reason most of us collapse on January 1st!

If possible, try to coordinate your calendar with your ex ahead of time. Put any known events on the family calendar and sit down, or email, to arrange any hand-offs or switches. Be flexible, and be willing to compromise. You both want to spend time with your children, as do the grandparents and extended family. While I don’t suggest playing a tit for tat game, do try to keep it fair.

At the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the food and presents are gone. The whole village gathers outside in the town square to sing and share peace and love. My favorite version of the movie is the old-fashioned cartoon one, and I get teary-eyed every year when we watch it.

It’s clichéd to say that the season is about love and family, and can hurt to hear it if your family has been split in two. But it’s true. Whether it’s Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day, sharing the joy of gifts and time with our children truly makes the season the most wonderful time of year.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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