Family Law: Presence NOT Presents: Remembering What’s Important During the Holiday Season

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December 2017
Wendy Kaufman

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Last week, my older daughter excitedly informed me that her father would be purchasing all four of our children the “mack-daddy” of all winter coats; the elusive Canada Goose as a Chanukah gift. At over $1,000 a pop, these coats are dreamy: warm, well-designed and generally fabulous in every way. My Chanukah gift of matching pajamas pales in comparison. I feel like a schlub.

During the season in which consumerism is king, I put my pity-party aside and try to remember how critical it is for children of divorce to have our “presence” and not just the “presents.” By lavishing our children with expensive gifts and unlimited spending money we infantilize them by removing the impetus for a strong work-ethic, distort their sense of value, and delay independence. And I speak from first-hand experience because I was that child. My dad gave me a brand new Mercedes when I was just 20 years old. I had a closet full of designer clothes and sparkling jewelry. Growing up as a spoiled child crippled me when times were tough during my adult life and forced me to learn self-dependence the hard way. And what I loved best about my childhood was a night, at the Waffle House, eating a peanut butter and jelly waffle for dinner after my dad’s crazy softball games, anyway.

This is not a diatribe against my ex-husband. He is present in our daughter’s lives. They see him regularly, talk frequently and text daily. I know that all four of our children feel secure in their father’s love and affection. He also happens to buy them kick-ass gifts – which is a good thing…sometimes. 

In lieu of an expensive gift, consider giving your off-spring the gift of a special, intimate joint experience. Last weekend, my sister took her 9 year old son to see his first live concert. The video of his mesmerized face as Katy Perry began to sing melted my heart. If you were to ask my sister, I’d imagine the night meant to be a gift for her son became a cherished memory for his mother despite the fact that she prefers Phish to pop music. On the rare instance when I have an extra $100 bill floating around my wallet, I take Baby Girl out for a date night, just the two of us. For $100 I could purchase that pair of shoes she is *dying* to own (which will be toasted by a mud puddle days after purchase), but, instead, we order high calorie food, talk about her life, her friends, her worries, and I share experiences from my own childhood. Then we share the brownie extravaganza for dessert. Every summer I drive 22 hours to spend a visitor’s day with my children at camp – then cook a homemade meal for dinner, sit up for hours singing camp songs and listen to the best camp gossip. The memory of happy time spent together in a meaningful way is a precious gift and helps to shape your children for what lies ahead in life. The rest is just stuff.