Straight Talk: Stepfather plays Scrooge to spouse's kids

By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: My husband and I have 2 sons ages 10 and 12. I also have a son, 15, from an earlier marriage who I will call Travis. All the boys live with us full time and Travis spends alternating holidays with his dad. The problem is my husband always spends considerably more money at Christmas on his own kids than he does on Travis. I’m sure Travis notices. I have appealed many times for fairness, yet it continues to grow as a sore spot between us. My husband feels that his support of Travis is gift enough (Travis’ father pays almost no child support), plus he figures that whatever Travis receives from his own dad should make up for the disparity (it doesn’t). My husband is the main breadwinner. How can I get him to see the damage he is doing and stop this blatant favoritism? ~Lodi Katelyn, 15, Huntington Beach: Sounds like your husband wants to show Travis that he is accepted, but not loved. If you know what Travis might like, buy it. It is apparent that your husband won’t. Travis needs to know he’s loved and you need to make sure that happens. Brie, 18, Ashland, Ore.: My stepmom always favored my stepbrother. He consistently got bigger, better, cooler things and I would get fewer, smaller, not so grand things. But I’m used to it. I don’t think favoritism is fair, but in most mixed families, things are never fair. I say spend your own money on Travis and let your husband pick up the slack for the other boys. Without overspending, show Travis how much he means to you. Lara, 18, Moraga: I have a stepfather and half brother and naturally my half brother gets better gifts from my stepfather’s side of the family — but it’s also easier to shop for children than teens. You can’t force your husband to love Travis but if they spent more one-on-one time together it might help them bond. The best gifts were the times my stepdad and I did that. He then found it easier to select a meaningful present for me and I cared less that my brother’s gift may have been more expensive. Jessie, 17, Ashland, Ore.: My stepmother did this all the time to my brother and me and it was horrible. For the situation to change, your husband will have to want to make the change himself; you can’t force it. My suggestion is to have extra presents under the tree for Travis that you say are from his stepdad and you. This will help negate the effect of the grander gifts your other sons open. Dear Lodi: Favoritism is highly damaging and I guarantee that all your sons notice it. Even dogs notice when they are favored unfairly over another dog and they stop cooperating with the trainer. How children respond to social damage is more complex, and even though some of the panelists make excuses for it, or claim they are “used to it,” favoritism divides families and leaves individual scars. Not that I need to convince you. However, since your husband continues to treat Travis unfairly after 12 years of step-parenting, he is clearly expressing his own social damage. And since hounding him has only created a growing sore, consider dropping the subject and opening your heart to his wound. Have Santa bring him “The Blind Side” by Michael Lewis (now in theaters), the true story of football’s unlikely new star who was elevated through parental love and care. You can read it, too — applying it toward the “child” in your husband. In the meantime, the panelists have it dialed: Be Travis’ elevating parent all by yourself. On your own authority, set aside money to ensure your sons feel equally loved. To ask a question or inquire about being a youth panelist, visit www.straighttalk or write P.O. Box 963 Fair Oaks, CA 95628.