Ask Jess: To gift or not to gift

Some timely words on coping with thorny conflicts involving stepchildren

 (photo credit: PIKREPO)
(photo credit: PIKREPO)
I married my wonderful husband over a year ago. We have been very happy together. Both of us have children from a previous marriage and they all (except for one of them) get along well. The child that doesn’t get along with the other kids is my husband’s 15-year-old son.
In general, he has a bad attitude, doesn’t contribute to the housework and doesn’t care about anyone in the family. We try to eat dinner together as a family and it is always a fight to get him to join us. When he does, he just eats and then leaves immediately, without even saying thank you.
I have been nice and courteous to him, but he just ignores or is rude to me and my kids. He only came to my son’s bar mitzvah party because his father forced him to. And he “accidentally” threw away the gift I got him for his own birthday.
I am getting sick of his behavior and I don’t want to waste my time or money on a present for him this year for Hanukkah. My husband says I should just give him money, but I really just want to give everyone else a present except for him. Can I do that?
Unhappy Stepmother
Dear Unhappy,
It is so nice that almost everyone in your blended family gets along and cares for each other. Any change can be hard for children, but a parent’s remarriage and joining a new family are expected to be very stressful for them. So first be grateful that the other kids are handling it so well.
Your stepson is not yet ready to build up the relationship with you or your children, but you and your children should still be kind and courteous to him for when he is ready to accept it. In the meantime, your husband should try to speak to him about how the marriage has affected him. Additionally, your husband should explain that he doesn’t have to love or even like his new family, but he needs to be respectful to everyone as they are toward him.
The teenage years are fraught with ideas of autonomy and your stepson most probably is feeling that he didn’t make this choice and was just placed into this new life without a say. So showing him that you and your husband trust him to be independent and mature with a number of things will help him change his perspective on the marriage. Listen to your husband and give your stepson money or a gift card to a store he likes. Explain that you want him to choose something he likes so he enjoys his Hanukkah present. Say you want to get to know him better so next year you can get him a present he will really enjoy. This shows you care, you trust his decisions and that you are doing it for him and not for yourself.
Don’t give up on him when he needs you most.
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