Carolyn Hax: Grandmom, playing favorites, treats lone grandson like king

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 7, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My mother-in-law treats the son from my husband’s first marriage like a king while pretty much ignoring our daughter from our marriage. I have tried ignoring the behavior, but when his mother expects us to fund cruises and trips for her to take with the son that she won’t even invite our daughter to, I believe it’s getting out of hand. My husband says he is through with her, but I think he needs to articulate what will happen when my daughter gets old enough to realize she is definitely not Grandmom’s favorite.

Also, she treats all of the other female grandchildren completely differently than she treats the lone male grandchild. Is there anything I can or should do?

Anonymous


I don’t suppose the grandson is significantly older than the granddaughters? If so, then the girls might grow into Grandmom’s affection.

Otherwise you need to protect both kids: Deny her access to them, except in carefully measured and monitored doses, and say why.

Her request that you fund cruises is so easy to deny that it hardly warrants advance planning. “No, Betty, you can’t take just one of your grandkids on a cruise, not even at your expense.” I’d add, “ . . . unless you plan to offer each of them the same opportunity,” but I couldn’t imagine sending one of my own kids anywhere alone with a grandparent who wasn’t excited to be with him. That just sounds awful.

If Grandmom’s bias is against girls, that makes it easier to explain to your kids later, believe it or not — because it’s clearly about her self-loathing and not about a particular kid. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that any access to your kids has to be predicated on her behaving herself, as much as you can realistically expect.

Dear Carolyn:

I live 500 miles away from my only brother, his wife and their new son. I really want to be a part of his life growing up, but we’re never going to live near each other. Do you know of good ways to be involved with a kid far away? Regular Skype time when the kid is older comes to mind, but my brother and I have never been chatty.

Proud Uncle

Your chattiness with your brother likely will be independent of your relationship with his son. A parent has a lot to gain selfishly from having an uncle willing to video-chat with his kid for 10 minutes here and there, and also, besides facilitating, it doesn’t really involve a conversation between you and your brother.

Other ways to stay involved — since it’s going to be a while before you can really hold two-way conversations — are to send things that the son can associate with you. Books, for example, or a special stuffed animal, or little photo albums of you and other family members, and of your visits. Make sure the pictures are replaceable copies, since they’ll get destroyed by the blender of toddlerhood, but keep ’em coming. Memories are born of repetition, and if you remain even tangentially in this child’s life through the early years, you’ll have the foundation upon which to build when it’s his choice, not your brother’s, to stay in touch.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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