The first and probably the most obvious is, do I have to buy my ex-wife a present or card or something? This is a tricky issue, and there are a lot of emotions involved on either side. I personally don't buy a gift for the big kids' mom, but not out of spite or disrespect. My main concern, especially before I married, was that I don't want any gift I give to be misconstrued as anything other than a token of respect for the mother of my children. In our situation, my ex married before I did, so there were a couple of years where those dynamics had to be considered, and for some men, just about anything can be taken as an overture. I usually send a text or phone call, but nothing so tangible that it could serve as an affront to their marriage. I definitely make sure the kids get a present and a card for their mom, and usually their grandmother on that side as well. When they were younger, that always meant providing the money for the gift as well, and taking them shopping, making suggestions. So it's not as if I don't have any involvement in the gifting, even if my name isn't written in the card. Now that the kids have their own money, whether that's wages or allowance, they want to use their own cash to buy the gift. Still, they sometimes ask if I can chip in for something that might be outside their budget, or offer to do something around the house for extra funds. At some point, probably soon, I won't have to be involved in the process at all, but for families with younger children, dad really does have to take the initiative to make sure the kids have gifts for their mom, even if he doesn't want to. Think about it like this - you may not want to go shopping for a gift for your ex, but you definitely don't want your kids to feel ashamed or sad because they don't have anything for their mom, and all of their friends do.
Aside from not wanting to buy a gift because of the effort or expense, or an awkward feeling of separation, what if you just don't think she deserves a gift at all? What if she's just a bad mother, as far as you're concerned, and shouldn't be recognized? First of all, have you considered the possibility that you're just bitter and angry? That you may not be in the best emotional position to judge the parenting skills of a woman who very possibly broke your heart? That said, maybe she really is just a bad mother. Maybe she doesn't deserve recognition. Even so, it's still in your best interests to suck it up and make the kids buy a gift and a card for their mother. Unless their mother is completely AWOL and unreachable, she's doing something maternal with your children. At some point it becomes less about rewarding her parenting skills, and more about teaching your kids about humility and generosity. And if their mother is really that bad, and they know it, then it's an opportunity to teach them about showing love to people who don't deserve it as well. Just the fact that they see you making the effort can show them so much about the attitude they should have towards people who make their lives difficult, about how to combat apathy with love, that you can't afford to miss this opportunity. Besides, if she really is that terrible, then I can guarantee that she makes you sound ten times worse when she talks about you to her friends, or her family, or even maybe to your children. Just strategically, do you really want to give that woman solid evidence of your worthlessness, to shout to all the world? So have the kids buy her a nice gift, and instead of her going on about how their father didn't even get her a card for Mother's Day, she might just focus on the children for a change.
Unfortunately, in many situations, your children might not be able to celebrate Mother's Day with their mom, because she's passed on. When we're lighting candles and throwing streamers, we sometimes forget that holidays aren't always happy occasions for everyone, and can be particularly difficult for some. There's nothing wrong with celebrating Mother's Day with your kids after the death of their mom. It might not make much sense to buy a gift, but buying flowers and making a trip to her grave can be a really good way to help them hold on to the memory of their mom. Putting her picture in a special place on that Sunday, eating her favorite meals, listening to her favorite music or watching videos of her can create very positive traditions out of something very sad. And if it's difficult for you, Dad, just remember two things. First, you'll probably only have to keep this up until they leave your house and continue these traditions for themselves, or don't. Second, it's probably much more difficult for them. Explain this to your wife beforehand, that this is going to be a part of your children's ongoing healing and grieving process, and that while she is the only woman in your life, you share this grief with your kids. Above all, don't just let the day pass unnoticed because you're afraid of stirring up their emotions or making them feel worse by reminding them of their sadness. Trust me, they're going to feel sad either way. Because their mom died.
There's one more issue that might only be unique to our situation, but I'd be willing to bet that there are at least some others dealing with this. What if their mother doesn't even celebrate Mother's Day any more, or other holidays, for religious reasons? I dealt with this myself when my kids' mom changed her religion soon after the divorce, and let the kids know that she didn't celebrate Mother's Day, or birthdays, for that matter. In a situation like that, you end up walking a very fine line between respecting someone's religious beliefs, and honoring your kids' relationship with their mother, and teaching them the joy of generosity and thinking about others. Actually, that's really more of a triangle than a line, but the point is still valid. The decision, I made, right or wrong, was to keep on making the kids buy gifts for Mother's Day, and birthdays too. I didn't want to appear disrespectful to her religious beliefs, but I also felt that not doing anything could appear disrespectful as well. When My daughter once asked why we were even shopping for gifts when he mom doesn't celebrate the day, I told her that we do celebrate it, and that if you have to make a mistake, you make it by being generous. Most people can easily forgive a mistake when they know it's made in love. If there's some concern about a gift being refused, then make it a gift card to a restaurant so they can spend time together, whether it's on that Sunday or some other day. There's lots of cards that can express their feelings without necessarily saying "Happy Mother's Day" on them, and if you can't find one, then have the kids make one.
This kind of thing reminds me of playing tennis with my friends - not because of the competition, even though that does creep into these relationships sometimes. When I play tennis with a couple of my buddies, we definitely are trying to win, but sometimes just finding ourselves in a really good volley is rewarding too, and we even get upset with our opponent for ending one. Hard to believe, but I've found myself yelling across the net, "Dude, how could you miss that? You ruined it!" In the same way, sometimes this is exactly what you have to do. Just return the volley, put the ball back in her court and keep the momentum going. If she fails to return that momentum, then it's not really like you get a point or pull ahead in the ranking - just serve again and do your part to keep the game alive as long as possible.