Family Favoritism and How to Deal With It
My Experience with Family Favoritism
Family favoritism has always been a part of my life. When I was a child I always dreaded Christmas time. It wasn’t because I felt entitled to something or that I was selfish. It was because I was hurt. Every Christmas my cousins would open presents that contained shiny pendants and boomboxes. My brother and I would sit in a corner watching our cousins wrap their arms around my grandparents and then just set their gifts to the side.
When it came time to unwrap our presents, we had become really good at putting on a face of stone over the years. We got the same presents every year – tube socks and notebooks. The really upsetting part for me was how they wrapped our presents. They’d take the gifts out of the boxes for my cousins and then put our gifts in those boxes. Crazy, right? By Christmas evening I felt unwanted, hurt, and empty. Over the years, I learned to deal with the emotions and find the humor in it.
Christmas wasn’t the only time that we would feel left out. We were often left out of birthday celebrations, get-togethers, and more importantly just quality time with them no matter how much we asked for it. As the youngest of my cousins, I watched big celebrations for graduations but not my own.
Year after year I would ask my parents why my grandparents treated me differently and I would always get the same answer – I don’t know. They never really spoke up about it until I was 16. I’m not sure why they did it and although it was long overdue, I was grateful. I learned that the reason they did not spend time with me or give my brother and me the same treatment actually didn’t have anything to do with us. We were left out over something that we had no control over and couldn’t change.
Now that I have children of my own, I think of this a lot and how to prevent it. I always feared my children would go through the feelings of abandonment and loneliness because of a loved one. When my daughter was born in 2010 one of her grandparents were withdrawn and drew even closer to the oldest grandchild. They were happy with just one grandchild and didn’t really have an interest in a new addition. It took years for them to form an emotional relationship with our daughter and she still isn’t treated the same.
No matter how much my husband and I speak to them about how much this has hurt our daughter over the years, it is denied. Our daughter loves to see them, looks forward to the time they spend together and asks about them on a regular basis. The behavior on the grandparent’s part has set a precedence for the interactions that they have to this day. Time after time, our daughter is treated differently and she can not comprehend why.
Another grandparent in the family feels the same but acts out differently. To sum it up, I’ve had to listen to “Your daughter is great and all but (the oldest) is my favorite because she was my first grandchild.” It’s really hard to listen to that when your child is within ear shot and was just asking when we could make the hour and a half trip to visit with them. To make it worse, my daughter who is shunned by both grandparents is the sweetest of my three children. She is the one who asks how they are and looks forward to seeing them. The oldest that gets the majority of the attention and favor takes it for granted, avoids them, and only asks about them when she feels she can get something out of it.
Dealing with the Family Favoritism
Now that you know my story, I’d like to share what I have learned to cope:
1 Don’t ignore the favoritism. Don’t tell your child that it is just in their head. Don’t just tell them to get over it. They have feelings, they know when something doesn’t feel right. You don’t want them to feel that they’re not good enough.
2 Do talk to them. Remind them they have wonderful qualities and that many people appreciate them and love spending time with them. Talk to them like an adult. We all have disappointments and people will always let others down. In my story, it is important that the child understands that the grandparent’s actions are wrong – not theirs. This can be a hard lesson as an adult, why not teach it while they are young.
3 Listen to your child. Let them talk. Let them get out their feelings. Chances are they are stewing in their thoughts trying to figure it out. Listen to them to understand what they are thinking. Most importantly spend time with them. You can’t criticize others for not knowing them if you don’t put the time in yourself. Additionally, you will give them confidence and learn more about how they feel in the process.
4 Speak up. Children need to know that they have someone in their corner, but be careful how you do it. This is a good opportunity to teach your children how to deal with conflict in a respectful and productive manner. Engage the grandparents with dignity, but don’t be surprised if you cannot change them. In our situation, we certainly have not made things fair, but they have improved continuously over time. Instead of saying, “I feel like you’re treating Sally unfairly.” Say, “Sally feels left out and hurt that you only asked Jane to spend the night.” This way you are an advocate for your child but are doing it respectively.
Please comment below or share your story with me.