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Corrosive Favoritism

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

My husband of 4 years and I live in the US while his family lives in Europe. I’ve always been aware that my husband and his younger sister “Sally” – who lives at home – don’t quite meet eye to eye which is why I was not surprised when my mother-in-law began singing her praises Non- Stop in an attempt to get me to see her in a positive light. Things took an eerie turn when our daughter was born and mother in law started referring to her as mini-Sally, Sally- version II – oh! Sally has an orange shirt too and would then proceed to send me a video of Sally in said shirt. We told her to stop with the comparisons as they were getting silly and she responded by getting ‘offended’ and stating that we could only wish to have a daughter as ‘caring’ as Sally.

Our daughter is a year old now and within the first 6 months of her birth, Sally has been to the US twice and has not paid a visit (in spite of invitations). She sends plenty of gifts but still maintains distance from us – in the last year, has not checked in with her brother once … mother-in-law continues singing her praises with hopes that we’ll bombard her with congratulatory messages every time she completes a task at work…or send a get well card when she’s had dental work done, etc. I’ve taken the high road and sent her messages here and there but the mother still fails to address why Sally has never acknowledged each time her brother has gotten a promotion, when our beloved dog passed away or even when our (then infant) daughter had a 103+ fever (she still hasn’t met her niece and has already planned the next holiday trip to Morocco – with her boyfriend who she wants our daughter to refer to as Uncle (haha..ha!).

Lately I’ve been getting assertive with mother-in-law who (ironically) occasionally slips in the “blood is thicker than water” expression and who claims she’s raised educated, independent children capable of making their own decisions…. I respond with something to the effect of “that’s all we can do! Equip them with confidence and ability to fight their own battles and be self sufficient!” After some back and forth I stopped myself as we were both being very passive-aggressive and told her that I have a lot on my plate and will be disengaging from social media (our main means of communication). I have not heard from her since and feel that the tension is fizzling off. My husband (who’s been dealing with this favoritism much much longer and was told he’s talking “rubbish” when he expressed his point of view) says he’s embarrassed, ashamed..tired…and no longer wants to engage with his family. My father-in-law is Okay- actually he’s pretty amazing… he sees things precisely for what they are but is stuck in the middle. I don’t want to be the reason for further family tension or be seen as the evil daughter-in-law but I’m at my wits end.

I DO respect and want to get along with my in-law but can’t help notice she deflects from anything good happening to my husband and I just to.. yet again… sing Sally’s praises shortly after.

Is mother-in-law awkwardly fixated with her daughter? Does she just not know how to properly mediate OR stay out of her kids’ issues? My husband is the middle child, does that have something to do with it? Gaah! Help me !

I’m eager to see this from a different perspective ….Thank you 🙂

Disengage! Flee to neutral territory and stay there.

This really is your husband’s battle to fight, and he’s raised the white flag. Frankly, I don’t blame him.

Favoritism is ugly, and yet parents who play favorites will rarely, if EVER, handle being called on the behavior well. They will deny, act shocked and hurt, lash out, and then proceed to gaslight ’til the clouds come home.

Sally is the favorite, and is basically behaving like someone who’s been told her whole life that she can do no wrong and hung the moon. She is not interested in being a hands-on aunt or having a close relationship with her brother. Fine. That’s her call, and there’s nothing really to do there but accept the reality for what it is.

And I totally understand why it is SO. DAMN. IRRITATING. to hear your MIL rewriting that reality to gaslighting levels, plus hi, your son exists, as do many many many other people in the world BESIDES SALLY, OY WITH THE SALLY ALREADY. It’s like a broken record, I’m sure.

Perhaps your MIL’s fixation on talking to YOU about Sally and making all the comparisons was an ham-fisted attempt at bonding with you: You both have…daughters? So…besties? Sally is basically her only point of reference when it comes to baby girls so Sally Sally Sally? Or it could be over-compensation because she KNOWS Sally and your husband don’t have a close relationship and that actually really bothers her, so she’s going to re-write the whole dynamic in hopes that you’ll hop on-board the Sally Train eventually and find some way to “fix it.” Or maybe it’s plain old jealousy at the attention your daughter gets as the “new” baby of the family.

Or ALL OF ABOVE. Or something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Either way, it’s not your mess to fix, and you’re going to stop letting her bait you, suck you in, and drag you down to her passive-aggressive Facebook level. Mute her, hide her, whatever. Let her comment but don’t reply. There is nothing to be gained here by anything stronger than an eyeroll and going on with your day. If she wants to be Sally’s social media PR firm, that’s fine. We all know plenty of PR reps that lie and spin and post B.S. on behalf of their badly-behaving client. Put her nonsense in that category and ignore the hell out of her.

Beyond that, follow your husband’s lead in terms of interacting with his parents and what level of involvement he’s comfortable with them having in your daughter’s life. (Thankfully you’ve already got a handy built-in ocean between you!) If his relationship with his mother is truly toxic (and it sounds like it is, or at least close to it) and actively causing him pain and embarrassment or mental anguish, he’s allowed to put his foot down and keep her at arms’ length, or even farther. And it’s also incredibly painful to have another parent who is otherwise “awesome” and “sees things precisely for what they are” but then refuses to do anything about it. He might be “stuck in the middle” but he’s also a grown-up human who is probably the one person who SHOULD be getting assertive with your MIL and pointing out how ridiculous (and ultimately damaging) she’s behaving, and that her obvious favoritism of Sally is obvious. Maybe he has tried in the past and it didn’t go well and so he’s just given up. Your husband tried and got beaten down as well. Trust me, your odds of success at getting her to change in any way, shape or form are the lowest of anyone.

Let your husband know that when it comes to his family, you ALSO see things precisely for what they are, and you completely support and understand his need to disengage. Then disengage right along with him, to whatever degree the two of you agree on together.

Photo source: Depositphotos/kaninstudio

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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