Straight Talk Advice

Dec 11, 2012

Gift giving in blended family not that complicated

Dear Straight Talk: My friend thinks she doesn't need to get her stepdaughter much for Christmas. She says "Emily" will get gifts from her own mom, and her kids won't get anything from their dad, so buying less for Emily only balances things. I see the logic, but I was that same girl and it was horrible to receive less on Christmas day than the other kids. Yes, I also received from my "other family." But when everyone opened gifts and there was comparatively little for me, I felt like I didn't really belong there. My friend is a generous, warm person, so I am taken aback at her stinginess. Perhaps if you run a column on this, she will see herself. — "Santa's Elf"

Taylor 15, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

At my house, there are three kids from my stepmom and two from my dad. We are old enough to understand value, so rather than equal numbers of gifts, everyone is “spent on” equally. The different houses are separate entities. What the “other” parent is buying is a matter for that house. Each house is a fair house where nobody feels left out.

Lara 21, Concord, Calif. Ask me a question

When I was eight, my mom married my stepdad and we had Christmas with his large extended family. We drew names to simplify things and my name wasn't put in the envelope. My sister and brother got amazing gifts, but nothing was under the tree for me. I didn't mention I'd been forgotten till we were flying home. The moral of this story: I still have some upset about that Christmas, even about that family. It's not logical and Christmas isn't about presents, but there it is.

Kira 20, Moraga, Calif. Ask me a question

Excuse my language but your friend is an idiot. Who cares what she gets from her other family! She should get equal presents for ALL her kids — INCLUDING her stepdaughter.

Colin 19, Los Angeles Ask me a question

The premise of this letter is so disgustingly materialistic I feel like burning everything I own and living in the forest like Thoreau. Too much is taken for granted in this society. Nothing illustrates this more than people who think not getting enough Christmas gifts is a severe violation of human rights. Rant aside, if you give one kid lots and the other little, you're sending a pretty strong message.

Brandon 20, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

I'm stepfather of a son whose bio father is absent, but his three sets of grandparents (my parents, her parents, bio father's parents) all buy him gifts. Having only one spoiled brat (!), I've never shopped for a blended family, but it occurs to me that if we have our own children, they may be jealous of this. Main rule: keep everything fair (this also means not competing for who gives the most).

Katelyn 18, Azusa, Calif. Ask me a question

Before you butt in, tell Emily about your experience and ask how she would feel. If it would hurt her, gently bring it up with your friend. The problem is probably flawed logic not stinginess. Another solution is for both families to celebrate Christmas together.

Christina 20, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

Yes, stepchildren may get gifts from their other parent but that isn't their fault or choosing. No matter their age, kids will compare — even if no harm is intended. Children of divorce have been through something. Feeling less loved leads to both personal and family problems. Is spending less money on them really worth that?

Dear Santa's Elf: I couldn't agree more with the panel. Like Taylor said, each house needs to be a fair house where nobody feels left out or slighted. Let's hope your friend reads this — or a certain elf delivers the message.

Editor's Note: Even dogs know when they are being treated unfairly and will turn their backs on their owners. Now take the human, infinitely more sensitive than the most sensitive dog, and, at the same time, infinitely more complex and able to repress, medicate, or cloak that sensitivity. 

Christmas, Hanukah, and other holidays are symbolic times and while we are normally hardwired to compare and discern how much love we are receiving, our dial is on "high" during symbolic times. Do you really want to play, inadvertently or not, the "wicked" stepparent?

Sometimes it can be really hard to feel a bond. But you can be fair. And even the Grinch proved capable of warmth. Please open your hearts to those difficult to love during this symbolic season. Maybe it will feel so good, you’ll continue year round.  —Lauren

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