How To Handle Favoritism With Your Children



Print Friendly
too many kids christmas presents

How To Handle Favoritism From Family Members

Jill,

I admire your common sense and down-to-earth nature so here is a question for you and other grandmothers.  My mother and sister like to give lots and more gifts to my niece than my daughter.  Her Easter was like our Christmas! My mom probably doesn’t mean to do anything differently, but she doesn’t get to see my niece as often, so she tries to make up for it with gifts, sometimes even when we are all together.

I want my daughter, who is the same age, to be treated the same as her cousin, yet I’m not comfortable with the overabundance of toys.  I don’t know if I should ask my mom to treat them the same, because then she would be outdoing Santa at our house, but at the same time, I don’t want my daughter to feel less liked.  I realize that this all sounds very petty.  Basically, any advice you and your readers could offer on the topics of treating children fairly and equally would be appreciated.

 Also, how do I address my daughter, who isn’t old enough to understand the differential treatment?

 From a Reader

 

Favoritism, even if it isn’t intentional, is one of those age old questions for which there is really no easy answer, especially when I don’t know all of the people and details but here are a couple things I have done or have seen others do to try to address this situation.

You may need to compromise.

If you want your mom to treat them the same, you will have to give a little on the number of gifts. You don’t need to worry about what your daughter will think if she gets more gifts from grandma than Santa. There have been years when I have arrived on Christmas Eve with my car packed from floor to ceiling with gifts and the kids think it is so cool. “Nan” is different from Santa and one isn’t better or worse than the other. Trust me– The next morning when Santa comes, they are usually just as excited.

Of course, I still try to be reasonable. If I know Santa isn’t going to be able to bring quite as much that year, I will often give part of the gifts I was going to get the kids to Santa for him to give to them. I don’t care who gets credit for the gifts. I just love watching their faces when they get the gifts and appreciate the fun the kids have with them.

Even though I think grandparents should be given a little slack and be allowed to “spoil” the kids with gifts, it is still a two way street. I  try to respect my daughter and son and run most of my gifts for grandkids by them and get their approval.

How to talk to you daughter.

Kids, especially young ones, will take their cues from their parents’ reactions. I know that when my kids have only gotten underwear from other family members but no toy, I tried to act really excited about it and say, “Oh boy! Look at those cool Superman undershorts. You will look so strong in them…” or something like that. I am not so naive as to think that those are as neat as a remote control car but it does help put things in perspective and ease the disappointment a little.

Even the youngest child can understand more than we sometimes realize. In simple words, just tell your daughter that grandma loves her so much but she doesn’t get to see Sally (made up name for her cousin) as much. “Remember how she gave you an ice cream last week and Sally didn’t get one?” Or something to that effect.

 

How To Handle Favoritism With Your Children

Favoritism is a pet peeve of mine. I have no tolerance for grandparents, parents or anyone who shows favoritism to one child over others. It hurts. At times it is bad enough that I feel it can border on emotional abuse, which I think is often as bad as physical abuse. I don’t regret too many things that I did as a parent. I do regret that I didn’t realize earlier that it was my job to protect my child from favoritism in the same way I would protect them from running into the street and getting hurt. I have to admire you for asking for help about how to protect you daughter from this. I didn’t know any better.

Part of what makes this situation so difficult is that you love your mom and don’t want to do anything that will hurt her but at the same time you love your daughter and don’t want her to be hurt. We both know that your mom loves your daughter and doesn’t want to hurt either of you but sometimes things get confused or mixed up, either in grandma’s mind or in communication. No matter what reason is behind it, you must always choose the course that is least hurtful to your daughter. Your mom is the adult and can take care of herself. Your child has no one but you to protect her in this case so you need to do what is best for her.

That doesn’t mean to be hateful or mean in how you approach the situation. If you can, go to your mom and just explain the situation and be honest with her.  Find a time when just the two of you can sit down together. (Don’t get anyone else involved, like a husband or sister.) Simply tell her that you know she doesn’t mean to but it does hurt you when she gives so many gifts to your niece and that you are afraid it will really hurt your daughter and will eventually cause a rift in their relationship. You might say, “I know you don’t get to see Sally as often but maybe you could give her part of the gifts when we aren’t there.” Then start bouncing off ideas like this with her.

This is just one way to get started. You need to use your own words but the main thing is to let her see that you are hurt but not angry or condemning of her. People respond much better if they aren’t put on the defensive.

Some of you may not be able to talk reasonably with a parent, especially about favoritism, without them becoming angry or refusing to listen. If this is the case, you will have to try other things. Some might be more drastic than others. I would start with the least drastic option and work my way down the list. 

Options If No One Listens

You could stop celebrating Easter with your family and do something else.

If they open gifts on Christmas Day, you may have to plan to stop by on Christmas Eve and not open gifts with them.

The worst case scenario is that you may have to stop spending the holidays with them for a few years. As bad as you think not being with the grandparents at the holidays may seem, it is much worse to be with them when your daughter is being hurt because of favoritism.

When we were first married, we were driving to one grandparents’ home for Christmas Eve. We got up the next morning and had a few minutes for Santa but we couldn’t allow the kids to play with their toys because we had to pack it all up and then drive for 6 hours on Christmas Day to the next grandparents’ home.

The grandparents weren’t willing to let us celebrate Christmas with them at one place one year and the other the next year. My husband lost wages and could only get 2 days off so it was a hurried and awful trip for us and the kids. It was making Christmas miserable but the grandparents loved it. We finally said, “Enough!” and announced that we were staying home. Of course they all complained and tried to make us feel guilty but we stood firm. We told them that they were more than welcome to come to our home. They could have easily gotten off work and could stay for a few days if they wanted but they said no because they were never willing to leave the other siblings. Part of my guilt disappeared when they said that. The last of the guilt disappeared a couple years later when the other siblings weren’t going to be with them for Christmas and they still didn’t come to our home, deciding to take a trip someplace else. I didn’t feel nearly as bad for tearing their grandkids from their bosom that year!

Here’s my point: I thought it was going to be awful not to go to the grandparents’ homes for Christmas but we ended up having an equally good time and some years an even better time. Don’t panic and think that you can’t do Christmas without them. Trust me– they get over it and if they don’t then it is their problem not yours.

If it becomes necessary to do this, it doesn’t have to be this way forever. Do it for a few years and, when your kids are old enough to understand, you might be able to start sharing the holidays again. Also, in our case, it wasn’t as if they never got to see their grandparents. They saw them quite often and spent a lot of time with them– just not at all of the holidays.

This is one of those situations where there is no easy solution. It may hurt someone no matter what you do but the main thing is to be willing to be uncomfortable and hurt, yourself, in order to prevent your daughter from being hurt.

-Jill

If you often wonder where all of your money goes or if you need a more frugal mindset, check out Dig out Of Debt and learn more about how to keep more of your money.

 

Photo By: Robyn Jay

Comments

  1. says

    I have gone through this for years with my husbands parents but not with gift giving but with time and attention. My in-laws never make a sports game; invite them over or even call them to say hello and how are you. My three boys are 12,10 and 7. They realize everything! My boys hear how they spend time with the other grandchildren (including my husbands 16 year old daughter from his first marriage)and how they sleep over; go out to eat; watch there sports and even vacations. I have been asked questions like why dont they love us like the others; when will they ask us to go over; sleepover or come to see us? Call made to them often result in I am busy with (one of the others); or your cousina are here and I cant have no more than two children at a time over (believe me house isnt small!). Its heart breaking and has been this way since I have had my first son. My husband has tried talking with his parents but they see nothing wrong with their actions. This year (just recently) we have walked away from them all together. No contact. No holidays. I wish my children could have a relationship with their grandparents but the hurt has gone to far. I thank God each day they have my parents who love them to pieces!

  2. Pat B. says

    I encourage you to talk to the person who is slighting one child for another soon rather than later. My daughter recognized at 4 years old that her grandparents treated her much differently than her brother. It always hurt her and even now that they are both gone, she still has residual feelings about this. I tried to talk to them about how she felt when she was younger, but they thought that boys needed more money than girls so they would give him money and not her, and I mean thousands of dollars over the years. It is totally a generational gap. Take action or don’t go over there when gift giving will be taking place. You have the power to make things right for your daughter.

  3. Joyce says

    This is not about “favoritism” as much as it is about holiday gatherings. My friend’s mother-in-law announced that she knew Christmas was a tough time for her adult kids, running from place to place, so she did not want anyone to come to her house for Christmas. She had a New Years Day dinner instead and asked everyone to come to that. She was the most popular mother in law I ever knew!

  4. Julie says

    You said that your mom doesn’t see the other grandkids as often. As a Grandmother myself, I’m guessing that if she sees your children more often she’s spending money on them all year long and is trying to make it up to the grandchildren she isn’t around. (If not, she would be showing favoritism to your children.)If that’s the case, when she buys your children a little surprise, offer to help her mail a surprise to the other grandchildren. I am really against treating one child/grandchild differently than another but, in your attitude you may be making this bigger for your children than it actually is. This could be used to help them learn that their Grandmother misses and loves the other grandchildren just as much as she loves your children.

  5. sharon says

    Hi, I’m sorry to hear of others with this problem. When our children were little; my mil always seemed to treat her other grandchildren better. Basically, as the children grew older we had to explain to them why, altho we really didn’t know why. However, our children are now adults, and sadly enough, they certainly don’t go out of their way to be in contact with her. If they are in the same place as her, they aren’t rude or anything; they just do not go out of their way to see her.

    My parents on the other hand were more fair, altho our kids were the youngest of the grandchildren; but our kids loved to see them when they were still with us.

    I feel that mil has chosen this way by herself; and she is reaping what she sowed.

    It woould seem that in this case, it isn’t that kind of situation where the grandparent (s) are really favoring, but as you said; just making up for lost time. Perhaps if you talk to her, the extra gifts could be given when your child isn’t around. Most people would understand that. Good luck

  6. Cindy says

    Jill – Such good advice. Your experience about rushing from place to place at Christmas certainly resonated with me. We did that for many years, travelling to one set of grandparents at Christmas and the other at New Year’s. So stressful and exhausting – not to mention wintery weather causing trouble. I think it’s important for young families to create their own traditions and enjoy Christmas at home if that’s what they want to do. Hopefully the grandparents would be understanding. If not, they probably aren’t the kind of people you would miss too much at Christmas anyway.

  7. Maggie says

    My family situation was a little different but still awkward. My Mother-in-law was much more financially able to purchase gifts for our kids than my mom and since we spent Christmas together every year, I just bought some gifts for the kids and put my mom’s name on them. It was difficult because my mil showed up on Christmas morning with her car loaded to the gills but my mom only came with a few presents she could afford. What we did was have my mom come the night before my mil and whatever was under the tree on Christmas morning, my mil did not know that my mom did not buy the gifts. My mil was so competitive, she had to have the upper hand and I did not want to get my kids involved in that. So, we did what we could to mitigate the situation and as the kids got older, even they could see the way she acted was not appropriate. In retrospect, I think she was so insecure that she thought bringing more gifts would make the kids love her more. And all they wanted to do was spend time with their grandmom’s. My mom died about 20 years before my mil and we didn’t have that anxiety after a bit but it was sure challenging when it was happening. And me, a new mom, having Christmas dinner for the whole family and wanting everything to go smoothly and dealing with their competition. Wouldn’t want to go through that again, although I do miss having little kids around the house at the holidays.

  8. Veronica Tidd says

    Interesting replies.
    I was the victim of favoratism as a child. My cousins were all more favored than me. When my parents separated my grandmother refused to have anything to do with me although at age ten I wrote letters to her. It still hurts after all these years.
    Back to the original question and your excellent suggestions Jill. I think the parents of the other child should also be aware of the favoratism and firmly both discourage it and if necessary share some of the gifts with the other child or take them home unopened. This is definitely cruelty and if the grandmother does not agree to change her ways then she will have to get used to holidays alone. I suspect there is more to this than the original question implies. I have three grandchildren and there is a dollar limit on gifts which sometimes means I merely contribute to a more expensive gift

  9. Terry says

    Family can be hard to deal with during holidays. My husbands mother was ill most of my daughters life. She never received a present from her due to her illness. She never knew grandma. We talked about the situation before, during and after each holiday as she grew up. We tried to do this as calmly as possible. — Kids adapt and understand more than you think.– It is best if the parents sit down and calmly talk about what they are going to do and how they are going to behave during the holiday. Then follow thru. Make adjustments to the plan for the next holiday. Bottom line, remember to do what is best for your child(ren). — We always find that starting the conversation with Prayer is best.

  10. Jan C says

    When my children were young, both my mother and MIL lived in our same town about a mile from each other. On Christmas we would first open our gifts at home, then go to my moms for dinner and then go to MILs for dessert. The kids really loved it and we talked about it for years. Especially the year that it snow so much, that we took the kids to MILs on a sled cause we couldn’t get the car out. Then my mom moved to Florida, and my MIL is now in a nursing home. We have a huge family 90+ and decided a few years ago to celebrate our Christmas on the Saturday before. We rent a hall and everyone brings something. One of the uncles dresses as Santa for the little ones. On the subject of favoritism, I am guilty, but not of my own choosing. When the first two grandchildren were born, one a girl, one a boy. The boy didn’t want any part of me and would only stay overnight at my house and slept on the couch with my hubby. Whereas the girl, loved to go anywhere with us, and we took her to Florida for a week or so to see her great grandmother and a great cousin when she was 3 or 4. When the next grandchild (girl) was born, the first one’s sister, she had the same disposition and went everywhere with us. I took her camping when she was just 4 weeks old. Her mom and dad had to work. Therefore, they still go everywhere with me, while the others stay home. I have two more grandchildren whom I very seldom see, they only live about 20 minutes away, that never wanted to stay with me when they were young, and they still don’t. Their father (my son) gets annoyed that I don’t take them anywhere, but I can’t force them to go with me. I was all set to take them to Disney one year, but their parents said I couldn’t till after they took them. So they still haven’t seen Disney with me or their parents. I feel bad at the holidays sometimes, but it’s their parents fault, not mine. I tried.

  11. Mary in Texas says

    If you talk with your mother about this, just gently suggest that she give the extra presents to the child’s parents to give to the child at other times. My child had a Christmas time birthday. She got very little for her birthday since no one wanted to overwhelm her with so much close to Christmas. Instead she got a chance to celebrate a half-birthday in June and got some of the things she might have received on an actual birthday that was not so close. The whole family agreed to this after very brief discussion. She very much enjoyed the real, the half and Christmas as special occasions. Perhaps your mother and the niece’s parents could arrive at some compromise that would continue to keep things even but not overwhelm one at one occasion.

  12. Lil says

    Kids do notice and it does hurt them.
    As a child I watched as my cousins and even my sibs were given gifts while I didnt receive any (I now know that I was treated differently as I was adopted). Unfortunately my children also go the same treatment and as soon as they were old enough to voice their thoughts they made it quite clear that they didnt think they were being treated fairly…they even noticed how differently I eas treated.
    My suggestion is to talk to your mom about it and if that fails, do what I did. Its summer here at christmas time so we have our own little Christmas picnic at the beach and catch up with family on boxing day. This way the children arent there to see what their cousins get.

    • Jane says

      That’s very sad…why they would feel the need to exclude you because you were adopted seems so cruel. That’s where your parents should have stood up for you and told them that things needed to be more fair for all of you….it’s a shame when parents don’t do what they should. My brother and sister were treated differently by my grandmother (my dad’s mom, who wasn’t their birth father). She never invited them over one-on-one to stay the night and referred to them as “Jan’s kids” (our mom). She was always so nice to my little brother and I, but as I got older I could see how she treated them, and hated it. I felt so bad about it, but our dad wouldn’t say anything to her.

      • says

        I agree with you totally. I usually try not to let my dander get up but with things like that I get really angry. When a child is adopted they are that persons child period. I have an adopted niece and nephew and I don’t even think about it or remember unless someone mentions it. They are my niece and nephew. I am so grateful to come from a family where everyone one accepted them without even thinking about it – all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

  13. says

    This isn’t so much about favoritism, but when my boys were growing up, we had to spend every holiday with my mother. Many times my mother-in-law was inivted to share with us, but we too had to leave our gifts Christmas morning and drive to my mom’s. My parents were divorced and I was an only child to my mom, but my sons were my dad’s only grandchildren also. One year my husband and I decided that we were going to spend Christmas at my dad’s. Unfortunately he died before Thanksgiving that year. I will always regret that I didn’t have the courage to do it sooner.

  14. Mary S says

    My MIL has 3 grandchildren,my two boys and my hubby’s niece.My parents act like they have only 1 grandchild and only her 2 great grandchildren.Both my parent’s and MIL have shown massive favoritism over the year’s and left my boy’s out.My son’s are high functioning autistic but they are very smart and noticed very early the difference made between them and the other children.My MIL was horrible to my oldest,who was her 1st grandchild,verbally making fun of him and constantly telling him he needed to learn to act like so and so’s kid.She always spends several hundred $ on the other grandchild and 3 to 5 $ on mine.My parents are the same.He was 6 when his brother was born and she started treating him the same way.We now have very limited contact with either set of grandparents and if they say or do something unacceptable,I immediately tell them they are being rude.I just tell my kid’s the truth, some people are just jerks and there is nothing we can do to change them.

    • Lil says

      Hang in there Mary. Some people arent worth our breath.
      Your kids will take their cues from you, you give them all the love they need.
      God bless.

  15. Elizabeth Ward says

    I to know how it felt for my kids to be treated not only at Christmas but all through the year by my in-laws as my sister-in-law had three children without a husband and lived with her parents. I think they felt sorry for her kids as they didn’t have a Dad living with them and they were given more money and gift wise then my children but as I look back my kids had a father and a mother to raise them and our children all support themselves and have jobs where only one of her children works and support themself now. I feel blessed that more wasn’t always better as i look back.

  16. Leanne says

    I had the same situation with my current in laws ( step grandparents) and my children’s father . My ex husband always had favored and I mean FAVORED our daughter over our son. When we were married I could control it, however after the divorce, I couldn’t . When Christmas came she would receive about 20 gifts and our son was given about 4-5. When they were little, I would just count the packages and make it even Steven, then give our daughter the others when he wasnt home.it was our Emma who noticed the favoritism, and get idea. As they got older and understood dollar values. I would peak inside and tally up a dollar amount and tell my son that daddy got her more but spent the same amounts( yep I lied). Then when the teen years hit, all they wanted was money, so that was easy. I just told my ex to send the same amount to each if them. Not a perfect solution, but it worked.

    My current in laws spend about $20 on my kids but their real grand kids well its over the top…I always felt bad for my kids, being the steps and all. I always felt some need to apologize to them. It was my kids who said to me a few years ago. ” mom your the only one who cares about that. You taught us not to be spoiled and materialistic. At least they remembered us.

    Maybe this doesn’t bother your child as much as it bothers you. Cause it bothered the daylight out of me. If it really makes you nuts just ask her ” ma, why do you by so and so more gifts”? It could be a. Easy answer. I do for you child all year long or I spend the same dollar amount… Never know until you ask .:)

  17. Tommienell Ellis says

    I cannot figure out why certain people go out of their way to hurt innocent children. Hasn’t that grandmother who favors the absentee niece ever heard of the U.S. mail service????? Why doesn’t she send the girl her gifts on her special days instead of saving them up?????People think of all kinds of things to cause family friction. My husband’s mom used to sew lots of clothes for certain of her grandchildren —-ours generaly got nothing. I finally told her that I was so happy she was clothing the kids who truly needed clothes because our two didn’t need anything. Our kids grew up respecting their grandmother, but had no closeness with her. While I am on the subject of receiving–remember to have your kids say “thank you” in person/by note/or phone call . This is so important because we should be grateful for what others do for us—–no matter how large or small the gift.

  18. Angela says

    I have dealt with favoritism a lot in my life. My cousins and step-cousins were favored over myself and my two siblings for most of our lives. It did hurt, and it created a lot of resentment. However, I am an adult now, and the mother of three. My cousins who were favored a lot never really seemed to get the hang of “doing for themselves” now that we are adults, because they were spoiled so much. I am sure that is not ALWAYS the case, but there you have it. I am not resentful at all anymore, because I realized a while ago that maybe not being given everything was a blessing.

    As far as the going back and forth to the different relatives’ homes…I am also a child of divorce. When I was a child, we would end up going to visit 2 homes on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day was our own. Once I started having children, the juggle became harder since we had to go to HIS family gatherings as well. One year, I said “forget all that” and just went to the big Christmas Eve gathering for my father’s side of the family, and invited everyone over to my home for Christmas Day. My mother and father were both told that if they wanted to have their holiday visit, they needed to come to my home and to just stay in separate rooms if they couldn’t be polite to one another. I was tired of not having a Christmas morning experience that didn’t include rushing everywhere. Now that my marriage has ended, we have it worked out to where I get Christmas Eve – complete with my dad’s side of the family, and my ex gets Christmas Day. If my mother wishes to visit, she can do it on Christmas Eve, or she can walk across the street to my ex’s home and visit on Christmas Day. This doesn’t make EVERYone happy, but it sure makes it easier on the kids. That is what is important to me.

  19. Mary Jane says

    Years ago, my sister had two sons, several years apart, with two different dads. She raised them together from birth on a welfare budget and did a fabulous job as a single Mom. The grandmother of the first son (whose father paid no child support) would show up on the weekends and holidays and only take the oldest child for special treats or outings. When that same boy would ask if his younger brother could come along, too, she would loudly respond, “No. That one isn’t mine.” Her biological grandson could not enjoy the outing, a small boy was left at home confused, hurt and crying, and Mom was left with a lot of unnecessary guilt. I can’t help but think how foolish that Grandma was. She could have had two devoted loving grandchildren, and been a positive loving influence in two boys’ lives. There would have been no greater privilege. Her legacy was one of grief and pain. Not all family is based on D.N.A.

  20. 15B says

    Mary Jane –

    Your response moved me to tears and gave me something solid I feel I can hold onto when I’m battling feelings of resentment toward my dad, who favors one of his grandchildren. He showers this particular grandchild with everything under the sun (trips several times a year, private school tuition, plus the usual toys and all that). This kid also gets loads of time and attention.

    We’ve frequently invited him to spend time with our family and he rarely shows. Or, if he does, he brings the favorite with him. I do love my sister’s child and enjoy spending time with him, but I do resent that my dad seems to place little value on time with my kids and me. My kids are winsome, funny, and generally well-liked children who have never done anything to offend him. Frankly, even if they weren’t so likable, I would expect a grandparent to want a meaningful relationship with all their grandchildren.

    I understand favoring the child you know best, but I think an effort to make it so the kids don’t see this is important. My MIL has favorites, but she tries very hard to be fair and build relationships with all of her grandchildren. She’s gotten better at it over time and now that we live in the same time, I appreciate her even more as she really works at engaging and investing in each grandchild. With both of these parents, we’ve been the out-of-state kids/grandkids until recently. I get that they don’t know my kids as well, but my MIL handles it the right way. I’m going to take a lesson from her book if I’m ever fortunate enough to have grandchildren.

    I’ve decided to just let it go unless my children begin to notice. They’ll let me know if they do (we’re big talkers) and I’ll keep my antenna on just in case. If my kids do notice, it won’t be too hard to limit interactions because my dad doesn’t seem overly interested anyway. It hurts me a lot, but I’ve decided it’s in my kids’ best interest to have a relationship with him and I’ve resigned to not let them get any negativity from my end.

    I don’t know if that will happen since he doesn’t have a lot of time for them, but I feel like I’m doing my part to keep the opportunity available to him. He doesn’t really deserve it, but my kids do. My kids are well loved and have a splendid life. At the end of the day, it’s like you wrote…he is the one who would be foolishly giving away an opportunity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


five + 7 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>