Playing the favorite among grandchildren, grandparents can play in myriad ways: Maybe they show more interest in a child, buy them more or elaborate gifts for the holidays, or simply praise one child more than others.
However it turns out, it is bound to cause surprise for the parents and potentially hurtful feelings for the child who feels less special in the eyes of the grandparent.
Susan G. Groner, author of “Parenting With Sanity & Joy” and host of the “Parenting Mentor Sessions” podcast, saw how this problem can lead to family conflicts.
“I had a client who basically ignored his daughter-in-law and other son’s children while her mother-in-law came along and talked about how wonderful her other son’s child was,” she told HuffPost. “It was so triggering for my client that he was afraid to see his MIL.”
Parenting coach Melissa Benaroya has heard about this problem among her clients as well.
“Oftentimes, favor has to do with being the first grandchild, the temperament and personality of the child, or the level of maturity,” she told HuffPost.
Benaroya said parents often find it difficult to confront their parents because they are not used to setting boundaries with them.
“My suggestion is that they have a loving, open dialogue with their parents and share how they’re feeling,” she said. “It’s important to address concerns early so that they start to fester and affect their relationship with their parents.”
Below, parenting experts share their best advice on how to bring this topic up to your parents or mother-in-law.
See if your partner feels the same way.
Regardless of what you want to bring up the issue, it may be wise to talk to your partner or co-parent and find out what they think about it. “Maybe ask your partner if they feel the same way,” Groner said. “Sometimes we tend to project our own problems onto other situations.”
Before you speak, look at yourself so you can approach the conversation with openness and curiosity.
Make sure you are in the right mood to have this conversation. You don’t want to bring up the subject when you’re in a reactive state – “when your mother-in-law gave your kids a little Lego set, didn’t she give your niece a video game?!” ― and your emotions are high.
“If necessary, work on your self-soothing skills before bringing it up,” Benaroya said. “Focused breathing exercises or meditations are a great way to help regulate emotions and soothe yourself. Approach this conversation with a win-for-all attitude.”
Begin the conversation by reminding your parent or mother-in-law how much you value your connection and relationship.
Start the discussion with some positive comments so you don’t put your parent or mother-in-law on the defensive, Groner said.
He gave an example scenario to show what he meant:
- “You’re a grandparent who loves you so much, and I think it’s great that you’re so busy with your grandchildren.” [Pause here and see them beam/ respond]
- “I know Sally is a great kid and it’s easy to hang out with her and watch her do everything so well. Jack is also great in his own way and sometimes I feel like he’s wasting your time and attention. Being close to you is really important to us. How about we start spending some alone time with him until you two get a little closer?
The key here, he said, is to frame your request in a way that highlights your child’s abduction, not the grandparent’s abduction, which can turn out to be critical.
As a parent, set guidelines.
It’s okay to tell your parents or mother-in-law that you’re working on equitable things in your home and that it’s important that a child doesn’t feel less valuable, Groner said.
“Acknowledge how fun it is to buy things for your only grandchild, and you’d be happy to give your son some ideas about what he’s really interested in right now,” she said.
It would be correct to say, “Please, only three gifts for each child this holiday”.
Create equitable scenarios for your parents and children.
Except for holidays and birthdays, you can ask your parent(s) to take a child to an event or accompany you when your partner is with your other child.
“Maybe one kid sleeps over with friends and you can offer the other kid a sleepover with grandparents,” Groner said. “Or maybe they have special toys or activities to spend with each grandchild – puzzles, art projects, science experiments, things like that.”
Give your parents room to change.
It’s possible that grandparents are completely unaware of their “nepotism” and how it makes you (and your child) feel.
“You want to make sure you convey all of this in the nicest, most non-judgmental way possible,” Groner said.