24 answers

What to Do About Unfair, Unequal Treatment of Siblings Around the Holidays.

Hello - here is the background. I have two sisters from my Mom and Dad, my Dad remarried and has two children with his new wife. So Dad has 5 children total. We are not children anymore, the oldest is 36, the youngest is 21. The 21-year-old lives at home with the parents. At Christmas every year, we celebrate on Christmas eve with my paternal Grandmother. My dad has 7 grandchildren (from my sisters and I, not the "new" family). The adults in the family do a drawing for gifts each year and everyone gets something for the grandchildren (well... almost everyone). This year, my Dad and his wife did not get anything for the grandkids. There was no mention of "not enough money" or anything. For years my parents have done a Christmas day celebration with my Dad, step-mom, half-brother and half-sister, without any invitation extended to my sisters and I. My sisters and I understood, figuring they were celebrating with the kids who still lived at home. We found out that this year, there was still this separate celebration even though my half-sister has not been living at home for the last 3 years or more. My "gripe" is that there is no equality with my Dad's kids. I know that it is my step-moms idea to have only her kids over with gifts being bought for only them, but don't you think my Dad would, or should say something? I would like to know how I should approach him about this. He is a man who is rarely serious, doesn't like confrontation (he just gets defensive and starts yelling) and usually acts like he can't control anyone (or his money). Should I even bother? I don't want a gift for myself, but I feel like he should at least get something little for his grandkids. The other reason is that my half-sister is expecting her first child in May (which would make it my step-moms first biological grandchild), and we KNOW that christmas gifts will be piled on this grandchild, but not the others. One other piece of background is that for the seven baby showers that were held, my step-mom went to one, and my half-sister didn't go to any. I'm irritated. I hope this makes sense... help.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

A big Thank You to everyone who responded to my request. It is hard to get a 35 year history of holidays with my family into this message board, so I personally responded to a lot of messages regarding this history. I have learned a lot and have gotten a lot of wonderful advice from everyone, everyone contributed something. I'm over it now - not so steamed at least. We still have not talked to Dad, but decided we will take him out to lunch or somewhere away from the house and discuss the fact that although the kids don't notice now, they might next year. Like I told one person, my Dad is not heartless, but he is spineless, so I hope he'll open up my stepmom's eyes to her ignoring us. She won't listen to a thing my sister or I say, so we are just going to work around her. I hope all works out and hopefully this New Year will bring peace and acceptance. - T.

Featured Answers

I just wanted to say that some of the very harsh responses you've received are very uncalled for....

If any of you ladies are reading this, please remember that this is a place women come to for support, not to get beat up!

Though it's helpful to point out a different way of looking at things, it is NOT helpful to call the requestors selfish brats, etc.

T., I don't have any advice for you on this matter...I think you've already received several good responses. I just wanted to speak out about those who were less-than-helpful. (you know who you are!)

2 moms found this helpful

Hi T.,

Just adding my two cents to the pot. Christmas came and went this year and my son received absolutely nothing from my dad and his wife. Not even a "we have a package but haven't sent it yet". My other sisters (their children, BTW) live in town and did have gifts for their children. Sooo don't even want to mention the sister that doesn't send anything for my son and doesn't feel it necessary for her son to write us a simple "thank you" card for gifts received. (Okay, probably venting here!) I'm scratching my head, too...

Family's tough sometimes, huh?

More Answers

I am now a step-mom. I have two teenage step kids. For the last two Christmases I have been VERY careful about making sure everything is equal. My step-daughter, who is 17, notices any little descrepancy. And I am quick to point out that there not be ANY favoritism in our home on either side. From my husband or from me. We treat our five children equally. I have even gotten wonderful support from my divorced parents.
I have told each of them they need to get presents for ALL five kids or none. And my father and my husbands parents send cards and gifts for each child's birthday, too.
I had to point out to my mother, though, that we are a family now. She has struggled a bit more with the fact that the two teens are NOT her 'real' grandchildren - and you know how hard it can be to connect with/ bond with teenagers.

As far as your father is concerned, he is not treating you equally with your step-siblings. That hurts. Period. And I would bet that this is an on-going problem with you and your father. It's probably not a new situation, but one that has been going on for years.
But I'd think really hard about how to broach the subject with him. He will probably be upset that he has hurt you which is where the yelling comes from - I bet he's just trying to appease his wife. He just wants everyone to be happy and he doesn't know how to make that happen. And I would just let him know that you and your kids would LOVE to spend Christmas with him. Gifts are nice, but I think the real hurt comes from being excluded.
He is ultimately the one who must tell his wife that all his children should be included during the holidays. Isn't that what Christmas is all about. The more people involved the more excitement and love there is to go around!

5 moms found this helpful


I feel for your situation. I had one set of grandparents who played favorites when my brother and I were kids. My brother was the "favorite" and it showed. He always got Christmas and birthday presents, and I never did. My parents tried very hard to remedy the situation with no success. I can tell you that I cried every Christmas when I had to watch my brother open gifts from them and I had nothing. He was very generous and shared his presents with me, but it just wasn't the same. After so blantantly ignoring me for most of my life, they had the gall to get upset when I didn't visit them at all or invite them to my wedding. Funny how that works, isn't it?

My grandpa just died this fall, and the favoritism showed once again when the will was read; my brother was left a sizeable amount of money and I was again left out. Fortunatly as an adult, I can handle it, and it's not that big of a deal to me. I would have had a difficult time accepting money from them anyway. My grandparents missed out on a wonderful relationship with me, and it was their loss, not mine.

I don't have any words of wisdom for youm except to be there when your children express sorrow, anger, or whatever over the situation. Believe me, they will eventually notice the favoritism and it'll hurt. My suggestion would be to build them up, let them know they are special no matter what, and that the number of presents they do or don't receive has nothing to do with their worth or value. It's important for you to validate their feelings and to let them know you understand how much they may hurt because of this.

Instead, focus on instilling in them your values, whatever they may be. One thing you could do is help them become people who give to others with nothing expected in return. In otherwords, help them to take the high road and rise above adversity.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful

Right now you really don't know why your Dad and stepmom didn't give your Dad's grandkids gifts for Christmas. You won't know until you speak to your Dad. You don't mention what you or your children gave your Dad for his Christmas gift. At this time in our economy, the gift of time may have been the only gift that your Dad could give this year. And in the big picture of things, that time spent with him is the best gift of all. Sharing stories, spending time. Don't even try to compare what is done for your and yours with what's done for your sisters and their's or your step-siblings and their families. You'll go crazy. Life can't be a tit for tat game. Your step sibling is going to have a baby. Mazel tov!! Do for her as you would any other friend or acquaintance. If invited to a shower, go. Don't go broke trying to impress, but celebrate this new life, welcome this new cousin your kids get to play and grow with. Bottom line, be the bigger, better person than the type you say your Dad and step-mom are. It does not one bit of good. Sets a bad example for your kids. In the future, spend time making a tray of cookies with your kids, have them color pictures, make something or give the gift of picture of you, your husband and kids to your Dad and stepmom. Something that you made, that is a part of you. Gifts don't have to come with a gift receipt or from the mall. It's better to give than to receive. I'm sure Santa and others bestowed a bounty of gifts upon your kids and they want for very little materially. Now is the time to teach them by example what the holiday is really all about, giving of themselves to others. I wish you well. Have a happier new year!!!
p.s. I had in-laws (since passed on) who decided the holidays had to be their way or it was the highway. They didn't understand the sharing of time or spotlight. They made a big production of their gifts to the point of putting others down. They were rude and inconsiderate of their sons and their wives. Our kids are their only grandkids. As a result, the jealousy on the part of the oldest brother has remained insurmountable. We shouldn't have had kids because they couldn't/didn't. Everything should have been 'equal'. They have all missed out on a lot in life as a result. We continue to send the Christmas cards and pics. They know what's happening in our lives, but it's their choice to not participate. Our kids have grown into these amazing people, multi-talented, compassionate, funny, understanding, smart, loving people. They were our gifts that keep on giving every day, to them and to us. Don't spend too much time worrying about this one holiday or the lack of wrapped presents/gift cards. Be happy you had the time together, the hugs when they walked through the door and the one you got as they left. My Dad died 14 yrs ago after being diagnosed with lung cancer during the holidays. What I would give for just one more hug, what my kids would do for that hug, for those precious moments.

4 moms found this helpful

That sounds very frustrating, and from what I've seen in my own case with my father in law and his wife, and in the situations of friends with stepmoms, it's not that uncommon. I understand how deep the hurt can go.

My advice would be to continue to extend love and good will towards your dad and stepmom, and maybe someday things will change. I think that getting bitter and severing ties with them would just be sad in all regards, whether they meet your hopes of what grandparents should be or not. YOu can only change how you are, I wouldn't expect to be able to change how your dad is treating you, especially since he is probably more controlled by his wife and her wishes, and his desire to avoid confrontation at home. Let your frustration/tears/anger and hurt out in talks with your husband or a good friend you can trust. Perhaps try to sit down with your dad to share from a feelings perspective how his choices have affected you, but try not to have any expectations that things will change as a result. Just focus on being heard, if possible. I'm so sorry that your relationship with him is so strained.

To share a bit from my story - I married a man whose mother had died in his teens, and whose father had remarried an un-maternal woman with no children of her own. They lived by choice (retirement) in an area remote from both my husband and his brother that was difficult to get to or visit. We visited them once when we were newly married, and my fil visited us once, by himself, after our first child was born, when he was 9 months old. A few months later he found out he had a brain tumor. We tried to visit with our kids (two by then) but were blocked by the stepmom who decided it would be too stressful (even though we already had reservations at a hotel and were prepared to only be at the house when he could handle it). We never received a single baby gift or Christmas gift or even a card of acknowledgement for either child, and my daughter never met her grandfather and he died when she was a year old. It was all so hurtful, but in all my efforts towards them I tried to extend love in the hopes that maybe something more would be possible. Sadly it never was. We have no communication with my fil's widow now, she has never shown any interest in us or our kids, and so we feel it would be false to try to make a relationship now. I struggled for a long time with bitterness after the my fil's death, towards his widow, but also towards him for not standing up to her to have closer relationships with his sons or grandkids. It's easy to blame the stepmom, but I finally had to conclude that in his choice of her as his wife, he chose that course, and so we had to live with that and forgive him for the hurt that it caused.

I hope you can build something on what you do have with your dad, and try to look past the inequalities that are inevitable. Whether he's having a spine with his wife or not, he's making his choices, whether by action or inaction. Hopefully someday he'll see that, but even if he doesn't I hope you can live your life without bitterness, as that will just poison you and your kids. My heart goes out to you.

3 moms found this helpful

Life (and your step mom) sure aren't fair, are they? And there isn't much you can do to life or your step mom to change them at this date. And your father has to live with your step mom so it would make his life really more than difficult if you demanded that he make things change. Put your self in his shoes.

I think you should have Christmas with your sisters, invite your mom if she is around, if not, invite your dad's family and overlook any imperfections. Really hard to do.... Think of the spirit you want to demonstrate for your kids and your half niece.

I grew up with only one set of grandparents, many of us do. If your grandparents are around and engaged that is a blessing. Later you children will ask about you husband's parents. You can explain simply.

When I was married, I had a lot of money and I always made sure my sister and family had nice (but not over the top gifts). Now I am not married and disabled (equals poor). My sister makes good money and she is now returning the gifts.

Perhaps the same will happen to you and yours.

3 moms found this helpful

Hi T.,
I feel your pain and understand why you would probably be inclined to just let it go and say nothing. However, I think if you *frame* the conversation a bit differently it could go well. I would take dad to lunch just the two of you and have a little talk about how Christmas went and let him know that the relationship between him and your kids is very important to him = having a grandfather for your kids is of utmost importance. And that as the kids get older, they are/could notice that Grandpa didn't get them a present at Christmas or that they have been excluded from other family gatherings. We all know that Christmas is not about getting presents, but to most of us receiving one is about the acknowlegment that we are thought of, loved, and appreciated. The gesture is what is important here, and even the smallest will let your children know that they have been thought of.

I would definitely leave the Steps out of the conversation and make it about you and your family - and your expectations for your dad to put some special effort into it. Besides, he is the one who consented to having 5 kids - he must have known that being a grandpa to potentially 25 is part of the deal!!! ;-)

Good luck and let us know what happens!!

3 moms found this helpful

In a word (or I should say a sentence) :) you cannot change anyone but yourself. Let it go. Be the best person you can be. I believe being the best person means loving yourself enough to protect yourself from self- inflicted pain by loving what others can give and accepting who they are. By not expecting others to behave as you want them to behave. By behaving, yourself, in a manner that uplifts your spirit. What can you do to feel better about yourself and your family without including those many many other people?

I had difficulty keeping up with all the relationships in your message. My heart went out to you but I kept wondering why are those people are more important than your own and your immediate family's happiness?

I spend years trying to get my father to show me that he loved me in the way I wanted to be loved. It was only after he became ill and bed ridden that I realized that he had shown me his love in other ways. If I'd only looked for those other ways earlier I may have had a better relationship with my father.

After he died I realized how many years of anger had kept us apart. All along I knew that he was emotionally handicapped but I also worked at making him change. He didn't change and I was angry.

We can only change ourselves and our attitudes. We can influence other's behavior and attitudes by feeling love for them and treataing them in a loving way. But we can never change another person's behavior or attitude by putting anger into the relationship. You are wanting change many people. Even with love and understanding you cannot change everyone.

In several of your messages you have been advised to talk with your father and let him know how hurt you are. I advise you to NOT do that. After all these years, you know that he's not able to understand your pain let alone do something to cause less pain.

Focus on yourself and the members of your family that you are able to love and let go of the anger towards the others. "Be happy" as a popular song from the 80's said. You have control of your own happiness. No one can cause the ongoing pain that you're suffering without your permission.

I speak from experience. I spent years being hurt which led to anger, when my father, as well as other people in my life, didn't love me as I wanted them to love me. They weren't able to validate my feelings. I learned that I could validate my feelings. Then I didn't need them so much to validate them. Yes, I have better relationships with those who do. I have to mourn the loss of the relationship that I wanted with others and accept the relationship that exists. If seeing that person or those people is so painful that I'm angry I work on loving myself; not on changing them. If necessary I don't seem them as much or not at all. I work on not expressing anger at someone who cannot deal with my anger. I just quietly slip away.

I vent with friends. I've frequently spent time in therapy to deal with my feelings. It was in therapy that I learned that I can only change myself and that some people (in my case several people) are unable to understand let along accept my feelings. I let them go and develop good relationships with those who help me "be happy."

This is not easy to do!!!!!! It has taken me years and a concerted effort to reach this point. I started with the premise that I would rather be happy than right. Yes, they should do the things you want! Your expectations are reasonable! But they can't or they would be meeting you half way already.

3 moms found this helpful

As much as I understand your frustration, I say let it go. If holiday's become too much start your own traditions -- maybe it's just time for a change.


3 moms found this helpful

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