Dear Carolyn: Both my brother and I are close to our parents and each other. However, my mom plays favorites. She constantly complains about the way my sister-in-law (who is probably my best friend) keeps house, cooks, shops, dresses, etc., while turning a blind eye to the realities of my life.
The worst part is with our kids, though. She favors mine, and does it obviously. Recently, when my sister-in-law told my mom about something wonderful my niece had done, my mom replied with something like, “That’s great, but did you know XXX did such-and-such?” I know it hurts my sister-in-law and frustrates my brother. What I don’t know is how to fix things. – Uncomfortable favorite
“Fix things,” that’s a problematic choice of words for someone in your position, at the periphery of this problem.
Give Mom zero validation for her favoritism. When she complains about the way your sister-in-law keeps house, for example, don’t just say, “Gee, Ma, my house is messy, too” – it’s also tacit affirmation of her dim view of your sister-in-law’s worth.
Instead, mount a defense with truth and teeth: “Mom, you’re talking about by best friend, and I won’t be a party to criticizing her.” When you witness her dismissing your niece’s accomplishment, you voice the praise your niece deserves, and then remind your mother that there was no need to bring up your kids at all. Remember, your mom sees the sun as shining more brightly on you; don’t underestimate the power of your disappointment.
Comment by comment, kid by kid, visit by visit, strand your mother on her little island of bias.
When she’s nothing more than an unfortunate exception to the family’s warm and mutually respectful rule, her grandchildren won’t think, “What’s wrong with me?” Instead they’ll be wondering, “What’s wrong with her?”