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Modern Parenthood

Father's Day gifts in a divorce: Who buys? Who makes the cards?

Father's Day gifts in a divorce fall to mom. Then one day, the teens say, "We got it, Mom."

By Correspondent / June 5, 2012

After her divorce, Father’s Day gifts – the handmade cards and gifts – weren't about her kids’ father anymore, they was about her. Then the kids became teens and said, "We got it."

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San Diego

It’s Father’s Day No. 3 since my marriage ended. Thing is, the hoops I jumped through to get my kids to properly acknowledge their dad while I was married stayed the same after marriage. I still cajoled them to make a card and orchestrated the creation of an endless parade of paper weights, pencil holders and hand-decorated coffee mugs.

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Correspondent

Eilene Zimmerman is an independent journalist covering the workplace, entrepreneurship, small business, technology, social trends, social issues and family. Her work appears and has appeared in The New York Times, CNNMoney.com, The Christian Science Monitor, Crain's NY Business, Salon.com, Fortune Small Business and other national newspapers and magazines. She lives in Southern California with her two teenagers.

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This year my kids are both teenagers, 13 and 15, and last week as we walked through the mall we passed a store window with a kitchen gadget in it. My son said it was something his dad might like.

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I said, “Should we get it for him for Father’s Day?”

Both kids let out a long whining “Noooo.”

My son said it was Father’s Day, which meant the children – e.g. he and his sister – would figure out what to give their dad. No moms needed.

Really? I thought. No car, no money, and without me, I thought self-importantly, no direction.

Last year I had them make little “ode-to-daddy” themed collages on canvas. Original works of art you could hang! Try and top that, I thought. And what would their father think, if they forgot to make a card? That’s when I realized Father’s Day wasn’t about my kids’ father anymore, it was about me. 

In fact, it raised a whole lot of issues I would never have connected to Father’s Day – like my own parenting insecurities, old resentments (how come he never has the kids make me Mother’s Day cards? Or buy me gifts??) and, probably hardest of all for me, the fact that I have a lot less control over my children than I once did.

At first it was a slow erosion of control, as they pushed against my decisions about what they should wear to school, eat for breakfast and whom to invite to their birthday parties. Then my marriage ended and the three of us kind of dove back in toward each other, holding on tight while the world spun out of control, looking for comfort and protection. But that was almost three years ago. This past year my children have both been pulling away from me. (I’m not allowed to touch my son in public, for instance.) Letting go has been harder than I ever imagined. I know if I’m doing my job right that’s what is supposed to happen, but it’s not easy. And there’s no “What To Expect” book to help with this phase of child rearing. 

When my kids say they’ll handle the Father’s Day cards, and that they will decide what gifts to make or buy, my first instinct is to protest, to supervise the card-making and gift-creation. It’s not only on Father’s Day that I do this – it’s everyday.  I realize on some level I want my ex-husband to see me as competent,  efficient and organized, still the one who, of course, has the cards made and gifts wrapped, who – despite divorce and its generally sad, angry fallout – can still get her kids to make their father a popsicle-stick pencil holder.

But the truth is, we’ve changed, all of us, and not just from divorce (or lots of yoga) but from the sheer force of time passing, of soul-searching, of children moving from tweens to teens. 

RELATED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz!

So this year, I’m not having a Father’s Day card-making session at the dining room table just to prove to my kids and my ex-husband how extraordinarily magnanimous I am! Look at me, I’m so healthy! This year I won’t roll out the crayons, paints, colored pencils and glitter glue, I won’t suggest what they should write. 

That day at the mall last week, when I offered to buy the Father’s Day gift, my daughter glanced over at her brother and then put her arm on my shoulder. “Mom,” she said, with an infuriating hint of adolescent condescension, “We got it.” 

I started to object, then stopped.

“Okay,” I said tentatively, looking at both of them. “You got it.”

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