Grandparents playing favorite among the grandchildren can play out in myraid ways: Maybe they give one child more attention, buy them more or elaborate gifts during the holidays, or just sing the praises of one child far more than the others.
However it plays out, it’s bound to cause consternation for the parents and potentially hurt feelings for the child who feels less special in grandma’s or grandpa’s eyes.
Susan G. Groner, the author of “Parenting With Sanity & Joy” and host of the “Parenting Mentor Sessions” podcast, has seen how much familial strife this issue can cause.
“I had a client whose mother-in-law would come over and just talk about how wonderful her other son’s child was while basically ignoring the children of her daughter-in-law and other son,” she told HuffPost. “It was so triggering to my client that she dreaded seeing her MIL.”
Parenting coach Melissa Benaroya has heard about this problem among her clients, too.
“Many times the favoritism has to do with being the first grandchild, the child’s temperament and personality, or level of maturity,” she told HuffPost.
Parents often find it difficult to confront their parents because they are not used to having to set boundaries with them, Benaroya said.
“My suggestion is to have a loving open dialogue with their parent and share how they are feeling,” she said. “It’s important to address the concerns early on so it doesn’t become something that begins to fester and affect their relationship with their parent.”
Below, parenting experts share their best advice on how to bring this topic up with your parents or in-laws.
See if your partner feels the same way.
Though you may want to bring up the issue regardless, it might be smart to check in with your partner or co-parent and see how they feel about it. “Perhaps ask your partner if they feel the same way,” Groner said. “Sometimes we tend to project our own issues on to other situations.”
Before talking, check in with yourself so that you can approach the conversation openly and with curiosity.
Make sure that you are in the right state of mind to have this conversation. You don’t want to broach it when you’re in a reactive state ― “your mother-in-law did not just give your nephew a video game when she gave your kids a tiny Lego set?!” ― and your emotions are high.
“If needed, practice some self-soothing skills before bringing this topic up,” Benaroya said. “Focused breathing exercises or meditations are a great way to help regulate emotions and self-soothe. Approach this conversation with a win-for-all attitude.”
Begin the conversation by reminding your parent or parent-in-law of your connection and how much you value your relationship.
- “You’re such a loving grandparent, and I think it’s so wonderful that you are so engaged with your grandkids.” [Pause here and see them beam/ respond]
- “I know that Sally is an amazing kid, and it’s so easy to hang out with her and watch her do everything so well. Jack is also amazing in his own way, and sometimes I feel that he’s missing out on your time and attention. It’s really important to us that he is close with you. What do you think about starting to spend a little one-on-one time with him until you two bond a little more?”
The key here, she said, is that you frame your request in a way that emphasizes that your child is missing out, not that the grandparent is missing out, which may come off as critical.
Set guidelines as the parent.
It’s OK to tell your parents or in-laws that you’re working on things being equitable in your home and it’s important that one child doesn’t feel less valued, Groner said.
“Acknowledge how much fun it must be to buy things for your only granddaughter and that you’d be happy to provide some ideas for your son of things he’s really in to right now, too,” she said.
It’s also fair to say, “Please, only three gifts for each child this holiday.”
Create equitable scenarios for your parents and kids.
Outside of the holidays and birthdays, you can also ask for your parent(s) to take one child to an event or to accompany you while your partner is with your other child.
“Maybe one child has a sleepover with friends and you can suggest a sleepover with grandma and grandpa for the other child,” Groner said. “Or maybe they can have special toys or activities just for their time with each grandchild ― jigsaw puzzles, art projects, science experiments, things like that.”
Give your parents room to change.
It’s possible that the grandparent is completely unaware of their “favoritism” and how it makes you (and your child) feel.
“You want to be sure to communicate all of this in the nicest, most non-judgmental way possible,” Groner said.