"Family standards of gift-giving present a nightmare in stepfamilies," says Bauersfeld. Consider the possibilities: assorted levels of income among Mom's household, Dad's household, extended families, and extended stepfamilies; grandparents who have not yet accepted stepchildren; unfamiliar traditions among new in-laws; and gift overload from multiple celebrations. An almost-certain result is that somewhere along the line, someone's feelings will be hurt.
Ideally, parents should ask children to write a wish list, says Engel. Then the two parents should work together to determine what wants and needs (including winter coats and boots) will be provided by each of them.
Tell relatives how you would prefer gift giving to be handled for stepchildren. Provide sizes, color preferences, and other information about the new family member -- or suggest that money can be a diplomatic gift.
"Be sure to thank the relatives who are cooperating," urges Engel. After all, being an extended step-relative also takes some getting used to.
Parents -- especially noncustodial parents -- might want to make a tradition of taking a special day with children to supervise holiday shopping. Teach them to choose appropriate gifts for family members, including their other parent and stepparents.
Remind kids who receive gifts from many sources that it's unkind to gloat in front of stepsiblings who do not receive such bounties.
Even so, feelings may get hurt, and parents should gently point out that fact to gift givers who haven't considered the impact of their actions. Empty-handed children need consolation, too, as they learn that life is not fair.
Engel says issues like these must be confronted. "Parents need to be able to say, 'You must feel really sad about this.' "
Sometimes both parents subconsciously compete to provide the "best" holiday for their child, which may cause a child to feel pressured into favoring one parent over the other. "Being involved in loyalty conflicts is the most dangerous aspect of divorce," Gordon says. "The children can't win. They feel that they have to hide their love for one parent from the other."
Sometimes a parent or grandparent will try to compensate for the pain of a broken home by showering a child with presents. Don't worry that those gift givers will outdo you, but concentrate on giving your children love and attention. A strong sense of family values will last longer than material gifts.
If all else fails, try to accept the situation, Engel tells parents. "All you really have control of is what's in your household," she says.