Q: My guy tells me he loves my kids, but I don’t see it. He openly favors his own children to the point that this year he’s buying his kids way better presents than he’s buying mine. My kids won’t know it because we don’t have his kids for Christmas this year, but it’s the principle of the thing. How do I get him to see he favors his kids? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Well, of course he loves his kids “more.” Aside from the fact that they are his kids, he’s known them far longer than he’s known yours. Love takes time. It took time for him to fall in love with you. It will take time for him to fall in love with your kids — and them with him. “Love” may never happen. In that case, strive for mutual respect. Sometimes that’s even more important.
Blatant favoritism can be detrimental to your children’s self-esteem and security, not to mention that it keeps you running defense to protect them from being hurt. More importantly, there’s something you might have missed this year. Some parents have a real problem with living with their partner’s kids full-time while seeing their own kids only part-time. He may be going overboard because he can’t spend the holiday with his children.
Compare last year to this year. Was it the same? It sounds like your guy might be feeling guilty and is trying to make up for not spending the holiday with his kids by offering extravagant gifts.
If that’s the case, empathy might be more in order than calling him out for favoritism (Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 7: Use empathy when problem-solving) mainly since your kids won’t be aware of it. You have time to get on the same page for next year.
I always cringe when people ask me how to “get” their partner to see or do something different than they do. You can’t “get” someone to do anything. If it doesn’t come from within, your pointing out what needs to be done will fall on deaf ears and probably stir up resentment.
It’s not only kids who learn by example — partners do, too. That means your best bet is to demonstrate firsthand how to be a good bonus parent. Make sure you aren’t demonstrating favoritism yourself — and don’t be afraid to talk about things when they bother you. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8: Be honest and straightforward.) Good communication is always key.
Finally, favoritism is a huge issue for those attempting to combine families, and it seems to be even more apparent around the holidays when gift giving is on everyone’s mind. In reality, it’s just one more day. Strive for equality year-round and things will ultimately fall into place during the holidays. Lead with love. “’Tis the reason for the season.” That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.”