Are Your Gifts Good Enough? The Non-custodial Parents’ Guide to Managing Expectations

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We’ve run into several dads over the last few days who were worried – really worried – over whether the gifts they gave their kids were good enough to preserve their relationships for another year. Some of them already know they’re not getting a thank you. Worse, others are starting to feel angry at the kids because of expensive gift lists they know won’t get acknowledged.


No doubt, it sucks to go out of your way for someone just to get attitude, but it isn’t teen unappreciation that will kill your relationships for good. It’s resentment.

Here are 5 ways to keep the frustration from spoiling your holiday fun:

      1. Remind yourself that all parents suffer. There’s a reason teens have such a bad rap. Most of them are jerks in the best circumstances. You can’t expect your kids to act perfectly in a situation that’s turning you inside out.
      2. Stop with the comparisons. Too many dads judge themselves based on the relationships their friends have with their kids or on how a relationship with a child has changed. Sometimes the worst treatment comes from kids who trust that you’ll wait it out.
      3. Have a plan for affordable gifts in the future. If part of the reason you’re angry is due to overextending your finances, accept that as your choice. Make a plan to prevent it next year, whether that’s putting away $100 a month for presents or giving the kids a budget. They won’t cut you off if you can’t afford the latest iPhone.
      4. Ask your co-parent for help when possible. Ask if they’ll help the kids send thank you cards (or texts or videos) this year.
      5. Don’t use this as a teaching moment. It’s somewhat normal for a child dealing with the pain of being apart – especially when parental alienation is involved – to act like they don’t care about you at all. It doesn’t mean they’re little jerks who don’t appreciate anything. It doesn’t mean they’re being raised wrong or need tough love to turn their bad habits around. The better option? Consider your tolerance an investment in the future.

The holidays are a tough time to be away from family. Issues like alienation and teen angst multiply that by 1000, but it doesn’t mean it has to always be that way. These issues get better once kids become adults and start to mature. Keep trying, and keep celebrating your own efforts.

Here are 3 presents all good dads should give to themselves:

      1. A blank journal. Every card. Every call. Every letter you write. Note them all in your parenting journal. Some dads even write down their own goals and self-care schedules as a reminder that investing in yourself is important to keep up morale.
      2. A new CD. It doesn’t have to be Sounds of the Rainforest either. Studies show that listening to any music you enjoy helps reduce anxiety, alleviate depression and improve self-esteem.
      3. A good book. Recent studies show that reading for just six minutes a day reduces stress by 68 percent. So, figure out what type of stories you like and get lost in the pages. When you put it down, you’ll leave some of your worries behind.

Managing expectations at the holidays is the key to getting through them with your chin up. It’s essential in managing your mental and emotional health. Need more support this holiday season? Buddy up with other dads dealing with the same issues at our Facebook Page.

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