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How to Handle a Relative Who Plays Favorites

3 Tips For Handling a Relative Who Plays Favorites

3 Tips on Handling a Relative Who Plays Favorites

Moms know it's not a good habit to compare your child to other children. But what do you do if your own parents, in-laws, or other relatives do it?

"Your children are wild," says my mom, comparing my sons to my sister's — and ignoring the fact that my sister's grade schoolers are more mature than my preschoolers because they're older.

Worse than that, shares Circle of Moms member Alicia F., is when her mother-in-law showers another grandchild with gifts, while Alicia's son receives none. "My husband's parents have a favorite grandchild, which is my husband's brother's little girl," Alicia says. "They never call and ask about our kids; the only time they see them is when we go to their home or at birthday parties. Now my 6-year-old is starting to realize that she is the favorite to them … How do I talk to my son about it when he asks me?"


What can you do when a relative plays favorites? Circle of Moms members offer three tips.

1. Talk to Your Relatives

If you're comfortable having a conversation, several Circle of Moms recommend chatting with your relative about the unfair treatment. If they're like my mom, they may not even realize that what they're saying is hurtful, or that they are playing favorites.

If grandma is the one playing favorites, for instance, "try talking to her and explain that it really does hurt [your child] to see that. If she really cares about her grandson (like she should and probably does) then she'll stop otherwise," says Jes G.

Lisa G. and Shiloh R. agree that moms should get feelings out in the open — even if this seems like a difficult conversation to have — because it can yield improvements. But as Shiloh cautions, make sure the conversation (or letter if you prefer) "centers on your love for your children and isn't an attack." After all, the reason you're bringing your feelings to light is not to say "whatever horrible thing comes to mind," but because of concern, she explains.

Furthermore, moms might be surprised to find that there is a reason in-laws are playing favorites. For example, Cherise B. surmises that maybe your mother-in-law spoils certain grandkids because they don't get as much from their parents. If that's the case, then you could suggest that your in-law give the other children their extra presents when yours aren't around to witness it.

"No grandma wants to hurt their grandchildren, at least none that are thoughtful and caring," Cherise says. And if the grandparent or other relative is receptive, you can suggest other ways to show their love, like taking the "unfavored" children to a movie, going to the zoo or park, or some other special trip.

2. Validate Your Child's Feelings

If your child realizes the unfairness of the situation, moms suggest talking to him about it as well. "It's important to let [your children] share their feelings so they get validated," Kathryn J. says. "Then gently help them to forgive [their relative], no matter what she does or says. Remind them they are not measured by what she gives unfairly to others, but what they give of themselves."

Kind words from a mom to a child can make a world of difference, says Meredith J., who recalls her own feelings struggling with favoritism every Christmas when her cousins were favored over her and her brothers. When there's an obvious discrepancy in treatment, she suggests moms explain to their children, "that their grandmother loves each grandchild equally (whether it's a lie or not) and that she feels that she has to prove it to the other cousins in gifts, but knows that they don't require that kind of show."

3. Accept What You Can't Control

Despite the chats with your relatives and children, moms should be prepared for the pattern to continue.

"Sometimes there is just nothing you can do about favoritism," Marilyn D. begrudges. She notes that she became less stressed once she realized, after twenty years of marriage, that her mother-in-law just doesn't like her, and that this impacts the relationship her mother-in-law has with her children. "In real life we deal with flawed people. Life is not a television show that can be wrapped up in sixty minutes with a happy ending" and your children should understand that, Marilyn says.

Stephanie P. agrees. "While your in-laws should be fair about their gifting, especially in front of their grandchildren, they don't have to be," she says. "Unfortunately you can't control your in-laws' behavior, but you can teach your [children] to be thankful and gracious — not jealous and greedy — when they do receive a gift, no matter what someone else is given."

The best advice, Marilyn adds, is to explain to children that Grandma doesn't mean any harm. And furthermore, "They won't be warped or need therapy to get over grandma's slights," she says. Because more often than not, knowing that a relative is playing favorites hurts mom's feelings more than the child's.

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