When Grandparents Play Favorites

When Grandparents Play Favorites

favoriteWhat happens when one grandparent favors one child over their sibling? … or one set of grandchildren over another?

Unfortunately, this dilemma has emerged in our family. When our oldest was born, she was showered with endless attention and spoiled with things. When our second came along, the attention was different – and difficult to describe. At first, I attributed the situation to a new sibling and their ages. Throughout the first couple of years, I purchased prints of their baby pictures along with decorative frames to ensure there was no excuse not to display them, only to be disappointed to see only one of their pictures centered in their home and an older cousin fill their tabletops and refrigerator. I noticed. My husband noticed. Yet, no one mentioned it out loud. With every visit, my heart sank. As the years progressed, I sadly realized our children are not the favorites.

Soon, more cousins arrived, one after the other. This time, photos of them filled those frames. Again, my heart sank with every visit. It was as if our youngest did not exist.

One day I had the courage to speak up. Of course my voice cracked, and in an uncomfortable tone and in an ineloquent manner I asked, “Those frames and the pictures of the children – they haven’t made there way out … yet?”

As a child, I recalled questioning my grandparent’s love – our cousins pictures were framed on nearly every surface and every story involved them. I did not understand and resented them for years as a teenager. But as a young adult, I began to understand the reason – my aunt required a considerable amount of extra hands while raising her children. I believe my grandparents felt responsible and a need to be more present and shower them with love and attention. At times, I felt my siblings and I were a distant second. Our recitals, performances and grandparent’s days were second to theirs. As a child, it was devastating. I tried to find an explanation and determine what I had done wrong.

Could this be the same situation our children are destined for? Does the fact that our children’s grandparents need to babysit so often, help with their discipline, finances and take care of their cousins’ daily needs be the reason why our children are treated differently? If we required or asked for their grandparent’s help for their basic needs, would our children be treated or loved differently?

I do not know the answer. At the moment their innocence is alleviating the situation, but what will happen the day they look around their home searching for their picture and find theirs off to the side, their accomplishments and artwork not displayed on the refrigerator, and the stories they share not include their names. How will I help them understand?

How do you deal with grandparents that play favorites?


  1. Perhaps it can be attributed to editing but you never shared the grandparents’ response to your question. When you asked, how did they respond? Was there ever a conversation?

  2. My sister and I had our sons about 5 months apart. My son, being the first grandchild, seems to be favored by my parents even though my sister lives closer and they see her son more. My mom posts his pictures on Facebook and always talks about how cute he is, and I rarely hear her do the same for my nephew. I hope, for my sister and her son’s sakes, that this changes as the boys grow up.

  3. We live a couple hours away from my husband’s parents. We see them every couple of months usually, more around the winter holidays and then longer stretches between visits right after. My husband’s brother has a daughter, but he and the mother split up. However, his parents used to babysit her and continue to babysit her half brother and half sister almost daily (children of his brother’s ex who are not biologically related to the grandparents).

    When our girls were babies and young toddlers my husband always got annoyed because when we would tell his dad story or say something about what our kids were doing, his dad would often mention something similar or a story about the kids he watches. My husband thought the situation of them watching the ex’s kids was awkward/weird to being with, and it made him upset that the grandpa kept bringing up kids that aren’t even technically family. I personally didn’t think it meant their grandpa cared about our kids less, I think he was just relating his experiences since the kids are of similar ages and were going through the same phases. Also, my husband is part of a blended family (his mother is his step mother, 3 brothers are step brothers) and his parents don’t distinguish and treat everyone like blood, so it makes sense they would talk about his brother’s ex’s kids like family based on their personalities.
    The grandpa stopped talking about the ex’s kids as much when our girls were getting older and would interact and remember the him more. Still, they often take one of the ex’s kids to family events and parties, though (a 6 year old girl), but they never bring the boy who is more my kid’s age. Not sure why they don’t bring the boy, I actually just noticed now. Anyway, my husband doesn’t seem to mind this and they definitely give our kids plenty of love and attention, but they don’t necessarily dote on them because they see them less either, which is okay with me.

    At their house they have a table with each grandchild’s picture framed separately, and the two non-biological children are included as well. I would be upset too if they didn’t seem to display anything or talk about one grandchild. Even if they feel their other grandchildren need extra love and attention it’s no reason to not acknowledge another. Takes very little effort to put a photo up. Not saying this is the case but maybe the grandparents don’t showcase or talk about your kids because they are worried the other grandkids will be jealous, in which case that is a bad lesson. It is possible for them to love everyone equally and if they are really involved in the development of the cousins, it’d be good to teach that your heart never runs out of room to love more people.

  4. My in laws spend way more time with their daughter’s kid vs their son’s children despite living the same distance apart and I cannot help feeling like the reason being that we do not need them to babysit. I personally feel like babysitting is not a grandparents “job”. They should just want to hang out, play or do something fun with their grandkids not always babysit them for free because the childs parents have a sense of entitlement that they deserve the help even when they can afford a babysitter. Why are my kids on the back burner because we had children when we were truly ready and could afford it? My kids are young and so far my 4 y/o has started asking why, when he finds out his cousin gets overnight visits or days with the grandparents and he doesn’t. I don’t even know what to say anymore.
    My MIL has started to visit my kids for an hour whenever she is in town to attend her other granddaughter events or babysit but my husband had to guilt trip her into, suggest it for 2 years over and over and I had to keep her off my Facebook so she doesn’t have access to constant pictures of our kids. We felt luke if she saw them on fb she never made the effort to visit them, within a month of no facebook she suddenly started visiting my kids outside of holidays. It is still very annoying that whenever her other grandchild is around our kids are practically ignored but it is really my husband’s place to say something since its his parents. So I keep my mouth shut for now.

  5. I faced a similar situation 35 years ago when I realized that my mom showered favoritism on my eldest and pointedly ignored my youngest. So, I not only confronted her ( she denied it), but I explained to my then baby girl that Grandma was a witch and that we would ignore her abuse. We loved her and grandma was the one who was missing out. I think it was better to tell the child because it can be confusing and hurtful to act like it’s not happening. Nothing has changed. My mom still favors the eldest, but my youngest has never let her antics hurt her spirit. Grandma is a witch and she will die a witch!

  6. It’s a privilege for people to hang out with our kids. That’s what my husband says. If the grandparents favor one set of children, so be it. Cherish the compliments you get from other people. Create a life without including people who hurt you or your children in this manner. And be honest with your kids. I don’t feel pretending you don’t notice, is the way to go.. specially when the children walk up to the area of photos and you sadly see them come to the same conclusion. People are who they are, and sometimes just voicing out what you all think and feel, perhaps helps get through the few moments you notice such unfairness.. remember for every person that makes you feel unloved, there are many out there, who will make you feel loved. So spread the love whenever you get the chance to, caz this is obviously something many of us go through.
    If you are a positive person, print pics and give it to them. (Maybe that’s what the other mom is doing) If you are a dismissive person, say F-it! And never send pics again! Either way, best way to handle the rejection feeling is to just not go look at pictures. (That’s pretty much what I do)… but I have noticed my 4 year old likes to check them out.. and if her grandmother is pursposely hurting her by not printing pics, well, that just means my daughter will probably not be close to her when she grows up.. which is not my daughters problem, caz she has our love! And parental love is strong. ??

  7. We have this problem. My husbands mom “loves” one set of kids. Visiting, volunteering at school, sports events, holidays, taking them on trips, etc. I could go on, but you get the idea. My twins asked for two years to spend the night. It was always “sure, let me check my calendar.” Never were they put on the calendar. We moved out of state and the grandparents did not stop by to see the kids. They drove 6 hours to pick up a new dog—six miles from our new home. You got it, they did not stop by to see the kids. My husband finally put a stop to the relationship. No more begging emotionally abusive parents to spend time with their less favorite grandkids. It is not fair to the kids. We told them the truth about why they did not see them. I know it hurt them, but kids need to see that they deserve better than emotional abuse and neglect. Maybe one day the grandparents will actually ask to see the kids. But they are now teens and I doubt it. Teach your children to remove themselves from damaging relationships, otherwise they will see it as normal and accept it.


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