31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Encourage Kids To Embrace New Family Members!

Single with Children: Help kids buy gifts for 'other' family

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 12/11/02

It's hard to imagine, but here we are right in the middle of the holiday season. How is it possible that another year could have gone so incredibly fast? If you're anything like me, you are still working on decorating and tree-trimming. As for attacking the list of presents to buy, well, I think I'm still in denial. Of course, it's going to have to be a short-lived denial, as according to my watch, I have less than 10 days to have everything bought, wrapped and tagged. There are some instances where procrastination will only take you so far.

The delicate issue of who exactly winds up on the Christmas list can present a particularly dicey situation when it comes to blended families. Some ex-spouses would rather walk barefoot on a bed of hot coals than allow room in the budget for presents intended for the "other" family. This can make things particularly difficult for children who are members of both of these units.

The holiday season is about love and hope and maybe even an opportunity to put aside old resentments and wounds that should be well on their way toward healing. It's a great time to right a few wrongs from the past. We tend to remind our children that it's not the price tag on the gift, but the thought that counts. We might not even have to buy the gifts. If we are talented enough, or with a little determination and a search on the Web, we could make some. It can be a lot of fun to macrame a plant holder or two, and give the gift of your own time and efforts, which is always well received.

Even if it's not an easy task for us personally, as custodial parents we should set an example and allow our children to feel that it's not only OK but absolutely the right thing to do and allow them a few extra dollars to buy presents for their stepmothers, stepfathers and even those stepsiblings.

Holiday time is about giving, and what better time of the year to set this example than a season that is filled with perpetual hope?

The first year my kids faced the prospect of celebrating the holidays with their new stepmother and her daughters, they were reticent and not quite sure what the protocol really was. Three years later, it's a more stress-free and almost natural approach. These new folks are accepted as important members of my children's extended family. It didn't happen overnight, but a lot of important things that happen in our lives take a lot of time, patience and understanding.

Anyway, back to the gift list. What do you buy for people you don't really know, but who play vital parts in the lives of our children? You rack your brain for the slightest bit of information that might give a clue as to what each of these new folks might appreciate.

Should you really try to get something special in line with their interests? Now, what was it she liked? Horses? Or was that her sister? And did I hear one of the kids mention that their new stepmom likes to cook or did she order in the last time they visited? It's tough, but it can also be a wonderful chance to illustrate to our children that family members, even the ones not living with them, can turn out to be wonderful additions to their lives.

Well, last year I came up with a plan. It's not an unusual concept, its quite old actually, some time back in the Mosaic period, I think, - it went something like, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Aha!! Let's adapt this! "Give presents unto others as you would like to have them given unto you!" Moses would have been proud.

So, I invited my offspring to ask themselves, "What would I want?" Books! Of course!! So we went to our favorite bookstore and spent a glorious afternoon Christmas shopping for their new stepmother and siblings, and thoroughly enjoyed perusing the aisles in search of books that we imagined they might like to read. Who would have thought that Christmas shopping could be so much fun?

You see a present selected and bought with heartfelt joy is a present that can be received with heartfelt thanks, and for only a few dollars (buy paperbacks!) a true bond is created from one heart to another. The addition of a special inscription on the first page will make the gift more personal and is a great opportunity to express a special sentiment.

So what are you waiting for? Just a few more shopping days are left until that wonderful holiday when we can all come together, celebrate our love for each other and take the time to remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. It's the perfect time to give our children the opportunity to practice the concept that it really is better to give than to receive by allowing them the guiltless freedom to give special gifts that they had an active role in selecting. They can feel a personal sense of pride in giving to new members of their step families.

Perhaps the most important lesson in all of this isn't about whatever form the present might take, but that it reinforces to our children that families, whether traditional or blended, are what matter most in this life. Not only during the holiday season, but every single day of the year. That lesson is a gift that is much too valuable to be obtained by any currency.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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