Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… what do you do when your child’s grandparent clearly plays favorites among the grandkids? Do you put up boundaries? Confront Grandma? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Scary Mommy,
My mother-in-law is a wonderful grandma, she really is. I’ve never questioned her love for my kids, it’s wholly there and unconditional. But she absolutely favors my brother-in-law’s kids over our kids. She lives about 10 minutes away from my BIL and less than 20 minutes from us, so it’s not like distance is the issue. She’s just…always around her other grandkids. She’s constantly babysitting them, just hanging out over there with them, picking them up from school, and just generally with them all the time. Meanwhile, the times my husband and I have reached out to have her watch our kids so we could have a night out are few and far between, because 1.) We don’t feel every waking minute of her free time should be consumed with grandkids; and 2.) The handful of times we’ve tried to ask her in advance, she’s already committed to watching the other grandkids! They get more presents and toys for no reason, and I genuinely don’t think “stuff” is important at all. But my two kids are getting old enough to notice their cousins receive gifts from Grandma and Grandpa more often than she does, and I don’t know how to explain it to them without hurting their feelings. Furthermore, when she’s here with our kids, she clearly prefers my older daughter as opposed to my younger son. She’s always taking her places, asking about her, showing more interest in her life and activities, etc. My husband reluctantly acknowledges the favoritism, but I think it dredges up old childhood resentments between him and his brother. HELP! This is consuming me more than I want it to, but I can’t stop my feelings of frustration.
Grandma’s gotta go. I kid, I kid! This is, unfortunately, a very common problem. Controlling your reactions to a situation like this is far easier said than done. Nothing brings out the Mama Bear in all of us quite like witnessing our kids getting the short end of the stick in one way or another. Since Grandma isn’t a fellow mom you can confront at the playground and never see again, this will require a little more finesse.
You mention that your MIL is always around your BIL’s family. First, ask yourself, “Do I want my toxic mother-in-law up my ass like that?” I’m pretty sure you’d prefer more stringent boundaries in place than the clear lack of them exhibited by your BIL. But that doesn’t change the fact that this affects the treatment of your children, especially in comparison to their cousins. And strong relationships shouldn’t be reliant on anyone being up anyone else’s ass!
If your children are old enough to notice that their cousins get presents when they don’t, I don’t think there’s anything wrong telling them to ask their grandma about it — but only if they bring it up to you or your husband first. It’s important that they aren’t made aware of any inequality more than they already are on their own. If your son or daughter were to mention it like, “Hey, Mom, why does Cousin Cindy get a new bike from Granny? It’s not even her birthday or anything. I want a new bike,” you can respond with “I don’t know why, honey. Ask Granny about it the next time you see her.” Maybe they will, maybe they’ll forget — either way, the burden of that answer is on the rightful shoulders.
I’m normally of the school of “Let the child of the guilty in-law handle this” but since your husband, like most men (so disappointing), is reluctant because of his own issues, then I think it’s okay if you talk to his mom about it. It’s not a good idea to keep building on the existing frustration and deepen the rift here. When you’ve got a minute alone with her, tell her you’re concerned the unequal treatment is affecting the relationship between the cousins. Which it is, and will even more so, as this goes on unchecked. That way you’re not coming across as petty or jealous (I don’t think you’re either of these things, but your MIL might convince her you are as a defense mechanism), you’re addressing something between her grandchildren, who will continue to be members of the same family long after she’s gone.
Suggest one-on-one time with Grandma and Grandpa — outings to museums, movies, trampoline parks, etc. Having them spend time with their grandparents outside of either home, outside of babysitting, will be wonderful for all involved.
Speaking of babysitting, do yourself a favor and find a good one who’s not related to you. Honest to Beyoncé, a good babysitter with no strings attached (except cold, hard cash) is worth its weight in gold. Search caregiver apps or even your local university’s job boards for an early childhood education or nursing major looking for a little extra cash and experience, and go enjoy some time with your husband!
Some parents are incapable of treating their own kids equally. This sucks. It’s also even more obvious in the age of social media, sadly. This likely leads to grandparents continuing those same patterns. This also sucks, especially when your kids notice it. But if it’s any consolation, your children are far more likely to remember the fun times with their grandparents, how they smelled, what their meals tasted like, etc., in the long run more than anything else.
Have your own questions? Email email@example.com
This article was originally published on