Q&A on how to handle stressing holiday shopping season

Many shoppers this holiday season face challenges as they try to balance gift-giving while staying within their budgets.

Q A woman wrote that her 11-year-old daughter hugged her boyfriend when she went to bed at night, and since the boyfriend has moved in, the child has stopped hugging him or even talking to him. My main concern is that it appears you have no problem with the mother's boyfriend moving in when she has an 11-year-old daughter at home. Every week, somewhere in the news is a case of a live-in boyfriend hurting, molesting and/or abusing a girl. What is your viewpoint on boyfriends moving in without the benefit of marriage when there are young girls living at home?

A: We have had quite a few readers recently ask us our take on living together outside of marriage, particularly when one or both partners have children. It seems their desire for us to take a stand is based on their personal religious convictions or, like this reader, they seem to imply that "the benefit of marriage" will prevent or possibly reduce molestation or abuse. We're not sure that's true.

It's doubtful we'll ever give you a blanket statement condemning those who choose to live together rather than marry. We feel that decision is up to the individual, but we do support and respect commitment in a relationship and what commitment and respect say to your partner, children and society. Although some feel a marriage license is a sign of commitment and respect, we feel commitment and respect for your partner is based on character.

We do feel comfortable taking a stand on one aspect of living together. We think it is just plain dumb to move in together "to see if it will work out" when there are kids involved. That's when you'll hear us very clearly say, "Experiment on your own time. Not your kids' time." Most custody and visitation agreements offer plenty of time for mom or dad to date without the kids around. Whatever you do in front of your children, you're modeling as behavior fit for your children. It doesn't take a degree in psychology to know that yanking your kids from one relationship to the next every few months undermines their security and gives them no model for their own successful relationships in the future.

Concerning the 11-year-old that no longer hugs her mother's boyfriend goodnight, it's more likely that her behavior changed because mom and boyfriend did not prepare the child for the move. This is not to say that parents must consult their children concerning their personal life, but they sure have to keep them in the loop and well-prepared for the changes they'll face if that decision includes them. There should have been a family discussion on what to expect prior to the move.

Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonus families.com).