Should You Gift Your Ex’s Family?

With the spirit of the holidays comes the issue of whether seasonal generosity applies to everyone– including your ex and his or her family.

If you spent a lot of good times with your ex’s folks, you naturally care about them–sometimes even more than you did your ex, so it’s a difficult situation. Regardless of the season, there are many issues to consider: Did the relationship end badly? Would sending the parents a gift mean you’re still attached to your ex? Can you care without being considered a “stalker-ex?”

So, with that in mind, we decided to explore the question: Is it ever okay to send your ex’s family a card or gift for the holidays?

We turned to friends about their experiences dealing with an ex whose family they gifted during the holidays. Here’s what they shared:

“It’s the happiest time of the year, so I believe in good karma,” says Sara, a third year college student from La Crescenta, California. She dated her ex-boyfriend for more than a year when she first entered college. During that time she developed a close relationship with his mother, which lasted beyond the relationship with her boyfriend. Though things with him ended badly, she explains, “I think it’s okay to buy something for the family in rare cases. Not individual gifts, but maybe something for the house.”

Sara knew her ex’s mother loved angels, so she personalized a throw blanket with the family’s last name, and took it to them herself. Sara explains, “If you do something nice, it makes you look so much greater and shows your respect.”

Do we buy that argument?

Marriage and Family Therapist Margie Mirell does. She notes that Sara’s relationship with her ex boyfriend’s mother had transformed into a different connection devoid of anything romantic. Continuing the relationship with pure intentions had an element of reciprocity since “both parties are getting something [from Sara’s act], although we don’t know what.”

Mirell adds that there could be various unspoken perks from this transformed relationship. “This may be a girl that doesn’t have a good relationship with her own parents. These parents give her a sense of stability she may not have in her life. The parents could have never had a daughter.” Reciprocity was at the root of Sara’s relationship with her ex’s mom, and Mirell gave a green light to letting the relationship move forward.

That said, although spreading holiday cheer is a positive experience, it raises the question of whether gifting the ex’s parents always stems from good karma and respect, or whether the joy of the season is a facade of sorts.

Molly of Irvine, California ended a relationship six years ago. She was close to her boyfriend’s family, having spent numerous holidays at their house and time with them on weekends. She explains that she sent about 40 cards to friends for Christmas one year, including one to her ex and his family. For Molly, addressing a card to the family was an act that felt natural, but she later admits, “I also wasn’t completely over him, which probably played a large role. I still wanted the family to like me. He [also] had a new girlfriend. I didn’t want them to forget me.”

Molly felt instant gratification and short-term satisfaction. “Of course, I can say these things looking back,” she explains. “But at the time, I wasn’t analyzing my actions.”

Mirell comments, “Molly is an opposite example. This is one where you’re giving because you want something in return. You have to ask yourself, “Do I expect something in return? Do I try to manipulate’? I would be cautioning her to look at herself.”

There are some, though, who feel there is no gray area–right is right and wrong is wrong. Jack from New York feels the answer is absolute. “They’re both asking for drama,” he says firmly. Jack has been in a three-year relationship with his current girlfriend, but says if the relationship were to be over, the “whole package” would be over. Jack feels that a woman should not send cards and gifts after a breakup because the act itself suggests the woman needs some sort of attention.

He considers both Molly and Sara’s situations as attempts to gain consideration during the holidays, whether with pure intentions or scheming ones.

Jack clarifies, “It’s a nice thought and it’s a nice gesture. When you do nice things, you get nice things back. It doesn’t hurt to be friendly with them if you see them around, but to go as far as sending cards and gifts, you’re asking for attention.”

So, the act of gifting the family of an ex says one thing clearly: You want to show you care and you are asking for consideration, but as long as you are genuine and the feelings are mutual, the desire may not be so unhealthy.

“Nothing is black and white,” notes Mirell. “Reciprocity is a good thing, but manipulation is not. Just search your soul.”