When Grandparents Pick Favorites, Everybody Loses

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There are two types of parents in the world: those who admit to having a favorite child, and those who find the idea preposterous. I go back and forth between the two. I love my girls with all my heart but on some days I like one more than the other. There, I said it. But here’s the thing: I would never let my children know this. Ever! I treat them with equal respect and love no matter what. If only that were the case with their grandparents.

Lately, I’ve noticed my own parents picking favorites when it comes to their grandchildren. Like the time last week when my father told my younger daughter, “Honey, I’m sorry I was out of town for your birthday. Is there something special you want to do this weekend – just the two of us?” My 7-year-old’s eyes lit up and they made some sort of plan (I think it involved hot dogs and mini-golf). We never firmed up an exact date and time but the understanding was that he’d call on the weekend and that I should keep Saturday open. And so I did.

Next thing you know, the day has passed and no word from my dad (he’s not answering his cell phone, either). Meanwhile, my sister calls to chat; she tells me she’s chilling out at home alone since her 9-year-old son is seeing a movie and then sleeping over at our parents’ house. “What?!” I ask incredulously, and I fill her in on our plan (or non-plan, as it were). She feels terrible, of course, but it has nothing to do with her and so I don’t blame her one bit. Instead, I’m just irritated with my father, who made and then broke a promise to my 7-year-old in favor of having his 9-year-old grandson spend the night. (It’s no secret that this boy – our family’s first-born grandchild – is his favorite. It’s been that way since the start.)

I don’t make a big deal but, several days later, I share this story with a friend of mine. She has two girls, both in their early 20s, and she tells me how her 23-year-old’s grandma picked her up the other day to buy a birthday present. While the child – we’ll call her Jess – was grateful, she could see that her grandma didn’t really want to be there – that this whole grandma/granddaughter birthday-lunch-and-present afternoon was more out of obligation than anything else. The grandma seemed rushed and distant.

But here’s the real heartbreaking part: Jess told her mom, “You know what? If this was Mia’s birthday [her little sister], grandma would have picked out the perfect gift, wrapped it in fancy paper and brought it over with a big smile on her face. She always does it perfectly for Mia. It’s always been that way.” My friend was crushed but she didn’t even bother sugarcoating the situation since Jess was absolutely right; it was clear to everyone that Mia’s the favorite. Always has been, always will be.

So the big question is: What’s a mom to do? Should she confront the grandparent or just leave it be? And, what comes first: honoring your parents or protecting your children? Usually I’d say the latter, but when it comes to hurt feelings vs. any type of true danger, should you just stay out of it?

I eventually told my own father, “You screwed up.” This was around the time my little girl remembered that, Wait a minute, I was supposed to play mini-golf with grandpa this weekend! He didn’t really offer up an explanation, half-apologized, then promised they’d do it another time. I’m not holding my breath.

Other friends have shared similar frustrations. One mom is particularly torn because her parents are always offering to take the eldest out for the day but they never offer to take the younger ones, and they’re starting to catch on. My friend has no idea what to tell them. It’s one thing to see for yourself that the grandparents are picking favorites; it’s another thing altogether when the kids start to take notice. That’s when things get sticky.

And, really, it’s no fun having to make up excuses on behalf of your own parents. They should know better.

(Photo: Jupiterimages)