Straight Talk Advice

The perils of blending teens, family holidays — and Dad’s new girlfriend

Nov 24, 2014

Yikes! Christmas with my boyfriend and his teenagers

Dear Straight Talk: I’m going to my boyfriend’s house for the special day of Christmas. His boy, 15, and girl, 13, will be there. We’ve been together nine months now and I’ve only met the daughter once for five minutes, but have been around his son several times at events. I’m quite nervous! I’m bringing my boyfriend gifts, but I’m on a limited budget and don’t know if it’s expected or even appropriate to give the kids gifts. He can afford to buy them anything and does. What do you recommend? –– “C” in Santa Rosa

Gregg 23, Houston, Texas Ask me a question

This is a very special day so make sure it’s about the kids. It’s THEIR Christmas. (It’s only about you in that they’ll be judging you!) Definitely bring them something. I don’t show up anywhere empty-handed and it goes a long way toward making friends. The gift also creates opportunity for interaction. Ask your boyfriend for ideas, but if he discourages you buying them gifts, do it anyway! Maybe events you’ve attended with the son (sports, music?) indicate an idea for him. For the girl, maybe your favorite book when you were her age. Teen-Pleaser: Bring homemade chocolate chip cookies –– NO nuts or raisins!!

Brie 23, London, England Ask me a question

It’s important to take a backseat and let Dad lead the day. It really irritated me when my stepmom took a bigger role. It felt like she was trying to replace my mom or was making the holiday about her and my dad, instead of me and my siblings. Definitely get the kids something. Gift cards are nice even in small amounts. Family board or card games can be fun, too, but don’t be disappointed if they just want to text their friends and not play.

Brandon 22, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

It’s important to take a backseat and let Dad lead the day. It really irritated me when my stepmom took a bigger role. It felt like she was trying to replace my mom or was making the holiday about her and my dad, instead of me and my siblings. Definitely get the kids something. Gift cards are nice even in small amounts. Family board or card games can be fun, too, but don’t be disappointed if they just want to text their friends and not play.

Breele 20, Dana Point, Calif. Ask me a question

Get each one a little something. Maybe a basketball for the boy (or whatever he’s interested in) and a phone case for the girl. Be aware that the physical gift isn't the real gift. The real gift is how you interact and make them feel special and respected. A baked good always helps!

Liva 25, Maui, Hawaii Ask me a question

I was a teenager when my dad remarried. I really appreciated my stepmom (early in their relationship) being thoughtful even when she didn't know us very well. Something useful like a small gift card to Starbucks or Jamba Juice might be nice. If they read, get a new/popular book in a genre their dad says they like. Same for movies or CDs. Or pick from the lower-cost items they are hoping to receive from Dad. Most importantly, express genuine interest in who they are –– this will go far.

Moriah 18, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

A gift isn’t required –– however, if you must, an age-appropriate book is rarely offensive. Christmas is special and hosting an “outsider” has potential for tension. Observing their traditions, participating on cue, and not trying to take over is probably the best gift in this situation.

Dear “C”: I hope the panel is helpful. I say bring a small gift for each AND something homemade (nothing exotic and definitely leave out raisins and nuts!). The overriding message is that the day isn’t about you. Be chill (don’t lead or talk too much), be real (show genuine interest in the kids) and be of service (give the family occasional space by busying yourself with tasks nobody wants).

Editor's Note: Other do's and don't's for stepmother figures can be found in our earlier column "Recipe for a Dynamite Stepmother". 

Gregg's comment about buying the girl her favorite book when SHE was a girl, made me think of "The Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean Auel (copyright 1980). This is Book One of a series of six books that are unforgettable! This series has not been mentioned by the panelists over the last six years as we gather favorite books, but I have a hunch it would be if teen girls knew about it. Anyone out there read "The Clan of the Cave Bear" series? --Lauren

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  1. By Paula, age 16, from Redding, CA on 11/24/2014

    My sister and I have been in this situation more than once with our dad with various girlfriends who never seem to last too long with him when we saw him at Christmas.  We never expected a gift from his girlfriends.  One of them gave us small iTunes gift cards since our dad told her that we liked to order iTunes and we appreciated that.  If you want to give them something, I would suggest something like that or a Kindle gift card good enough to buy a book or 2 like was suggested in last week’s column if they like to read Kindle books.  But it’s not really necessary to give them anything and I doubt that they will be expecting it.

    I also recommend that you be who you are: his girlfriend.  Don’t try to be like their mom or their best friend because your not, and you shouldn’t try to be someone your not.  Our dad’s had girlfriends who’ve done both of these things and it really put us off.  Also, since you don’t know them well and barely know his daughter at all, don’t be too informal with them.  Our dad had one girlfriend who though nothing of walking in on us when we were undressing and also walking around in front of us in just her bra and thong since “were all girls” and it really made us uncomfortable since we barely knew her.  Were not prudes and since its all females when were at home were very casual and it doesn’t bother us for our mom to see us nude or for us to see her (or us to see each other), but that’s because were family members, but were not comfortable this way with people we barely know even if “were all girls” like she said.  I’m sure you wouldn’t do this with his son, but you also shouldn’t be too informal with his daugher either and respect her privacy too

    Paula

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  2. By Maddie, age 15, from Cotati, CA on 11/25/2014

    I think in this situation it would be appropriate to bring a small gift of some kind, especially if you have met the boy a couple times. But I would say just get them something small—it shows that you want to be in their lives and that you care about their dad.

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  3. By Molly, age 22, from Oakland, CA on 11/25/2014

    Since you haven’t been in their lives for very long I wouldn’t say it’s expected to get them anything expensive or big but a small thing would be a nice gesture. I would advise something like a $15 or $20 gift card for something age appropriate. Maybe a Steam gift card for the boy if he likes games and a card for the girl to a store she likes. If you’re not sure ask their dad, there’s no reason he can’t be part of your gifting decision for them.

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  4. By M.P., age 17, from Brea, CA on 11/25/2014

    I agree that a modest gift card would be nice and would be appreciated if you want to give them something.  I can also tell you that you should not give them anything intimate.  You wouldn’t believe what my new stepmom who had only been married to my dad a few months gave me for Christmas last year.  A gift certificate for a waxing!  Her daughter (my stepsister) with whom I had shared a room during some visitations noticed that I don’t wax when she saw me nude and actually went and told her mom about it!  My stepmom then took it upon herself to decide that I should start waxing and got me a gift certificate, telling me “Honey, it’s time for you to start doing this for good hygiene.”  I was really offended that she would try to tell me what to do with the most intimate and private part of my body and don’t think it’s her place to tell me to wax when I have chosen not to.  At the time, I politely said thank you, but had no intention to use it.  She checked with the place since she and my stepsister both go there and when she found out I had not used it, she kept bugging me.  I found it very offensive and finally told her that I do not choose to wax and it is none of her business.  She was very hurt and offended.  However, I still think I was right and that she had no business telling me what to do with my own pudendum. 

    I therefore recommend that you do not try to anything too intimate too soon.

    M.P.

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  5. By Jan, age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 11/28/2014

    I agree that a modest gift card for something that they like would be nice.  But don’t spend too much or it will look like you’re trying to buy their favor like our dad’s girlfriend tried to do last year.  I also agree with Paula and M.P. that you should respect their privacy and not be too informal with them and not try to be their mom or their best friend.  Our dad’s girlfriend tried too hard to be our friend and tried to have “girl talk” with us about things that teenage girls talk about with their sisters and their close friends like our periods and waxing, but which we’re not comfortable talking about in front of our father’s girlfriend when we barely knew her.  She also thought nothing about going to the shower nude when we were there.  It didn’t bother us that much since we’re girls and weren’t seeing anything we don’t see every day when we undress in front of each other in our room.  Even so, we still thought this was being a little too informal as Paula says.

    Jan

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  6. By S.L., age 16, from Santa Rosa, CA on 11/30/2014

    I actually appreciate the fact that my stepmom tries to treat me equally with her own daughter when I’m there at Christmas every other year, and always gets me a nice present that is just from her.  I share a room with my stepsister when I’m there and it doesn’t bother me in the least for her to come in when I’m undressed, although I appreciate the fact that she has the courtesy to knock first.  I’m more comfortable with her seeing me nude than my own mom since my mom is very prudish and acts very uncomfortable and embarrassed about seeing me undressed and avoids it as much as possible.  I’m also able to talk to my stepmom about “female issues” that I can’t talk to my mom about.  I’m also comfortable that my stepmom is casual about nudity around the house.  Since we’re both females, I don’t see anything to be uncomfortable about, and it also shows that she’s treating me like a family member while my own mom keeps her body hidden from me.  While it’s obviously not true for everyone, I’m totally comfortable with my stepmom and appreciate her getting me a special present just from her at Christmas.

    S.L.

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