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Ex-Etiquette: Combining families can be tough

Q: How can I get my significant other to be fair to MY kids for Christmas? He always makes sure his kid gets really nice stuff and then he will get something really expensive for himself, but my kids and me? We get crappy gifts. Example: Last year he got his 11-year-old daughter an iPod touch that cost $300, but my kids got $50 gift certificates. He bought something for his guitar that cost over $400. I got nothing. This really bothers me. Christmas isn’t the only time he’s like this. Any suggestions?

A: So often people think I have the magic pill that will make their partner see the big picture, but there is no magic pill. You make your life together, starting with having mutual goals for your new bonusfamily. That comes from knowing each other, talking about morals and lifestyle, watching how each other handles failure and success – and most of all, being kind and supportive of each other’s children. If he’s buying himself presents before he buys you something, I see large red flags flapping very loudly at your house. It’s not the monetary value spent. “It’s the thought that counts.” As much as I hate to say it, this guy does not sound like significant-other material – at least not for someone who wants to build a life as a family.

If you have read this column regularly, you know I always say you can’t “get” someone to do anything. If it doesn’t come from within, you pointing out what he needs to do will fall on deaf ears and probably stir up resentment. You can show him how to be a good bonusparent by demonstration, but you can’t “get” him to follow through. If he acts like this when giving presents, I have to wonder whether he is displaying favoritism in other areas while helping to raise your children. Blatant favoritism can be detrimental to your children’s self-esteem and security, not to mention keep you running defense in an effort to protect them from being hurt.

Education helps in situations like this. Although most classes focus on helping exes parent, there are classes that aid those combining families. My book, “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” is a great source of information for combining families or for those who deal with combined families. It’s written in a question-and-answer format and addresses things exactly like this.

For example, when combining families there are so many kids to buy for that many make a pact to only buy for the kids and not each other – however, it just takes a little creativity to make the season special for a couple. Get a friend or relative to take the kids for the night near Christmas and make dinner at home, complete with candles, seasonal music, etc. Make it special! Or, just order pizza and relax together. Most of us get so bogged down with work and schedules that we just can’t see outside of the box. I don’t know about you, but if my husband lit candles and ordered pizza, then cleaned up, I’d celebrate! It’s a great gift – especially if the couple makes the effort to arrange it for each other – and far easier on the wallet. Here’s to happier holidays!

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, Reach her at