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Can I avoid having favorite grandkids? Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My mother had definite favorites among her grandkids: My brother’s kids were aces and mine were afterthoughts. It hurt me deeply, and still hurts to think about it — and she passed away five years ago.

I swore I would never play favorites among my own children or grandchildren. But then Daughter No. 1 moved overseas, while Daughter No. 2 moved back to our hometown. I see D2’s children at least once a week, sometimes more, for family dinners/outings.

I see D1’s child once a year, at most — and not at all in two years, thanks to covid shutting borders. We Skype weekly but it’s not the same. I feel much closer to D2’s kids — I know their friends, I go to their games, I see their school plays.

While I tell myself this is natural, I also hate myself for it because I know how deeply it hurt me to feel my kids were second-best. Is this unavoidable given the distances involved? Or is there something I can do to balance things out?

— Grandparent

Grandparent: I think you’re conflating “favorites” with “being involved with.” Having favorites usually involves preferential treatment, attention, giving or withholding love, etc. You’re understandably more involved with your D2’s kids because you simply have more opportunity, so of course you’re closer and more active with them. That closeness brings more opportunities to love each other. That’s okay!

Give yourself some grace and forgive yourself for fearing that you’ve turned into your favoriting mother. I think it’s unrealistic and potentially unhealthy to try to keep everything “even” because that’s not your, or your grandkids’, reality. What you can do is stay in touch frequently, keep the video time, and see D1’s kids as often as possible. Our grandkids have a better sense of fairness and authenticity than they sometimes get credit for. They’ll always know that you love them and that’s what really matters.

— Sheryl

Grandparent: I’m the daughter who took my children overseas while my sister’s kids lived three miles from my mom. My children and I never felt my mom had favorites. Sure, she was more present for my sister’s kids. But my mom made sure she got to know my kids and was interested in everything they did, even from afar. My kids knew she loved them for the amazing kids they are. Love doesn’t need daily physical presence. It needs a sincere expression of interest and attention whenever possible. I don’t think you have favorites. You just need to work to get to know the other grandchildren better. I bet they are amazing kids, too!

— Daughter #1

Grandparent: I’m the daughter that lives a plane ride away from my parents while my siblings live near home. I watch from afar as my parents babysit for my nieces and nephews, attend their school plays, show up for every sporting match, and are a part of their lives in ways that have never happened for my kids. It hurts, but it hurts me more than it hurts my kids as they don’t know what they’re missing. But no matter how much it hurts, there’s also no easy solution. We don’t live so far away because I don’t want to be near my family, but because this is where our jobs are, in industries that unfortunately have no locations anywhere near my home.

My parents are pretty good about treating all of their grandkids equally, at least as far as they can, but I know that’s not really true. I know it can’t be for all the reasons you’ve listed. We aren’t as close with people that don’t share our daily lives.

The only advice I have is to try to show up more. If you can afford it, go visit twice a year instead of once. If that family takes a vacation, ask if you can join them. The only solution for a lack of proximity is more time spent together. It will never be enough to overcome the distance, but it will help.

As that daughter, what doesn’t help are the guilt trips, even the unintentional ones. The comments I get from either of my parents about how much my children are missing out on by not living near them, or their cousins. The little suggestions that our lives would be easier, fuller, richer if we lived closer to home. The idea that we could just switch industries and find something else that made us equally happy, and then have more choice in where we live. All of those things compound the hurt. They suggest that not only am I depriving my children of relationships that could have been meaningful to them, but that I’m doing it intentionally. Willfully. Negligently. And while I truly don’t believe either of my parents actually thinks that, the little comments are even more hurtful than all the rest.

— Anonymous

Grandparent: I am in a similar situation where one set of grandchildren live a half-hour away and the other set of grandchildren live a plane ride away. I FaceTime with the grandchildren every day. I read books to them and do art projects with them long distance. During the pandemic I helped them with their homework via FaceTime. I send them special things in the mail for no reason and even more special things on their birthdays and holidays.

They are now old enough to call me randomly by themselves and they often will, even on the days that we have already spoken. I feel very close to them as they do me. Every time I do something special with my grandchildren who live near me, I try to do something special for the grandchildren who live far away. I even buy all of them matching outfits so that we can FaceTime altogether and see how we are all in the same fun family.

Proximity does not make you closer, but communicating with your grandchildren does. We also make sure we visit as often as possible even though we were unable to do that during the pandemic, We have resumed visits recently. Love is a feeling you have for someone even if they’re far away. Communication is the key.

— Denise Frasca

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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