Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
Holiday Gift Ideas for My Ex-husband's New Wife?

Dear ESM,

Hi! This is a little odd for me to write but here we go. My ex got married about two years ago. We share a now 6-year-old daughter. Like most bio moms my feelings on it were mixed, but by then he lived out of state and really didn't have much contact with our daughter.

Early this year he and his wife were moving across country and wanted to stop here to see our daughter, who he hadn't seen since she was 3 years old! I was really torn by this mostly due to not knowing much about his wife, and worried about how my daughter would react to it all. My worry stemmed from having a stepmother who tried very hard to pit her kids against my brother and me. In general, she really didn't like either of us and it became very awkward when we'd visit.

When the time came and they got here, well, I was wildly surprised. His wife is probably one of the most amazing women I've ever met, and the respect she showed me was mind blowing. It was so refreshing to not have any of the baby momma drama that some women have to deal with.

We spent a day at the park where she and I got to sit down and talk about everything and she explained some situations with my ex and how she is encouraging him to be more involved in our daughter’s life. She also told me how scared she had been to meet me, that she was thankful for how well we get along, that though she normally doesn't like kids (from what I can tell they don't plan on having children anytime soon, if ever), and that my daughter was amazing and she felt blessed that she is being allowed in her life.

I hope it stays like this, I love all of us getting along. My main question about this is now that I've met her, I want to include her when it comes to buying Christmas gifts. I always buy my ex something and have it come from our daughter because that's what my parents had did after they split. Now I want to include her but I have no idea what would be appropriate to send. I also feel extremely silly asking my ex what he thinks would be a good idea. I've asked my daughter if she wanted to even do this and she does. We're both just at a loss on what to get her. Thanks for any advice you offer up!

Sincerely Yours,


Confused Mom


 

Dear Confused Mom,

What a wonderful holiday challenge to have! Your note and your seemingly simple question have sparked a lot of thought for me.

Before we get to specific gift ideas, I think it’s important to establish some principles for gift giving when it comes to one’s former spouse—and the former spouse’s new mate—after a divorce. Here are a few I came up with, but you’ll have your own to add, I’m sure.

Don’t fall into the Happy Trap. Just because you want to give your former husband’s wife a Four Seasons Spa Day gift certificate for being so great to your daughter this year doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way next holiday season. There will be years when things aren’t so smooth with your ex and your daughter, and stepmom may become a part of this tension in ways your daughter will resent when she’s 16.

Think about the kind of gift you could give her every year for the next 20 or 30 years, without looking back and thinking, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t overdone it that first Christmas!”

Don’t insinuate yourself into their family. While it may seem like a great idea to give the new couple a bottle of local wine you and your former husband used to enjoy together, or a day pass to an amusement park you two used to visit with your daughter every summer, this kind Memory Lane gift will make his current wife feel like she’s on the outside of his and your relationship.

By keeping your gifts to her and to him separate from your past, you will show your regard for them as a couple and as a family unit separate from you in the present.

Don’t give her anything you would feel funny receiving from her. If your former husband’s wife gave you something too expensive, too personal, or too weird, you’d wonder what this is all about. Does a

bottle of
Veuve Clicquot say, “I Wish You Happiest of Holidays!” or does it say, “Look How Well We’re Doing!”? Is the framed photo of the kids and their dad white-water rafting a sweet gesture, or a reminder that she was there, she took the picture, and maybe you’re the outsider? Is a copy of the book, The Solitude of Single Life intended to encourage and support you on your journey, or a reminder that the man you used to be married to is on a new journey without you?

You can see where even a truly thoughtful, well-intentioned gift might be misunderstood in the early years when there isn’t much context for the new partner/stepparent to go on. Said another way, if you don’t want to receive a framed photo of your kids doing stuff with them, don’t give her a framed photo of your kids doing stuff with you.

Do keep in mind that you’ll have a lot of years in this woman’s life, and she in yours. Allow plenty of time for you and your daughter to get to know her, to learn about her interests and hobbies, and to get a feel for her tastes and style. The fact that you like and admire her will show in whatever gift you choose this year.

These guiding principles would point us in the direction of neutral, modest gifts that acknowledge your former husband’s wife and her special place in your daughter’s life without setting the bar unrealistically high for the rest of your relationship with her. For now, and for at least a while to come, your goal is to be friendly with this woman, not to be friends with this woman.

Some examples of safe, neutral gifts at the top of my list include: pretty hand-made soaps from a local farmers’ market holiday craft fair, a lovely works-anywhere photo frame (your daughter could make a small piece of holiday art to put in it for presentation purposes), really good bees’ wax candles (and 2-3 small holders), a pretty little wall pocket with an air plant in it, or some artisan olive oil. These sorts of special, thoughtful, useful and/or consumable gifts let her know that you’re behind her and her positive relationship with your daughter, but you’re not trying to get into her business or her family.

It’s ok if you want the relationship with your former husband’s wife to warm-up faster, but it’s best to keep your gifts fairly conservative and mainstream for the first 3-5 years at least, and let the relationship unfold a bit before you get too personal.

I really can’t tell you how delighted I was by your letter. What an enormous compliment to your child’s stepmother. Your positive regard and willingness to like someone who you are expected to treat as your enemy will help your daughter in ways you cannot imagine. I say this to you as a stepchild whose mother didn’t have a kind thing to say about my stepmother for over 20 years. I’m glad my mother came around before my stepmother died, but three young lives would have been a whole lot better if my mother had been even a little bit bigger 20 years earlier.

I wish you happy holidays, and please write back and let me know what you and your daughter ended up doing for her stepmom if you have a moment. I’m really interested in what you come up with!

Warmest regards,

Kimberly

(AKA: Evil Stepmom)


 
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