It Stings, but It’s the Right Thing to Do

There’s a little over one week until Mother’s Day. On top of planning and shopping for your own mother, many of the solo fathers I know wrestle with the struggle about their kids’ mother, also known as their ex. Before the divorce, most took their kids out and helped them shop for mom and plan something special for her. Depending on any of the pain, hurt, and anger left from the divorce, or even for those of us who have finally entered a calm norm with their ex, the idea of shopping for our ex ranks just behind a nice root canal. In the end, you have to look at this day and a few more through your children’s eyes.

There are three events really in question; mother’s day, her birthday, and Christmas, or any gift-giving holiday your family celebrates based on your beliefs or customs. For me, it is those three. Three times a year I have to think about my ex and still deal with those events. The kids are young and they want to do something for their mom. Specifically for my case, there are no family members in the area, so my decision to help the kids shop for their mother is based on what we did in the past prior to divorce and looking at what means they have to do something for her after divorce.  I have a friend whose ex is living in the same town as her mother. For him, their grandmother takes them shopping and helps them plan for his ex’s three events. I envy him.

I don’t believe what you start today will carry forward forever. Circumstances will change what you do. Your ex may remarry. In my opinion, taking care of these events now falls to him, so long as he picks it up and your children are comfortable shopping with him. As with many issues, your primary concern should be doing what feels reasonable for your kids. Just because there is a step-father in the picture doesn’t mean they want to do that shopping with him. It may take time for them to get to that point, meaning you still have to help them during the transition. 

Age will play a factor in how you help them. For young children, they have little to no means to go out and get presents, and likely can’t remember the date to set aside private time to make something that will be a surprise. As they age, and certainly when they are working, they should be able to save and eventually take care of shopping for their mother on their own. Only you can be the judge of when the right time to end your assistance. You just need to make sure you are making your decision based on the right choice for the kids and not your personal issues with your ex.

For some, it may be a bridge too far. No one can judge you as you are the only one who really appreciates your story and the pain you have endured. In these cases, you should at least make sure there is someone who is stepping in to help. A simple email to the ex-in-laws or a friend of your ex’s to state they have the ball is all that is needed. You should expect some level of backlash, potentially even spilling over to the kids, but as with most things time is generally needed to let the new normal become just the normal.

Kids of all ages want and need a relationship with both their parents. Part of that relationship in our society involves about three events per year where they celebrate with your ex and may even give her a present. There are many little things we dads need do to help our kids during and after divorce. We strive not to talk poorly of the ex to them or around them. We strive to keep our exchanges with the ex strictly about the kids and items of their interest. Even with the little things, helping them prepare for a celebration with their mother can sting. If you are like me, put a little extra bourbon in the glass that night and toast to doing the right thing and to a better future.

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