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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Carolyn Hax: In-laws favor one child’s family

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: My husband’s parents favor their daughter and her children over my family and his brother’s family. Their daughter is aware of it and brags about it – “I’m Daddy’s favorite, so I get to park in the driveway.” This is a grown woman in her 40s. She claims constantly that she has no money, when she and her husband make more money than my family and my husband’s brother’s family. We all live on a tight budget. They have multiple flat-screen televisions, computers and fitness equipment. And yet my husband’s parents constantly give her money and their credit cards. We live five minutes away from my husband’s parents, yet we never see them. They travel 40 minutes on a weekly basis to see their daughter and her family for whatever reason.

We have tried to spend more time with them. For example, we invited them to a Memorial Day picnic, and they accepted. But when they found out their daughter didn’t have plans, they canceled on us to spend time with her. This behavior leads to hurt feelings for me and my husband’s brother’s wife.

It doesn’t seem to bother my husband as much. He thinks it is wrong but, frankly, I think he is used to it because he grew up that way.

I tried to blow it off and accept it, but now my children are older and they see the favoritism.

I have approached my husband’s parents twice, and they defend why they feel they need to “help” their daughter, even though I explained that giving her money all the time isn’t helping her. How do I handle it and protect my children in the process? – Tired of Favoritism

Oh my goodness, just stop, please. Stop trying to get better treatment. Stop believing that you are owed better treatment.

Stop serving your kids up to these people just to be treated as second-best. Stop taking it personally that your in-laws are twisted.

Stop bean-counting TVs and treadmills. Stop banging your head against a wall. Stop teaching your kids that banging their heads against a wall is an appropriate way to handle a problem. Staaaaaaaaahp.

Your kids are indeed getting shortchanged on grandparents. That stinks. It’s not fair. It’s a stupid way for your in-laws to behave.

But none of these facts of sympathy will change anything about the reality of your in-law situation. So instead of trying to change that reality – an effort that has long since proven itself to be futile, by your own description – please start working with your reality to construct a healthy environment for your kids.

Plan things with people who love and appreciate your family. Your fellow-outcast brother- and sister-in-law are a fine place to start.

Stay cordial with your in-laws but don’t go out of your way and don’t expect anything from them.

With your husband, prepare honest, age-appropriate answers to your kids’ questions about their grandparents: “I’m sorry too that Grandma and Grandpa aren’t here.” “Daddy does love them, though they don’t have a close relationship – that was true long before you guys were born.” Let your kids ask follow-up questions, and use “I believe … ” to frame your answers to make room both for different perceptions and for your kids to think for themselves.

It is a hard line to walk, where you tell the truth of someone’s limitations without vilifying them. And you don’t want to vilify them of course because people are complicated, families even more so, and for all you know your kids could form their own relationships with their grandparents down the road.