Notes From a Single Mom: Gift Custody—Has it Really Come Down to This?

Lynn Armitage

I hate my daughters’ birthdays. Sad, isn’t it? The two times out of the year when I should be the most joyous and celebrate life, I absolutely dread. It’s like two opposing energies in my home. My girls are giddy and excited about their upcoming celebrations, “Mommy, how many more days until my birthday?”

I’m morose.

Since the divorce, the ex and I have split their birthday parties. It just makes good financial sense. Besides, we don’t want to spoil our children with two parties each. What kind of message would that be sending them about divorce? So I’ll plan one daughter’s party, he plans the other. The next year, we switch. We attend each other’s parties because it’s what our children want—to pretend for one day that mommy and daddy get along.

But that’s EXACTLY why I dread them. I’m not very good at pretending. It’s the reason why I got a divorce in the first place. But I do my best, and play along, and sing and smile and take pictures and let the ex’s new wife hover over my kids and hand them gifts as if she had birthed them herself. The gifts, I mean.

This year, I decided I was done pretending. I felt like an unwelcome guest at my own child’s birthday party. I’m tired of the tension you could cut with a cake knife, and the forced smiles and the dirty looks I get reaching for a piece of pizza I didn’t pay for. Apparently, pizza purchased by the ex is NOT community property.

But it was the gift grab that did it. After my daughter opened her presents, the ex immediately confiscated them, stashed them in a big trash bag and ran them out to his car. He said he didn’t want her taking any gifts home to “my” house where she lives 80 percent of the time.

His warped logic? “I paid for the party, so the gifts are mine.”

There’s a new one: “Gift custody.” So, who should get the gifts? The birthday child or the non-custodial parent who paid for the party? And could we possibly work out any gift visitation?

There’s something about divorce that brings out the child in all of us.

My solution to all this craziness? Next year, separate parties.

Lynn Armitage is a syndicated columnist and freelance writer. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She welcomes your comments at:

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fredcampos's picture
Submitted by fredcampos on
Lynn, I feel your pain and can relate on so many level. I think sometimes those not involved in these highly volatile custody matters don't really understand. There are no great solutions to this problem. I too have been there where tension is so high you feel you are constantly walking on egg shells. This leads to gift upstaging, toy visitation and countless other issues. I too gave up and we have two parties now about a week apart. Everything runs smoother and my daughter gets a few more things than she probably should. There are still issues as to which friends come to which party, but then again in these situation nothing is perfect. However, my daughter is free to enjoy the party without having to worry about any additional parental tensions.

doragonzalez's picture
Submitted by doragonzalez on
oh cheeze sticks...but that sounds familiar...! both with my ex and my present hubby's ex....i didnt care where the gifts went long as the child got them..but when this fiasco started happening,..the parties got less and the gifts on my side started a few days before or waited till days after..after a while the parties stopped completely..then we moved to another state and things got quiet and sent thru the mail. Now all the kids are grown and on their own and b-day cards or a nice dinner and cake are all that happens.

lynnarm's picture
Submitted by lynnarm on
Dora, There's some kind of sick comfort in knowing that this silly gift upstaging is quite commonplace among the divorced set. When the kids finally grow up, as yours did, we all do, I guess. Thanks for reading and responding!

lynnarm's picture
Submitted by lynnarm on
Fred, It all works out in the end, doesn't it? Parents who are newly divorced need to understand that all these petty feelings will eventually disappear. You end up doing what is best for your children, even if that means you aren't in the picture for a particular holiday or special event. It's a small sacrifice to pay for keeping the peace.