Q. I'm married 15 years to my second husband. My first marriage ended after nine years and two children. I have another child from my second marriage.
For the past 15 years, my two children from number one have received nothing from my mother-in-law and her daughter (their aunt). My daughter from marriage number two always receives many expensive gifts. They are all given something at Christmas. Am I wrong to feel deeply hurt, as I feel it's so unfair for one child to receive birthday presents year after year and my other two nothing?
My mother-in-law says our daughter is her natural grandchild; a present for her is expected and gives her pleasure to buy. I say they are all my children and they should be treated equally. I haven't spoken to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for more than a month, as I finally expressed my feelings and I feel I'm justified. Please give me your opinion. My husband takes their side and says I'm making a big deal over nothing. Am I?
A. Yes, and not only that, but you are making a worse deal for yourself for the future in attempting to establish among your children the idea that every one must treat them all alike. It cannot be done, even by you. You may think you are carrying out a policy of equality now, but one day, perhaps when your children are an advanced age themselves and you are hoping for a little peace in which to end your days, one of them will suddenly snap out a memory of the day you gave her sister one more chocolate-chip cookie than you gave her. The other will snap back about not having been allowed to stay up as late as she distinctly remembers her sister was allowed to do when she reached the same age.
That, Miss Manners assures you, is what can happen to a mother who really does love all of her children equally, and who is trying very hard to pursue a policy of treating them all the same. What of people who do not actually have the same feelings about each?
You are expecting your present mother-in-law to think of all your children as having equal claims to being her grandchildren. It would be nice if she did, but she obviously does not, so you are claiming it is her duty to do so.
Let Miss Manners ask you this: The children of your first marriage have relatives that your third child does not. Must they also treat all your children alike? Must your former mother-in-law and your ex-husband, for that matter, match whatever attention they pay to the children related to them by an equal tribute to your next child?
Of course not. You don't really believe, deep in your heart, that people do not distinguish their blood relatives from connections acquired through remarriage. Your true motive is to protect your older children--who are perhaps neglected by their paternal relatives--from the consequences of your divorce.
It is the responsibility of a parent to help children deal with any difficulties caused by divorce--not to force others to pretend that there are no consequences.
Miss Manners heartily recommends that you abandon all futile desires to prove to your children that they may expect to be treated identically by anyone.