Sometimes a noncustodial parent shows no interest in the children and may even disappear, acknowledges Gordon. This situation becomes even more painful if a stepsibling receives generous attention from both parents.
In such cases, Gordon recommends establishing a "parent-surrogate," or substitute for the children. "If they're not getting contact with their father, maybe an uncle, grandfather, or stepfather can do something special for them," Gordon suggests. "It's a way of saying, 'There's a male out there who cares about you and wants to spend time with you.' That's a much better way of making it up than trying to buy more gifts."
Many times, fathers need to be encouraged to assume more parental responsibility, she adds. Stepmothers can provide age-appropriate information or other gift-giving suggestions, then let Dad take it from there.
But the real solution for happy holidays ultimately lies in each person's attitude, Engel says. "To some extent, we do control whether it's a good holiday."
Continued on page 3: Gift Giving Guidelines