Just because you ended in a divorce does not free you from any parenting responsibilities. ANY of them. One of those responsibilities is teaching your child to give to others.
You don’t get to teach the gift of giving only when it’s fun, convenient or comfortable for you. Depending on your child’s age, she’s probably not going to come to you and say “Hey, Dad. Can you help me? I need to get a gift for Mommy PRONTO.”. It’s up to you to remember those occasions. Be proactive. You have a unique opportunity to teach your child to care for others because it is the right thing to do, not because the circumstances are convenient or benefit her.
As I stated, the fact that you’re no longer married is irrelevant. Also, keep in mind your child knows you are divorced. She knows her mom is not your favorite person in the universe. She may even sense frustration and general dislike for her mom from time to time (always, always work to hide that from your child). Imagine the lesson you will teach when you tell her you want to help her give a gift to her mom. You are willing to put aside your issues, be selfless and help her do something special for her other parent.
If you can’t put your feelings aside and focus on raising a giving young person, your child will learn a very different lesson. She will learn to only give to others when it benefits her personally. Do you want her to be the person who volunteers at the local food pantry or the person who drops off her old stuff at the local Goodwill ONLY because she can write it off on taxes? Again, you have a unique opportunity to teach your child to care for others because it is the right thing to do, not because the circumstances are convenient or benefit her.
I stepped right in the middle of this landmine when Mother’s Day rolled around after my divorce. I was still struggling with how to find my way as a co-parent. OK, that’s not an honest picture. I was PISSED OFF and doing a bad job of putting my daughter first when it came to dealing with her mom. As Mother’s Day approached, I thought, “What if she wants to get her mom something? Who’s going to help her? Maybe she can ask her grandmother or uncle for help.”. Then I just dismissed the whole issue and forgot about it.
Now, I’d made other mistakes since the divorce, like refusing to let my daughter bring her toys to her mom’s house. I’d say that mistake was just stupid. Mother’s Day, however, was an 11 out of 10 on the Failed-to-Parent meter.
On the morning of Mother’s Day, I loaded my daughter up in the car to bring her to her mom. She was excited about spending such a special day with Mommy. On the way, she looked at me and asked what gift “we” were bringing. I’m sure the look on my face said it all. I froze and didn’t know how to answer. Possible replies started shooting through my brain.
“I think your mom’s boyfriend is getting her something.”
“Mommy and Daddy are divorced so we don’t buy gifts during holidays now.”
“I didn’t think you were old enough to worry about it so I didn’t do anything.”
“Mommy doesn’t want a gift. She just wants to spend the day with you.”
“I’m a selfish Father, and I’m so sorry I let you down.”
That last one stuck. My daughter was heartbroken. I had let her down during a critical moment in her childhood. She had to walk up to her mom on Mother’s Day – empty-handed. It was my fault. I had missed the opportunity to help her and reinforce how amazing it feels to give to others, especially your family. I failed to live up to my one of my obligations as a father, all because I acted as if divorce freed me from helping my daughter do things for her mother.
Since that time, when holidays approach, I make sure to ask my daughter what she’d like to do for her mom. Sometimes she needs me to provide a few supplies for a craft. Other times she may want to purchase a special gift. I’ve even helped her make a special meal. My wife gets in on the action, too, helping my daughter with ideas and trips to the store. You heard that right – my wife helps come up with ideas for gifts for my ex-wife. My wife understands how important it is for my daughter to be thoughtful and giving – especially when it comes to family. (I’m a very lucky man)
Remember, it is YOUR responsibility to teach your child at every turn. Teach them to be the person who volunteers at the food pantry, not the person who looks for tax write-offs.
If you found this helpful, please find a list of other co-parenting landmines I’ve stepped on here.