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Whether intentional or not, sometimes family members favor one child over another. Here are some suggestions how to handle favoritism with your children.

Whether intentional or not, sometimes family members favor one child over another. Here are some suggestions how to handle family favoritism with your children.

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.

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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.

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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

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