THE BLOG
12/10/2010 10:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Holiday Heartache: Shopping for the Ex

Nothing is ever quite the same post-divorce, and certainly not this time of year. Especially when kids are involved.

Sure, we brace ourselves for irritation when it comes to holiday visitation; it can be aggravating, emotional, and costly. But most of us suck it up and do the best we can for our children.

But just how far should you go to do that? What if it includes shopping for your ex - and he's spent years making your life miserable?

After an acrimonious divorce, the holidays - which I always loved - took on an entirely other flavor. Gone was the pleasure of sifting through the latest novels my husband might like, the annual sweater search, not to mention gadgets from The Sharper Image and tools from Home Depot. Instead, there were broken promises to our sons. There was anger and debt. There were unmet financial obligations.

But kids want to love both parents, and show it. They want to give both parents gifts.

Fortunately, when they're little they can make things at school. Or, they can order online or tag along on a trip to the mall. But most likely, they still need the assistance of an adult. If there is no relative or friend to help, that may mean you are the one shopping for the other parent - no matter how you feel about him - because it's about how the kids feel about him.

So I shopped for the ex when I had to, or handed over a credit card. Just like I reminded my boys to call their father on his birthday, to show him their grades when he came to town, or tell him about a special accomplishment. However bitter things were between their dad and me, I felt it was my job to give my sons a father in the ways that I could-- like a trail of bread crumbs that would lead to a more positive parental connection.

Was it an unrealistic adherence to my sense of fairness? Did I naively think if I kept doing "the right thing" he might come around and fulfill more of his responsibilities? Was it single parent guilt?

Knowing the grittier details of our post-divorce dealings, friends called me crazy to facilitate the relationship between my kids and their father, rather than letting it live or die entirely by his actions. In retrospect, there are moments I believe that counsel was well founded. Yet when I look at the young men I've raised, I think I did okay. I've made my share of parenting mistakes, but encouraging my children to be thoughtful wasn't one of them.

Shopping for the ex - would you do it? Even if you pay with a little piece of heartache?