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