Should extended family give stepchildren the same gifts as their biological kin?

My initial opinion was vehemently in favor of that proposition, meaning that I was rather irked when my wife’s grandmother continued to send gifts to the two younger children we have had together, but not my kids from a previous marriage that spend half their time with us. When we go in the summertime to visit my wife’s family in Minnesota, we always have all four children with us. So the ones that are biologically related to my wife’s grandma see her no more often than their older half siblings do; and the latter have known her since they were four and seven respectively.

What gave me pause when researching this was reading one person’s point that the older two will get presents from their biological mother’s family that the younger two do not, so it evens out. Thus if stepsiblings are treated equally by extended family, they could end up getting a lot more loot at Christmas and birthday time.

But the distinction that occurred to me is that our younger two do not go and visit their half siblings’ maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. And the presents that come from relatives on that side of the family generally stay at their mother’s house. So this is a lot more “in your face”. If it was a college fund or inheritance type issue, or even if the relatives in question were low income, I might cut them more slack. But they are wealthy and the amounts involved are around $25. I would be fine if they sent half as much to each of the kids or even nothing at all and just sent cards to everyone.


Some people aren’t going to feel as close to people not biologically related to them. I’m not saying it is right, but I don’t think it is that uncommon. Personally I would let it go and chalk it up to quirky old people, but that is easy for me to say as I’m not in your situation.

People aren’t going to be treated equally - that is just a fact of life.

Does it bother the non-biological kids? If so, something needs to be said to the step grandparents.

If all they do is pick up a gift card to Sonic or Burger King or McDonalds or somewhere, it’s something.

Step kids are sometimes sensitive about that sort of thing, and sometimes they don’t care at all. It’s best to ask the kids how they feel about it.

I don’t think they have figured it out yet. But you hit on a point that I think is key: she is just sending greeting cards and checks to the other two, which takes very little effort. Sending half as much to each and a couple more cards would be pretty easy.

We have another trip planned there soon and I am not keen on us visiting as second tier relations. I’m of half a mind to go sit in a park during the visit.

What is the age difference and how long have you been married?

If your older kids are 16 and 18 and the second set is 3 and 5 and they send the little kids toys at Christmas–then the older kids need to get over it. They aren’t going to have a grandparent-y type relationship, and almost-adults should be able to see the difference between little kids getting a toy and them wanting more beer and fast food money.

But if the kids are pretty continuous in age and run in a pack together, then it’s pretty crappy, but it’s not the end of the world for kids to have to deal with crappy inequalities.

If you feel really strongly about it, it won’t change unless you say something. I don’t think you want to teach your kids “If someone in a relationship treats you badly, DON’T SAY ANYTHING but refuse to go to their house and sit outside and don’t tell them why no matter what. If they care, they will figure it out”.

You might ban all unequal presents from the house: your kids’ mom has to give them their gifts at her home–or get gifts for all your kids–and if the grandparents want to give something to just the younger kids, they have to do it at their house when the older ones aren’t present. And then you teach BOTH sets of kids that bragging about gifts is rude.

I really prefer my family’s solution, which was to get rid of all Christmas gifts Full Stop and make Christmas a Thanksgiving 2.0. So much less stressful for everyone.

They are 10 and 13 (the bio kids are 3 and 1). We have been married nearly five years, living together for six. Her grandma knew the older kids before the younger ones were born, and has therefore actually spent more time with them than the younger ones, the youngest of whom she has not yet even met but has still sent him money and cards.

On the one hand, I can see where this would be a concern, since they’re ALL your and your wife’s kids, even if only half of them have both your genes.

On the other hand, you kind of don’t get to tell people how to gift. That they’re giving gifts at all is entirely voluntary, social expectations aside. About the best you can do is to try to feel out how the older kids feel about not having parity with the younger ones as far as gifts and try to explain why that happens. If they feel strongly enough about it, they’re both pretty much old enough to have that conversation with step-grandma themselves.

But I’m not wanting her to give more, total. Less, but equally distributed, would be dandy. Or I have the perfect right to send the gifts back, or not visit. I can’t tell her what to do but it goes the other way too.

ETA: My wife and her dad both think it’s wrong but can’t work up the nerve to confront her about it. I can’t see how too kids in an insecure and mortifying position can be expected to.

My general rule is, if the kids are opening presents at the same time/place, they should get the same general amount of presents in that context. If kids are getting sent presents that other kids don’t get, they should be given and opened privately.

Just prior to my youngest’s first Christmas, my husband got a text from my brother in law asking what the baby, a two month old BIL hadn’t met yet, might want. Husband rattled off something and mentioned that my at the time seven year old would probably be thrilled with a couple Hot Wheels. He showed me the reply text when I got home from work: “I’m not worried about it.” When asked what he meant he said, “Well, that one isn’t my nephew*.”

He wound up getting the baby a box of cute clothes that I refused to open (in a totally believable, “oh, let someone else have a turn, I’ve got to get him changed…” way) and then wound up donating to a women’s shelter because fuck him. The toy cars would have cost him literally two dollars. The seven year old got nothing at all from him, not even a basic human greeting.

He’s a douchebag for about a million different reasons but that would have been enough all by itself; “not outright rude” is the best behavior that can be expected of me toward him, and sometimes even that is hard.

When kids are old enough to notice/be bothered but still too young to understand “Don’t worry, he’s just a colossal douche…” you get the step-whatever presents, too. They don’t have to be the very same presents but an effort should be made to make it at least appear fair.

  • Interesting fact: his mother, who is not my husband’s mother, cheated on my father in law resulting in a pregnancy - my brother in law. So, technically because he shares absolutely no DNA with any of my husband’s family, he’s no more related to them than my oldest is and the baby isn’t his nephew either. It makes his ridiculousness particularly loathsome, I think.

It does, you are right!

I can live with the idea that this great-grandma would “stay in her lane” and just have a relationship with the younger two (though living with it does not mean I endorse it). As noted above, the older kids get presents from, and have a relationship with, their maternal relatives (my ex-wife’s family) that the youngest two obviously do not.

But to me, that should then be a clean divide. If she wants to see the younger kids, she should come visit while the older two are at their mom’s house. To expect us to come visit when we are travelling with all four…that sticks in my craw. I am leaning toward talking to the older two about whether the three of us should wait in a nearby park while my wife and the younger ones visit (an hour or two on the way to other, more inclusive relatives).

My wife feels stuck in the middle of a no-win scenario. But even if sometimes it can mean more gifts, generally having your biological parents be divorced and living in two different homes is at least slightly tough on kids. And they have in the past shown signs of worrying that after the younger kids were born they would be displaced in our affections. I want them to know that I have their backs, and I never want them to look back and wonder why their dad was sitting there tacitly endorsing their stepmom’s relative who so blatantly excluded them on birthdays and holidays.

Is it you who are hurt on their behalf? Or are they truly feeling left out? That’s an important distinction to me. If they are understanding and unhurt just leave it be.

If they are hurt by this, you have the opportunity to make it up to them. Take all four kids, behave graciously and give the older two the opportunity to behave likewise. When they do so, on the drive home, offer all of them the explanation that she’s older etc. Then tell them you want to thank them for their maturity and graciousness and offer them a small reward, books, movie tickets, something they’ll like, nothing too big. Preferably something the younger kids won’t be excited by.

Any chance you could just talk to her about how awkward this is? Explain your feelings? Because you probably have many more years of gift receiving ahead of you, after all!

They don’t know about it yet (aren’t aware of the younger kids receiving presents and cards from her) but I think I am going to talk to them about it before we go, and something like what you lay out may be a viable approach.

I will admit to being too chicken myself to confront her.

[edit]chicken bit posted while I was composing. Dude, you seriously have to man up and confront her. Believe me, doing so will be far better in the long run than not doing so.[/edit]

Has this been going on for 5-6 years? The older kids got nothing before the younger 2 were born, and then continued to get stiffed after their sibs came on the scene?

IMO, it can often be difficult when folk divorce, remarry, blend families, adopt, etc. It is very hard to tell other people how they ought to act towards all members of your nuclear family. The one thing you CAN control, however, is what you do and say - both to your parents, and to your wife and kids. If you truly believe it is inappropriate/undesireable for your parents to continue as they are (and I would agree), tell them to either gift ALL of your kids, or none of them. And be straight up with your kids - even the 1 and 3 yr old. The most important thing is that you do everything to reinforce the solidity of your nuclear unit. To whatever extent possible, you guys ought to face a united front to the entire world - which involves your parents.

And it is quite different IMO from the older 2 having separate relations with their maternal relatives. Those relatives have no relation to your 2 biological kids. While it might be nice if those relatives in some way acknowledged or included your biokids, you oughtn’t expect that.

I had somewhat related issues on both sides. My mom never really accepted my wife. Mom is dead now, and I wish I had been more forceful about my views when I had the chance. My FIL had a 2d family, which he favors far more strongly than my wife’s. From a very early age our kids had no doubt about how we felt about his behavior.

Best of luck.

Your kids are happy and content and feel like all the adults in their lives generally like them, even if they are not super close. Talking to your kids amounts to making sure they understand that they aren’t really loved or even liked and that they should be angry and resentful. How does that make their lives better?

I mean, fuck. Go buy a handful of birthday cards and gift cards, stamp and address the envelopes to your home, and give them to your mother in law. Say “The kids haven’t noticed the disparity yet, but I am worried they will some day and feel unloved. Please just sign these and stick them in the mail.”

I think you might be overreacting a bit. It would never have occurred to me for a second to buy stuff for a relative’s stepchildren, though it makes total sense after reading the thread.

I find this an interesting question, as my parents will very soon have a stepchild; my girlfriend’s daughter is being incorporated into the family, as it were, and I know precisely how my parents will handle this; they will shower her with presents. Of course they love my biological daughter like no one else on the planet, but they’ll hand out the loot in equal amounts, because that’s what they do.

To their mind, the points about whether Stepgranddaughter will get stuff from the other side of her family are not relevant to them. What matters to them is that when Santa comes, or birthdays or whatever, they should treat The Small One and The StepSmall One equally, because that is the kind and decent thing to do, and it will make The StepSmall One feel much better to be treated the same, as one would expect a child to feel. They have always adopted this approach with all relatives. They call my brother-in-law “son,” not “son-in-law.”

I can find no fault with their logic. It’s not my place to tell them what to do or not to do but as it happens I think my parents’ approach is on the side of the most kindness, and I find that admirable and will adopt it as my own approach.

It’s an interesting point. If I knew they would never find out, it’s not like I’d want to rub their faces in it. My concern is that they might someday find out and realise that I never stood up to her. But your suggestion is something I need to seriously consider.

Why should people have to give gifts evenly to all kids in a family?

If a parent gives a gift to all the kids in their child’s class are they a jerk for not including siblings of those kids?

It makes sense that a grandparent would want to buy their grandchild a gift. If there’s another kid in that family that’s not their grandchild it might be a nice gesture for them to get a gift as well, but it certainly shouldn’t be required.

If a parent is worried about one of their kids getting more gifts than the others (for whatever cause) then that’s their problem. It’s up to them to balance it out, not to expect gift givers to somehow know about it.

A bit?