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What to Do When Grandparents Play Favorites

What to Do When Grandparents Play Favorites

By Amalah

Amy,

Thank you so much for answering my question regarding my husband’s family and their gender bias ways. I am happy to report, that while the problem isn’t 100% solved, it has gotten better. I finally got the nerve to call out my SIL when she called my son something along the lines of a “rough boy” while completely dismissing her daughter’s behavior. I somewhat nicely said that I didn’t think it was fair to have a double standard on the kids when they are the same age. She was very apologetic and has been better (at least around me) since. We’ve also been hanging out with them less (adding a second kid will do that), but I think the biggest change is my attitude towards it. I think you are totally right about the special snowflake parenting being a big part of the difference, and keeping that in mind while we are together keeps me from getting so annoyed about it. So thank you for that!

So that brings me to my follow-up question. I casually mentioned that Grandma favors my niece in both attention and present giving. This behavior cues so much momma rage in me and then you pretty much wrote my exact thoughts on the issue at the end of your response (“And P.S. Grandma being unfair with presents. Dick move and should be pointed out to her. By your husband [since I assume it’s his mother] tactfully and in private.”) and I was all YES YES YES. But before I make my husband follow your advice and send us down that blazing trail, I feel like you need the full story.

So Grandma is actually step-grandma. My MIL died years back, and FIL got remarried recently. We have all made a serious effort to get to know her, like her, and make her a part of the family because we are so happy that FIL is happy and has a companion to do life with. But, her current behavior has me pretty much hating her and it taints everything she does.

Step-MIL has two sons, and clearly resents not having a girl (she has mentioned how she was disappointed that her second was a son, which is so terrible to say!). This helps explain her behavior towards my niece. But she makes it so obvious and terrible and it makes me angry to no end. For example, my son and niece are very close in age, so have birthday parties within weeks of each other. She showed up to my son’s birthday with a very nice present for him, and an equal girl version present for my niece. Then showed up to my niece’s birthday party with 7 (I kid you not, 7) really nice presents for her. Nothing for my son (nor would i expect anything because that’s rude). Christmas was the same (but worse). They each had a big bag filled with 3-4 of the same things, then niece had 2 more things.

Grandpa love love loves both of his grandbabies and treats them equally. But is a super quiet man. The year he went shopping for both kids they both got the same exact things, so he’s not the issue, but would also never call out or fix the issue. He did make an embarrassed comment to my husband about it when they walked in with all the presents at niece’s birthday, so he does see it.

I’ve spoken/vented to all of my regular confidants (husband, best friend, sister, mom) and they all agree that there’s nothing I can do about it and I will just have to stop letting it get to me. My sister also thinks it might be related to the fact that my SIL and her husband are at a lower income level than us, but I think that’s no excuse.

So now that you have my full side, what do you think? Can we call out step-MIL? Lost cause and I just have to get over it? Can I stop inviting her to parties (haha, in my dream world, I know this is not actually possible)?

Thanks in Advance,
Raging Mom

Yeah, I still stand by my original opinion that this kind of blatant favoritism needs to be called out, although the fact that it’s a newish step-parent does make me rethink how the actual calling out needs to happen.

Your husband needs to involve his dad, and put pressure on him to do the right thing here and TALK TO HIS WIFE. He’s noticed and he’s (rightfully) embarrassed, and he’s also a grown man who needs to speak up. If he loves his grandbabies equally (which I believe he does), he needs to sack up and intervene before the kids are old enough to notice the disparity and your son gets his feelings hurt.

As for everyone telling you to just get over it…I generally don’t think it’s worth sweating when there’s a minor one or two present difference in a sea of other Christmas/birthday gifts. And it’s pretty obvious this is more of a selfish wish fulfillment sort of thing for your MIL (“Girl stuff is so fun! I always wanted to buy girl stuff!“)  rather than a reflection of Which Grandchild She Loves More. It’s possible that you’re fixating on the gift aspect a bit more than you should given the other gender-based favoritism/discrimination you’ve felt on your son’s behalf.

BUT! Man.  I’d have a REALLY hard time if a relative brought a birthday gift for another child to MY child’s party, and then went completely overboard again just a few weeks later. (With my child being excluded from round two.) That’s like one kid getting the $100 Lego set and giving the other a grab bag of crap from the Dollar Store. This is something that cannot repeat next year.

Your FIL felt embarrassed, and I sincerely hope he did say SOMETHING to her at some point, even if it was just a weaksauce “honey you need to chill.” Would your husband be able to talk to his sister about it? Just because her daughter is the “favorite” doesn’t automatically mean she’s okay with such a blatant display of unfairness. (Not to mention that a buttload of unnecessary presents can end up really being a pain. I’ve flat-out begged my in-laws to please please go light on the birthday/Christmas haul because we simply have no need or space for half the crap my kids receive. One present is plenty! Or a couple bucks in a card! ) (They will never listen. Ah, grandparents!) I’d personally be pretty annoyed with such over-the-top spoiling, DOUBLY so if it was coming at the expense of my nephew.

Perhaps your SIL and your husband can present a united front to your FIL and ask him to please talk to his wife about it? And if he won’t, the two of them together can go over his head and right to MIL (so it’s more about the fair and equal treatment of the cousins, rather than your husband complaining that your son didn’t get enough “stuff”). Her favoritism in general is super annoying, but to start I would focus mostly on the birthday situation, since that was clearly so blatant and over the top. And I would recommend letting go of the more minor examples, stop counting/adding up price tags, and remind yourself that this is about HER and not actually about YOUR SON being loved “less.” She just doesn’t have as much “fun” shopping for “boy stuff” and that probably will never change. Reminding her to not let the “fun” blind her from being fair is reasonable, but you’re probably going to have to let the occasional impulse buy/extra gift roll off your shoulders.

(I am 99% sure my niece gets more “girl stuff” from my MIL for similar reasons, right down to having sons and wanting daughters, but luckily we live seven hours away and don’t spend Christmas or birthdays together, and also I DON’T CARE, STOP BUYING THEM SO MUCH STUFF ANYWAY.)

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 [email protected].

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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LR
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LR

Please take this in the spirit is intended. But you will do yourself a huge favor if you don’t take everything as a slight. Perhaps the gender bias and gift giving are worse than what comes across here, but if you focus so much on everything being equal all the time, you are going to drive yourself crazy!

Holly W.
Guest
Holly W.

Amalah’s reply is a great one, of course! I do wonder how much the income-equality comes into play here. Both my family and one of my best friends’ families has suffered from this. Mine in terms of my parents doing a LOT financially for my three siblings, all of whom need a little help financially on ocassion, but…never for us. And on the one hand, I don’t really care, I’m independent and am proud of the life my husband and I provide for our family. HOwever, when the “financial help” extends to paying for free vacations, a new car for… Read more »

MR
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MR

When we were little, my Grandpa used to bring us gifts when he would come visit, and he would ALWAYS slight my brother. My brother had an accident and was in the hospital for over a month, and got TONS of presents and attention for that, where the rest of us didn’t, and as a result, my Grandpa seemed to think he needed to even the score or something. I distinctly remember one visit, he gave my oldest brother a really nice pocket knife, another brother a watch that had been passed down through the family, my sister and I… Read more »

Sara
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Sara

My parents and grandparents were always, as far as I recall, scrupulously fair in treating me and my three siblings equally. When I was 6 or 7, my parents came back from their first big vacation without us (a week in France!) with lots of delicate dolls and neat kits for all of us. Mom also brought me back a soft blue blanket, for I was a blankie devotee. Years later, she admitted that she had cut the Air France tag off the airline blanket because she realized she’d brought me one fewer present than my siblings. I could barely… Read more »

Paige
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Paige

In my experience and in most other people’s around me, the grandchildren of the daughter and the son in law rather than the grandchildren of the son and daughter in law, are always favored. There is an interesting theory in evolutionary psychology that suggests that our Neanderthal brains only trust what we can prove paternity of and therefore creates unconscious biases. Whether that’s true or not, it just always seems to be the case for whatever reason. I spent the first year of my first baby’s life being upset at how he was treated by my in laws compared to… Read more »

Myriam
Guest
Myriam

That might be an explanation, but that’s not an excuse. 

Myriam
Guest
Myriam

I would at least ask that the step-MIL refrain from giving extra gift on occasions when all the kids will be there. She could always give gifts when she visits independently. I would still ask her to curb the over the top thing (through Grandpa…)

Kay
Guest
Kay

Yes, I think that’s key.  I honestly don’t think it’s that big a deal if she buys one child more than the other for whatever reason — gender, income, impulse, whatever.  The problem is making it obvious and blatant and impossible to ignore.  

s
Guest
s

Or just don’t let it get to you. My children are the only grandchildren on their fathers side. Their paternal grandfather at christmastime? ‘We don’t see them enough so we aren’t getting them anything’ (I should add here that all sets of grandparents live within 10 minutes of us.)
They are 2 and at the time a couple months.
They don’t make themselves available and plan ALL activities for times/places when kids can’t be present.
I’ve since cut contact and let things be how they are.
Some things you either ignore or you take control of the situation.

Kelsey
Guest
Kelsey

I cannot stand when people bring presents for a kid who is not the birthday kid to birthday parties. My BIL and his wife have a 2 year old daughter, and my SIL is a single mom with a 4 year old son. My in-laws tried to bring presents for our nephew to our niece’s birthday party (his birthday is 5 months before hers and the entire trunk of their car was full of presents for him at his party), and thankfully my BIL put his foot down and told them that NO, if they wanted to give him presents… Read more »

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

And then there are the grandparents who favor the firstborn grandson over all others and tell him, in front of all, You are our favourite! Some people are unbelievable. I choose to ignore at the time, but afterwards point out to kids at home how wrong the behavior is.
I agree that if she wants to overload the Special Girl Child with extra presents she should do it privately. Good luck!

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

As a child, I was favored by my paternal grandmother over my sister, for the sole reason that I looked like my father and my sister didn’t. Yes, my grandmother was mentally unstable. However, this didn’t make it any better for my little sister who didn’t understand why she didn’t get nice presents and I did. My parents did call her out on it, and eventually cut ties with her for issues far bigger than this when I was a tween. This is all to say, you do need to say something, but frame it as, “Look, we get that… Read more »

Karen
Guest
Karen

The whole tone of this letter is utterly obnoxious. Sure there are all sorts of etiquette and equality infractions here, but it’s just so focused on me me me and my kid my kid my kid and stuff stuff stuff. Life is supposed to be fair all the time? I had no idea! 

Chic Shic
Guest
Chic Shic

I ADORE this blog already! Just found out we’re pregnant with #3, and this is gonna help me to relax and enjoy (as much as you can enjoy this sorta thing) this time around 

Isabel Kallman
Guest

Karen, you have been an amazing longtime Smackdown reader. But, these types of comments are not helpful and I think are damaging longterm. Please don’t shame the letter writer for coming to us for help. Over the last almost 10 years, Amalah, myself and especially You (the collective Smackdown readers) have created a safe space where parents feel like they can ask honest and anonymous questions to a neutral third-party in what has become a very caring, super helpful and most importantly judge-free zone. You may not think this question is worthy. But others may. Amalah did, that’s why she… Read more »

Karen
Guest
Karen

Thanks Isabel, for your note. I actually thought it was a really good question, it deals with hard stuff that can tear families apart. I do some volunteer work with a local organization school provides housing, support, and services, to families who are transitionally homeless. So maybe everything was going well and then the breadwinner lost a job and now they are living with family or in a motel until things turn around. The organization has a great success rate of helping people regain their footing. I had just come from dropping some stuff off there when I read the… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Guest

Karen, thank you so much for coming back and touching base. I totally hear you, and thank you for kindly listening to me. 🙂

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

For me, it was the ”bringing many gifts to another child’s birthday party… not for the birthday child”. Not on. Everything else is small potatoes and of course the lady in question can do as she wishes, but my kid will not watch someone else get 7 (seven!) gifts at his party. The comparison and ”but… why…” is just too obvious and so my response would be ”thank you so much for coming and for the wonderful xys gift, little Jasper adores it, here’s a photo of him wearing / playing with it, but here’s the thing; pull that *shower… Read more »

AMC
Guest
AMC

My guy is seven, and has NEVER ever been allowed to sleep in our room or our bed.  But a few months ago he started asking my husband to stay in his room while he tried to go to sleep, and claimed that he was “not tired” at bed time.  Totally for a different reason (anxiety disorder) we started having him listen to guided meditation on his I-Pad, and they have a night time one as well.  So he has a bluetooth speaker in his room, the IPad sits out in the hall, and he listens to meditation every night… Read more »

Katherine
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Katherine

I was wondering if you’d be willing to share the guided meditation? Sounds like it could be useful for my kiddo!

MamaBear
Guest
MamaBear

Mir, as my daughter has paralleled yours with her illness, (and now we are also doing a bathroom remodel… that is taking twice as long as was planned) I anxiously read to hear how things are progressing for your family. Mine turns 18 in just under a month and it will also be a celebration of choosing to live! I love your choice tattoos, how completely appropriate. I love that you did this together. 

Alyssa
Guest
Alyssa

I just want to echo Amy’s advice. This is normal. This is 3.  3 is hard because they have opinions and are beginning to see themselves as separate from us. I find the best results happen if we give lots of choices. Ex. Bedtime is non-negotiable but you can pick your teddy bear or baby doll to bring with you.  I find if we give them lots of control (sure you can have the blue cup instead of the red cup) (as long as they are polite) they don’t fight us on the things that do matter, because they aren’t… Read more »

Carole
Guest
Carole

If grandparent gift giving was my biggest worry, I would count myself pretty lucky. 

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

But this is what this column is for, asking advice of this nature. There is absolutely always someone worse off, isn’t there? Think you’ve got problems!! Think of the blind orphans in Calcutta, starving to death in rubbish dumps… stop moaning… etcetera. This issue is serious to the writer of the letter and has been addressed as such.

Saffron
Guest
Saffron

I was you, but it was my husbands step dad that was playing favourites. He has 3 sons and 4 grandsons from his first marriage MIL has one of each both with children and 1 of each grandchildren from each child. Step FIL’s family live 100’s of miles away and were visited once a year and presents were cheques. I spoke to step FIL about this once and he said: that he believed when the sons grow up and have a family they should then be on their own and self sufficient where as a daughter is your responsibility for… Read more »

S
Guest
S

My mother in law is like this. I try not to let it bother me. She has many many mental issues. She did not have girls so she showers the girls with stuff. It’s all about her. My son said in the middle of a holiday, the best present is time with your family. The looks on my in laws faces was priceless. My son had taken our values which is to appreciate what you do have not to worry what you don’t have. He also sees his sister toss the unwanted gifts to the side at home. We try… Read more »

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

I think the socio-economic difference might be the issue here, not just the gender stuff. If one kid is getting more gifts, but they are both getting gifts, I would not address it. As a recent addition to a family who is showing up with presents and a respectful attitude, I would not take well to someone keeping score like this. Let gifts be given as the giver wishes, don’t count other people’s gifts. “WHY DID SHE GET MORE?” is not the same as being ignored or left out.

visitor3
Guest
visitor3

The power lies with the gift recipients who can do what they want once they reveive gifts. Would be lovely show of affection and fairness for either generation, parent or kid, to say, “Cousin, I see you are interested in playing with this [newly received gift], and I would like to give it to you to take home.” While ideally this would come from the over-gifted cousin in front of the biased grandparent, it can first be demonstrated by the less favored child who has enough anyway. See if it catches on and is reciprocated. If not, what a great… Read more »

Brooke
Guest
Brooke

Stop crying and raise your kids, grandparents CAN and WILL have favorites. If you threaten to “take the kids and never let them see them again” you’re being petty and childish and harming the child who DOES have a great bond with grandparents.