My In-Laws Play Favorites, and We Need to Talk About It


What will this mean for our children?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

two children playing by the ocean

Q: I love my fiancé more than anything in this world. He’s kind, funny, and a generally nice guy. The type of guy who will work the seven-day-a-week job without complaint and still make sure you have time to do “fun stuff.” However, when I talk about my future in-laws, I get upset. Not for me. For him. His parents divorced when he was young and his father remarried. My fiancé chose to live with his mother on the opposite end of the country. His father went on to have more children. My future in-laws have not always treated my future husband fairly, especially in the time that we have been together. They spend more time with their children they had together, seeming to forget that they each had children from previous relationships. They have never even been to our home (granted it is far away, but the distance is the same as one of their other children).

My fiancé and I have decided to have children in the future, and we don’t want our children to feel that their grandparents on their father’s side give them any less love or attention than they would get from their grandparents on their mother’s side. Do we address this issue with his folks, or do we let it ride? If we do address this issue, how do we do so tactfully?

—Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

Nope, you don’t address it. There’s no way to address it. And what would happen if you did say, “Hey, why are you visiting them more than us?” or, “It sometimes feels like you favor the other kids”? In the very best outcome, they try a little harder to make it seem like they dole out their time and affection evenly. But that’s unlikely to last, and the whole time you’d know it’s because you had to ask.

The blended family tree adds a level of complexity, but this stuff also happens in families where there aren’t remarriages and stepsiblings. Some parents just aren’t good at fairness. And even when parents are good at it, it doesn’t always translate to grandparenting. You want your future hypothetical kids to feel equally loved by both sides of the family, but that’s not always a realistic goal.

You can’t control family dynamics. You can’t micromanage relationships. All you can do for the people you care about is love them wholly, unconditionally, regardless of how others treat them. Your partner’s parents may suck in this way, but he’s got you now. They might continue to suck once they’re grandparents. But your kids will have you. You just love on them all you can, and you surround them by other folks who love on them—aunties, babysitters, doting friends.

Your kids will be fine as people (like your partner is); they just might not be very close to their grandparents as they grow up. Which sucks, but is out of your control. Besides, it’s good for kids to face stuff that sucks without us fixing it (even if we’d prefer to).

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • sofar

    I love this advice.

    So much advice these days seems to hinge on, “If something bothers you, you should speak up and TELL that to the person doing the thing that’s bothering you. Otherwise, you will be sad and resentful all the time and that will fester and ruin your life.”

    Not always. As someone with imperfect family relations, I have often decided to love people as they are — and get what they can’t give me from others in my life.

    Now, if there was any indication that the in-laws would actually be MEAN to the kids, you need to shut that shit down. But as for just being kind of “meh” grandparents? If you tell them to “step it up,” there’s a chance that could cause the relationship to regress.

    • macrain

      You could drive yourself slowly insane by thinking you always need to speak up when something bothers you! There can be peace in the decision to not bring it up and do your best to let it go.

      • sofar

        Yep. And sometimes, when you bring something up, that puts the other person permanently on-guard and you never feel quite as comfortable around each other again.

    • S

      I agree with this for the most part, I would just possibly add that it might be something to keep an eye on once the kids are actually in the picture. For instance, are we imagining scenarios where the future kids are unwrapping presents from their grandparents with their cousins at Christmas, and the cousins’ presents are significantly nicer? On one hand, I think maybe that’s just an exercise in teaching your kids to be humble and thankful and grateful for whatever they’re given….on another hand I think that could be really cruel to a young child. So, I don’t know. Maybe it’s worth thinking about all the ways favouritism could end up translating to “meanness” without the grandparents necessarily ~being~ overtly mean, if that makes sense. I agree for the most part that this is just one of those things out of anyone’s control that isn’t worth getting into…but it could be another deal entirely when kids come into the picture, if they’re treated unfairly and pick up on that.

      • ART

        I feel like this, too, would be a situation where it comes down to the LW and her (future) husband to protect the kids from something like this, though? I mean, I guess it would be something to speak up about in the context of explaining why you aren’t gonna bring the kids over for Christmas, because while you can’t control the grandparents’ choices, you can spare your kids that experience – you do have some control over how much you expose them to that kind of scenario (assuming you can guess that it’s coming). What you just described would be my last Christmas with that parent while my kids were young.

      • AP

        So, I was the kid whose step-grandparents forgot to give Christmas gifts, when all the other cousins (aka ‘real’ grandkids) were opening awesome gifts. It sucked. The first year it happened though, I think the whole step family realized ‘oh shit, we totally left these kids out’ and started trying a little harder the next year (although gifts from that family were always obviously last minute and thrown together.) I think the way my parents handled it, instead of direct confrontation, was more along the lines of ‘hey, if you need gift ideas for the kids here’s what they asked for’ and making sure that my brother and I knew that the problem wasn’t us and that we weren’t unloveable or something. I do wish we had not been forced to go over there for holidays, for this and lots of other reasons. My mom and this husband eventually got divorced, so I’ve had no interaction with these folks for over a decade. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have adult relationships with that family anyway, even if they had stayed together. All that pretending we were a big happy family was incredibly stressful and bred resentment over the years. So I come down on the side of not trying to force relationships that aren’t there.

      • sofar

        Yeah, I suppose it would be important to think of all those concrete situations.

        In the case of the presents, it might be necessary to say *something,* but not necessarily, “You need to treat all grandkids equally by getting our kids gifts that are on par with their cousins’.” I’d probably refuse to take the kids to Christmas Day at their house and, if they ask why, I’d say, “Oh, we like to do gift-unwrappings with just us as a family, so there’s no jealousy among all the cousins. So we’ll only be coming over for Christmas dinner, when there’s no gift-unwrapping. We’re sure you’ll understand.”

  • Amy March

    Kids are completely capable, and maybe better at it than adults, of accepting that people are just different. With GrandmaNiceOne, we hang out all the time. With GrandmaMeanOne, we send and receive birthday and Christmas cards. It’s nice to want those relationships to be equal, but I think its actually pretty unusual. Between distance, remarriages, and some people just plain liking children more, your kids aren’t being deprived by their grandparents being who they are. And, luckily, they have one good set!

  • Ashlah

    I won’t suggest that it’s fair or right that your fiance’s parents act this way, but I do want to respond to “we don’t want our children to feel that their grandparents on their father’s side give them any less love or attention than they would get from their grandparents on their mother’s side.” LW, regardless of the reason (introverted grandparents, uninterested grandparents, narcissistic grandparents, geographically distant grandparents, ailing grandparents, mean grandparents), I would suspect that most people have grandparents they were closer to than others. I imagine it’s probably somewhat rare for a child to get equal love and attention from all grandparents. While I understand your hurt on behalf of your fiance, I don’t think you should worry too much about your future children. They’ll focus on the grandparents they know and love, not the ones far away they barely know. And if they act this way, maybe it’s not such a loss anyway.

    • Cellistec

      This is spot-on.

    • Celesta Torok

      Yes, this exactly. I was extremely close to my grandparents on my dad’s side, my paternal grandmother especially, but not at all to my maternal grandmother because of the type of person she is… someone that never wanted to be a grandmother in the first place. She has said and done a lot of hurtful things over the course of my and my sibling’s lifetime, and while that sucks, I’m extremely grateful for the amazing, loving people my paternal grandparents were to me growing up and even up to their last breath.

    • Eenie

      Yes. The only actual advice I would add is to not actively hinder their relationship. Leave the door open for them to be grandparents they want to be.

      I only had one grandparent (my mom’s mom). She moved to FL after my grandfather got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We always lived a flight away so I saw her at Thanksgiving and Easter. It made those holidays an extra special treat. My parents were awesome, and I didn’t even realize I was missing out on the whole grandparent relationship until friends’ grandparents started passing away.

      • AP

        Yep. Don’t hinder, but don’t try to force a relationship either.

    • Heck, even if neither set of grandparents care that much for your kids, that’s fine too. That’s why they have *you*, their parents.

      • A.

        God, yeah, I’m sure that some people have fantastic grandparents, but my living set? Extremely dysfunctional and overrated.

        Most recently, my grandmother skipped out on wishing me a happy birthday because she’s mad at my mom because my mom posted something pro-Hillary on Facebook (it embarrassed my grandmother in front of her friends, apparently). She also hasn’t talked to my dad in months because she refuses to call him and he refuses to call her. On the other hand, she is obsessed with my dad’s sister and her kids and will move mountains to be by their side.

        Honestly? I mostly feel bad that my cousins have to put up with her more than I do. *shrug*

    • toomanybooks

      Yes. I mean, as a kid (and an adult) I was never really close to my grandparents anyway. I don’t associate “grandparent” with “best friend” so much as “old person I like but don’t have much to talk with about.”
      Context: I have learned that I maybe have an Old Dad and his parents passed away by the time I was 10, same with my mom’s dad, and now only my mom’s mom is left. My relationship with her is pretty much to tell her I love her and reassure her that I’m not opening the door for strangers or going out late at night by myself. She will then tell a horrific story she saw on the news as a cautionary tale and maybe slip into Greek. I’d still say I’m closer to her than I ever was to my much more local paternal grandparents. My fiancée’s grandparents are quite different – still very with it and like, networking with their grandkids and talking about PhD programs and their travels. But of course, her family had kids younger so everybody’s younger.

      • Cathi

        I’ve had a very similar experience. I have Old Parents and only one living grandparent who also live far away (and cyclically feuds with my mom every other decade, but that’s a different story). For me, grandparents are just “my parents’ parents” and I don’t feel like my life has been any less rich or full of love than other people’s.

        My husband’s family is a Young Family, everyone having kids by 19 kind of family. His grandparents are younger than my parents! So if anything, my Old Parents are sort of like parents and grandparents bundled into one–the wisdom of the older generation (or w/e) + actually being raised by them

      • AnneM

        I’m not close to any of my grandparents either, although that is mostly because my family just consists of people with huge issues and so in between everybody hating each other, my parents getting divorced and my mom being… difficult, it just never happened (even though I used to see my mom’s parents a lot when I was a kid, now that I think about it… I should probably call them). So I kind of agree with your point, but I also have to say that sometimes I do feel like I’m missing out.

        And I suspect that’s because my nuclear family is also highly disfunctional, so having a close relationship with my grandparents to “even” that out would be nice. So my advice for LW is, you can’t do anything about other people, but you should make sure you’re treating your hypothetical kids right so they won’t have that much need for their grandparents.
        (Also, maybe make sure your fiance does some counseling to figure out if there are any underlying issues from the way his parents are treating him that might play into his way of parenting. I’ll definitely do that if I decide to have kids.)

    • Another Meg

      Oh my goodness, yes. As one of 28 grandchildren (and there were great-grandchildren by the time I was a young kid), I was not super close to my grandfather. There were just so many of us. The rest of my grandparents had passed away by the time I was 2.

      It’s normal to want the absolute best for your kids, but I’m not actually sure it’s super common to have a close relationship with grandparents, especially ones that do not live close by. I feel lucky to have known my grandpa at all, (especially as a child of Old Parents).

      I think the most important thing is that your kids have family who love them. Chosen family, aunties, uncles, cousins, siblings, you and your partner, your parents. The details don’t matter.

      • Lisa

        So true! I’m one of about 50 cousins between the two sides of my family. I was lucky to get birthday cards from my grandparents. Seeing people who have close relationships with their grandparents was always very odd to me.

        I hope that my hypotheticals someday have closer relationships with our parents than I had with my own grandparents, but evidence is showing me that they will be just fine even if they don’t.

        • rg223

          I’ve got 30ish cousins on one side and 5 on the other! Large family high five!

          ETA: given that you LIKE having a large family. Otherwise large family solidarity!

          • Lisa

            Woohoo! My mom is one of nine, and my dad’s the oldest of eleven. My extended family is gigantic, and I honestly couldn’t pick half my cousins out of a line-up.

      • AP

        Absolutely. Even in the same family, relationship dynamics can be different based on proximity and age. I have a close relationship with my maternal grandmother because I was the first grandchild, my mom was a single parent, and my grandma watched me after school every day growing up. I basically considered her another parent for most of my childhood (and as a teen and young adult, I hated how much influence she had over my mom’s parenting decisions!) My cousins, on the other hand, lived a few states away, and while they have a perfectly loving relationship with her, none of them would say that they are close. She certainly didn’t butt into their lives growing up the way she did with me. I don’t think either situation is better than the other, as long as there are loving adults in the kids lives, it will be fine!

    • Sara

      This is very true. My dad was the golden boy of his family but I feel much closer to my mother’s parents. His parents were more interested in my dad than us (though still lovely and wonderful people that I loved very much and miss dearly). You can’t predict how relationships will shake out over time, and previous relationships don’t necessarily impact future ones.

    • JenC

      I’m really close to both sets of my grandparents but I’m still probably closer to one set than the other. It just sort of happens sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or that they don’t love me but circumstances meant I spent more time with one set.

    • Alanna Cartier

      I just wanted to chime in to say, growing up we were much closer with one set of my grandparents. The other set were much more distant and we saw them very infrequently. I never felt like I missed out on something.

    • Lawyerette510

      “They’ll focus on the grandparents they know and love, not the ones far away they barely know. And if they act this way, maybe it’s not such a loss anyway.” This exactly. I hardly knew my paternal grandmother and her husband because they had a history of abuse towards my dad and his siblings and were pretty deep in substance abuse issues. It didn’t strike me as a kid that it was good or bad that my relationship with that part of the family was different than it was with my mom’s parents, because that’s just how it was and I had my mom’s parents plus tons of people from our community who made me feel loved.

      On my mom’s side, my grandfather lived 300 miles away from us (but 1 block from my aunt and cousins) and my maternal grandmother lived 3 blocks away from us, while my uncle and his kids lived 2,000 miles from either grandparent. Well, no shocker, my sister and I are closest to my grandma, my aunt’s kids were closest to my grandpa, and my uncle’s kids weren’t particularly close to either grandparent. Now that we are all adults, I can see how there was (and still is) some jealousy between my mom and her siblings, but nothing about the situation struck me as a negative or a loss.

  • Lisa

    If you live as far away as you say you do from your in-laws, then your future kids probably won’t even realize they’re being treated unequally. It’s not like you’ll be going to cousins’ birthday parties and seeing that the in-laws are giving gifts that are more lavish, and they won’t notice that their cousins get more visits than they do. You will know it’s there, but the kids will not.

    If they do notice, you could encourage them to reach out proactively when they’re old enough if they want a closer relationship with their grandparents. If that doesn’t go over well, it becomes time for a lesson about how sometimes people disappoint us, and we have to learn to accept what they’re willing to give or move on.

  • Kaitlyn

    I don’t have any additional advice, but my sister-in-law T has this problem with her dad and stepmother. They always choose her step-siblings over her and her sister. They only live 20 minutes from my sister-in-law and her family, but they never see my nieces. They even chose to skip my nieces’ first birthday this year to start their vacation at their cabin earlier (as in they went up the night before they were planning to leave, rather than going to the birthday party). My T’s mother lives on the other side of the country, so while they talk on the phone quite often, they only see each other about once a year.

    My parents have ended up being the main grandparents, even to T’s sister’s son (who doesn’t know my parents aren’t actually his grandparents, but he’s 7 and no one feels it’s necessary to explain that to him). In all honesty, I don’t think it’s negatively affected my nieces at all. They’re still surrounded by love and my parents rarely miss anything regarding them so I don’t think they notice the lack of second grandparents.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      You’re folks are the 7yo’s grandparents in the way that matters. :)

  • Sarah

    Equal love from all parties in a child’s life is not a realistic goal. As Liz said – and I think this is SO IMPORTANT – you can’t control other people’s relationships. Any future kids will have their own relationships with other people and some will be good and some won’t. That’s life.

    I suspect you’re a smart lady who actually knows this is true. So I wonder– is there a deeper issue here? Are you maybe afraid your wedding won’t get the attention it deserves from them? Are you jealous of their relationship with the half-siblings? I’d just gently like to poke at that issue. You’re not married yet, and kids are future, hypothetical kids at this point. Is there a more immediate issue that’s causing you some heartache?

  • Sarah M

    I’m significantly closer to my mom’s parents than my dad’s. I grew up with both of them; my mom’s lived 30 minutes away and my dad’s were about an hour away. My parents made a lot of effort to ensure we saw both sets as equally as possible. I never really felt differently about my grandparents until I got older when I started picking up on a lot of messed up BS from my dad’s parents. My dad’s parents play favorites a lot with their kids and it’s even apparent in the grandkids they “prefer.”

    Now as a 27-year-old woman, I’m incredibly close with my maternal grandparents and have zero contact with my dad’s entire immediate family. I never noticed the dynamic when I was a kid and never felt “less loved” than my cousins, but now I see it and made a personal choice to refuse any contact with them. Would it be nice if they didn’t play favorites with their kids or grandkids? Sure. Did growing up with that kind of dynamic on one half of my family adversely affect me? I don’t think it did at all. My “family” is made up of the people who love and support me whether there’s a biological connection or not – and I no longer consider my dad’s family as part of “my family” despite biology. I never struggled with whether or not to include my dad’s parents in my life and never regretted my decision to cut ties even for a moment. Luckily it doesn’t sound like the grandparents in question for this thread would be nearly as toxic as my dad’s parents, but all of this is just to say your future kids will still be just fine even if their grandparents don’t love all of their grandkids equally.

    TL:DR – I grew up with a set of grandparents who openly played favorites and turned out just fine; I just don’t talk to them anymore.

  • Mrrpaderp

    This situation sounds so very disappointing, but I agree with Liz that talking to them is unlikely to be fruitful. It seems like LW is feeling very sad for her fiancé and she’s letting that sadness sort of snowball. Worrying about the hypothetical relationship that your hypothetical future children will have with his parents seems to fall into this category. LW is way borrowing tomorrow’s problems. Her focus today should be supporting her fiancé.

    You never know what tomorrow will bring. Maybe the wedding will bring fiance closer to his parents. Maybe they will be awesome grandparents despite being less than awesome parents. Maybe folks will move around the country. You just can’t know. I don’t want to seem dismissive of LW’s feelings because I can totally understand how distressing it must be to see your fiancé hurting and to worry about what that will mean for the future. Sometimes though you have to take life one step at a time – something all of us need to be reminded about at times.

  • Jess

    You can’t force anybody to love you, your partner, or your (currently hypothetical) children more.

    You can, if you wish, when behavior becomes apparent, say to them, “Hey. This is a thing going on. I’m not very happy about it and wish it could be different.” but there isn’t much you can actually do to force a change.

    Realistically, we all have family members that love us in different ways at different levels. Sometimes it’s because we just connect with their personality better and sometimes it’s because there are bigger family politics.

  • Danielle

    My grandpa has definitely favored my cousin through most of my life, and I didn’t really notice/care until my father (his son) brought it up in a really hurt way when I was younger.

    I love my parents (even though my dad didn’t need to address his problems in front of me when I was a kid). Didn’t need my grandpa to be my #1 BFF. I mean, he was there for me and my sister in some really good ways, like drove us to school, babysat us when we were sick, but was not as close to us as he was to my cousin.

    And we are fine. And I actually think their relationship is wierdly close, and not something I would like in my life at all.

  • Alexandra

    It strikes me as a good learning experience for the kids–how to honor a relationship while at the same time having realistic expectations and setting good boundaries. This is a big part of our dynamic with the respective grandparents of our children. My in-laws are a lot healthier, mentally, and easier to be around than my mom. We honor my mom’s role as grandmother by speaking highly about her to our children, keeping her in the loop, making sure she is invited to participate in their lives, but also not allowing her to do anything damaging. We don’t have any idea of trying to manage her so that she’ll be “as loving” as my in-laws. She’s doing the best she can with the emotional resources she has.

  • CatHerder

    Real Talk Question: Does anyone have a family where all love and time is spent equally between kids/grandkids? Because that sounds really weird to me. Some people need more time. Or you get along with them better. Or they live down the street. Or someone has a smelly house despite being a nice person so you only see them when they and you happen to be at the same parties (Sorry Aunt Mag if you are reading this despite not having internet and have guessed that last one was about you).

    • Violet

      Yeah, and let’s not forget that it goes both ways, so all the better to cut everyone some slack. If my father got mad that I wasn’t as close to his mother, who lived a flight away, smoked (so she smelled bad), and rarely came to visit us, than my mom’s mother, who lived three minutes away, cuddled us, cooked us delicious food, played games with us…. then I’d be pretty annoyed. People are allowed to choose how close they feel to people. As long as they’re not actively being cruel (as sofar says), then this is normal.

    • Lan

      This is definitely true but can definitely be tough/impacted sometimes if there are socioeconomic differences.

      For instance, it would be very easy for my kids to be closer to my parents because they can afford to visit more often (they have a second home near us), buy them more toys, take them on vacations, etc. We have to make a very conscious effort to make their time with my husband’s parents equivalent (if not exactly equal). It would be very heartbreaking all around if our kids were closer to my parents due to circumstances out of my in-laws’ control, but it happens all the time.

      Not that relationships will or won’t happen organically, but I do think parents need to make more of an effort in this situation, rather than saying that chips fall as they will.

      (Not that you’re saying that! Just noting that certain aspects can make this more complicated than just, ‘Kids see one grandparent more often, therefore kids are closer’ without taking certain factors into account.)

  • Violet

    Playing favorites compared to whom, is the question. LW, you say you’re worried that the kids’ paternal grandparents won’t be as close to them as their maternal grandparents are. But that kind of set-up happens all the time. Not like I know how to quantify love or closeness, but even if you could measure it, what are the odds of four grandparents all displaying the exact same amount? Close to zero. Maybe some of your grandparents were already deceased when you were a kid, so you don’t have personal experience with the imbalance of closeness most people feel among different grandparents (and hell, family members in general). The imbalance is so common and a non-issue, I was actually surprised this was the question.

    Where I thought you were gonna go with it was that your kids would feel slighted when they compare how their paternal grandparents treat them compared to the other grandkids. This would have the potential for hurt feelings, if they were to take it personally. But they live so far away, your kids aren’t gonna notice for years (if ever) that there’s an imbalance going on. If and when they do, at that point, Liz’s advice kicks in.

    I totally get how much it must hurt to see them not treat your fiancé as well as they do their other adult children. But applying that hurt to a future grandkids scenario is just not an apples to apples comparison. Feelings are weird things- I think in this case, your hurt on your fiance’s behalf got channeled into a strange place.

  • rg223

    I actually have grandparents who favor children who are not my parents (on both sides, though it’s more obvious on my dad’s side (he is the middle child) than my mom’s (she is one of 11, so there are a lot of of kids who aren’t anyone’s favorites, unfortunately).

    My parents handled it by A) ignoring it when we were younger and then B) being very upfront about it when we were older (like 11 or 12) and the family dynamic became very obvious. I am very happy they handled it that way, because by not drawing my attention to it when I was younger, I built a good relationship with my grandparents even though I’m not “the favorite.” Although, my sister and I are in the middle of the pack when it comes to favoritism, so I might feel differently if I was one of the LEAST favorites.

    A couple other thoughts: the favoritism in my family affected my parent’s relationships with their siblings FAR more than it affected my relationship with either set of grandparents. My mom was, I’m told, her dad’s favorite (he passed when I was young), and she has the most trouble getting along with my aunt, who was my grandmother’s favorite, but seems to be carrying some baggage towards my mom about their father. And my dad has had contentious relationships at times with both of his brothers. My point being: focus on NOT playing favorites as parents, moreso than how your parents treat your kids.

    And also: “not playing favorites” is not always the same as “treating all kids the same.” My sister is hard of hearing as has always received more “attention” from my parents – but they always made it clear to me that this was because of her additional needs. Time spent with us was definitely unequal, but I never felt it was because my sister was the favorite. That’s a very specific situation, but I think it applies to families with all-typical children as well – there’s ways to balance attention to have everyone’s needs met, but not create an unequal power dynamic.

    • Ashlah

      Absolutely. I was the favorite growing up, and it’s caused problems in my sibling relationships.

    • Jess

      Argh! This reminds me very much about how my mom made my relationship with both my grandparents about *her* relationship with my them by talking about all the wrongs they’d done her, etc. once I was about 10.

      I went from “Yay! Grandparent!” to “Not Supposed to Like Grandparent” very quickly, and I really feel like I missed out on having a relationship with them coming back from that.

      If it works out that the grandparents are showing overt favoritism and you need to talk to kids about it, make sure that the conversation is centered around how much they are still loved rather than “Grandparent did X, Y, and Z for them and obviously loves Brother M and his children more than your father and you.”

      • rg223

        Ugh, I’m sorry that conversation with your mom worked out liked that. I don’t know that this would be true for everyone, but my parents tone was very matter-of-fact, like “Yes, Grandparents have favorites. They had favorite kids too. It sucks, and it’s not about you” — which actually was very helpful to me. I didn’t take it personally at all, and my thought process was basically: “Okay, this is how they are. They have this fault, but they still care about me, so it’s okay.” But, my grandparents also never compared or pitted any of us against each other. Their favoritism was showing more attention and slightly better gift-giving.

        • Jess

          That is so much of a better way to put it! Highly recommended.

    • Elisabeth N

      I was just coming to say something similar. I’m a child of divorce, and as a kid it always felt like my step-mom’s parents never had time for us. They didn’t actively shun us, but we wouldn’t be included in the holiday cookie baking party, for example. It was partly complicated by the fact that we weren’t around as much as the other grandkids (spending time with my mom), but it still hurt.

      I wish my parents had been more upfront about the disparity, as you said, addressing it explicitly when we were older with us. I always felt petty bringing it up, so I never did, and it resulted in some resentment in my sister. I think that could have been a really helpful learning opportunity for us about relationships and families.

      • Ashlah

        I had some rough realizations about my step-grandparents as a kid too, exacerbated by the fact that my siblings were their biological grandchildren, whom they adored. They sometimes tried to fake it, especially when we were really young, but that honestly just made it worse when their true feelings became obvious later on. Solidarity.

  • JenC

    I’m close to both sets of my grandparents and I’m extremely fortunate to have reached the age of 26 with all four still alive. My parents divorced when I was a baby and so I spent a lot more time with my maternal grandparents than my paternal ones. I still saw my paternal grandparents once a week but I saw my maternal grandparents everyday. I’d say I’m closer to my maternal grandparents because of that.

    On my maternal grandparents side, I’m one of two grandchildren and I’m not the favourite. With my paternal grandparents I’m one of eight grandchildren and I’m the favourite. Being the favourite or not the favourite doesn’t actually affect the closeness of my relationship with my grandparents. I think you can recognise that you’re not the favourite but still have a close relationship. Especially as you only start to pick up on favourites as you get older, at which point you’ve already formed relationships.

    I get where the LW is coming from. My inlaws favour my brother in law over my husband. All. The. Time. It upsets me so much because they miss how great he is but they do still love him. And you know what part of how he’s so great is because he’s not the favourite. His kindness is from always helping his brother. His independence is from always used to doing something for himself rather than relying on his parents. And his ambition and drive come from being held to higher standards than his brother.

  • JC

    This is (or will be) a learning experience for your kids, for sure, and they might also learn that it’s ok for relationships to change over time. It may very well be that their grandparents don’t give them much love and attention in the early years– but who knows after that? My grandparents from far away loved me fiercely, but they never got the chance to know me as an adult. My closer grandparents took a long time to warm up to grandparenthood, and their eventual affection for small children never included me. But as an adult, I’ve found really great relationships with both of them. Families are complicated, and that doesn’t stop with grandparenthood.

  • Cellistec

    “My future in-laws have not always treated my future husband fairly, especially in the time that we have been together.” This is the key sentence for me–I feel like the future hypothetical grandkids are a proxy here. My husband has a similar relationships with his parents, in that they fawn over his (unemployed, living at home mooch of a) brother while nothing my husband does is ever good enough. And for us, what matters are his feelings about how he’s treated. We don’t have kids yet; we’ll deal with their relationship to these grandparents when it actually exists. What’s important now is that my husband deal with his feelings so that resentment volcano doesn’t continue to build up. If his parents turn out to treat our future children well, that still won’t make up for how they currently treat my husband.

    Therapy is working wonders for him. It might work for LW’s fiance too.

    • ART

      Agree 100%, and as someone with a difficult relationship with a parent (or two…), setting my own realistic expectations about our relationship and helping my husband understand what my expectations from that parent are has been the key to being OK with it instead of constantly disappointed.

    • Amanda L

      This is along the same lines as my thought…. is she upset on her fiance’s behalf? Or is her fiance upset about his relationship? If it’s the latter, then it’s something that he needs to address, either with his dad or through therapy. If it’s the former, then LW could try to refocus her thoughts elsewhere, since it’s not bothering her fiance.

  • macrain

    My grandmother passed away when I was very young, and my grandfather married again and embraced his new wife’s family. This meant that me and my sisters were not very close to him. And honestly- it was fine. I don’t feel at all hurt by it, it was just the way things were. I do have lovely memories of my grandparents on the other side that I hold dear.

  • Nell

    I kind of sort of disagree with Liz’s advice.

    It’s eating you up inside – and possibly your fiance? – that your in laws aren’t good at hiding their bias toward their other children. So, what WOULD feel fair to you? To your fiance? If they visited once in a while? Once a year? Called you on holidays? Rather than focus on those future grandkids – why not focus on building a trusting relationship now?

    It IS hurtful that they haven’t visited you and the man you are going to marry at your home. I have felt those feels and they are awful. So you can tell them (or he can tell them), “hey, it would mean a lot to me if you guys would come and see our place. we really want to share it with you.” (Provided your partner wants them there. . .)

    Also, I hope your husband’s mom is still around. She’s also an in-law!

    • Eh

      I agree with working on defining a relationship now instead of waiting until kids/grandkids are in the picture. No one can force someone else to change their behavior but they can do things on their end to improve the relationship. For example, my SIL used to come over to our place and complain that we had no pictures of her family in our house but tons of my brother and sister’s families. My husband explained that my siblings give us picture and he said that if my BIL/SIL gave us pictures that we would display them in our house. My husband was very firm about this for a few months and my BIL/SIL never gave us any pictures during that time (but still occasionally commented on the lack of pictures of their family). I was pretty sick of this stalemate and I printed some pictures of my BIL/SIL’s family that I got off my SIL’s FB. My BIL/SIL have still never given us pictures of their children and it still irks my husband (my SIL posted the proofs of my niece’s school pictures and my husband asked if we were going to get a picture).

      The relationship might seem one sided (for example, the couple calling the in-laws on holidays) but if that’s the level of relationship they want they might need to put more effort in to get it. They also might get to the point where they don’t want to put the extra effort in and the relationship might slide a bit.

  • Lmba

    You can talk to the in-laws about how they are treating you/your family if you feel hurt and think it will be helpful. What you can’t do is expected t your kids’ experiences of both sides of the family to be the same. That will never happen, regardless of the specific dynamics. Your children will have relatives they are close to, relatives they have a positive-but-not-intimate relationship with, and ones who they have little meaningful relationship to period. That’s just realistic.

    If the in-laws are treating your kids badly, your job is to protect them from that. As of right now, they haven’t treated your kids any way because you don’t have any yet. When you eventually do, you need to think about whether your kid is being hurt or whether YOU (by “you,” I mean either parent) mare being hurt. In scenario A, you protect your kid, most likely by processing the experience with them and then setting boundaries on future contact with those relatives. In scenario B, you process your own emotions and decide how you want to proceed (either by having a conversation about how YOU are hurt by in-laws and working with them toward healing the relationship OR by setting boundaries for your relationship with them). Your relationship to them is not your kids’ relationship s to them, and it’s important not to assume/project onto what children are feeling/experiencing.

    There’s everything I know about becoming a parent, right there.

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Yes to the fact that you can’t expect your childrens’ experiences of both sides of the family to be the same! I grew up in a family where everyone got along pretty well, and I had good relationships with both sides of the family, but those relationships sure didn’t look the same!
      My Dad was super close with his parents, both geographically and emotionally. They lived mere blocks away from us, and we saw them several times a week. He was also very close with his sister, so even though she lived two hours away, we saw her and her kids about once a month.
      On the other hand, my while my mom had a happy relationship with her mother and two siblings, they weren’t quite as close geographically or emotionally. They all lived two hours away, and we maybe saw that grandmother 4-6 times a year. My mom’s siblings lived in the same town as Grandma, but we didn’t see them every time we saw Grandma, so I usually saw those cousins a handful of times per year.
      And you know what? Those relationships were all wonderful in their own ways! In fact, the relationships with my dad’s side of the family have been far more fraught over the years than the one’s with my mom’s side for that very reason! It turns out that when you see one another on a regular basis, there’s a lot of potential for personality clashes and fights over who got in trouble for The Broken Vase Incident of 1994. On the other hand, while I’m not quite as emotionally close with my mom’s side, we all get along a lot better. Because those visits were imbued with a bit of novelty, it didn’t matter that Aunt Susan and I have the same headstrong personality, nor did we have time to notice whether Grandma always seemed to gush over David’s stick figure drawing a little more than everyone else’s.

  • mooncaf276

    Another voice chiming in that it’s not uncommon to be closer to one set of grandparents than another. Years and years ago, my paternal grandparents Strongly Disapproved of my dad marrying my mom, a divorced woman with two kids, and didn’t bother to hide it. This meant that my parents basically allowed geography to take its course – we were all close to my maternal grandparents and spent holidays with them, and we visited my dad’s parents one afternoon every summer to make small talk about the weather and the beach. My dad was good about sending letters and photos, but there was no way either he or my mom would have considered spending valuable holiday time with his side of the family other than the designated summer trip once a year. LW, it took me upwards of *30 years* to notice my paternal grandparents’ less than wonderful qualities and our relative distance from them, thanks to my parents setting boundaries. To be fair, they encouraged me to have a relationship with them and I have some fond memories of them, though I would guess my mom didn’t have many, and no doubt my dad had a complex relationship with them. The advice here is good – let the enthusiastic grandparents, family friends, and community be a part of your children’s lives and it will take care of itself. As an adult I can appreciate that my paternal grandparents were interesting people apart from their mostly honorary ‘grandparent’ role.

  • Eh

    Addressing the issue probably won’t help and might just make them defensive. My BIL and his family limited their visits with my in-laws over how my in-laws treated his wife and his step-daughters (compared to his bio-daughter). My in-laws were furious and said that they treated all of the girls the same and that they didn’t treat his wife poorly. They scapegoated my SIL all the time and treated their biological granddaughter totally different than the other two girls and hid behind the fact that she was a baby (she was 2 or 3 at this point). My BIL and SIL wanted to have mediated talks with them about the situation but my in-laws refused because they felt that they weren’t the problem. My BIL and SIL eventually decided that having a relationship with my in-laws was important to them. Three years later, my in-laws are better with how they treat my SIL and her older daughters (who my BIL recently adopted).

  • Slightly different point: I hope that one day if you do have children and you are still unhappy with this relationship, that you don’t influence your children that way.

    I love my mother dearly, but my paternal grandparents didn’t get along well with her. They also weren’t as involved in our lives as my maternal grandparents, but we still saw them regularly, and she NEVER missed a chance to bring all those issues up to us/around us.

    Even now, years after they’ve both died, she can’t let it go. As a young child, I knew it wasn’t healthy and felt so bad for my dad. As an adult, I straight up tell her she needs to let it go and to respect her husband and not talk badly of his dead parents.

    So please, unless there needs to be an explanation, please don’t put that on your future kids.

    • raccooncity

      This exact same thing and same dynamic existed for me. It was really hard to hear someone dislike people who were 50% of my personality and genetics. Regardless of how my dad felt about it even, it felt bad to me as a little one.

  • Loran

    If this has been going on for a long time, they may not know their son (and you by extension) that well, and I know that I make more of an effort to see people I know well than people I don’t. If you want to be closer to someone, the best advice I have is to let them in. Maybe email or call with updates more often. Talk about how great it would be to see them more. How much you would love them to see your town, your home, etc. Send pics of renovations or adventures. Share movie or book reviews. Relationships go both ways – if they feel like he picked his mom over his dad, they may not know there’s dissatisfaction on this end of the relationship.

    • Keri

      Yeah, i was wondering if they appear closer to the other children because those children are younger and perhaps needier, which then fosters more of a reciprocal relationship. Judging by the comments that the fiance is a hard worker/noncomplainer, that leads me to believe that he is pretty independent. Often people are closer simply because they spend more time together.

  • NotMotherTheresa

    No two relationships in any family are going to be exactly the same. Parents have favorite kids. Grandparents have favorite kids. Aunts and uncles and cousins will all have their favorites. Different personalities will mesh differently.
    Ideally, your future husband’s parents would be 100% fair at all times, but that’s almost never how families work. I had (and fortunately still do have) wonderful grandparents, but as an adult, I realize that they had favorites among their children. My paternal grandparents preferred my aunt over my dad, and my mom’s parents viewed her as their golden child. They both always tried to keep things as fair as possible, but still, as adult, you can tell.
    I also don’t have the same relationship with both sets of grandparents. Growing up, my dad’s parents lived just a few blocks away, so we saw them all of the time. Those were the grandparents who took us to the park and cared for us when we were home sick from school and baked cookies. My mom’s parents lived two hours away, and even though she was their favorite child, they still weren’t as emotionally close with her as my dad was with his parents, so we didn’t see them nearly as often. A couple of times a year, they’d come up to visit us, and a couple of times a year we’d go down to visit them. They did not bake us cookies or take care of us when we were sick, but they DID take us out to whatever restaurant we wanted to eat at, and they bought us the cool stuff at the mall that our parents would have said no to!
    You know what? Both of those relationships were awesome in their own way!
    Also, having seen both sides of the favoritism issue, your fiance may not exactly be missing out. At least in my family, the role of “favorite” tends to be pretty fraught–there’s greater closeness, but there are also higher standards and a lot more conflict. I know that my mom always felt like her parents’ eyes were forever looking for imperfections of hers to criticize, while giving her three siblings significantly more space to make their own mistakes. In my own family, I’m seeing it all over again, as my parents hold their golden child (my younger sister) to a significantly higher standard than they do the rest of us. As a kid, I was a little jealous, but as an adult, there’s no way I’d want to be the favorite!

  • BDubs

    Holy moly cannoli. All the feels.
    I have a similar issue with my in-laws. My hubs is a wonderful and fascinating person, but ever since he hit puberty, it seems like they have regarded him with a benignant neglect. When they divorced in his early 20s, his mom moved across country. Now he rarely sees his mother because she refuses to come visit and “doesn’t have time” to call more than maybe twice a year. His father is just out to lunch and self-involved.
    Now that we’ve been married a year the baby carriage is calling, and I feel irrationally angry and hurt that my hypothetical babies will never have a grandmother because my mother died and his is… well… My father is still around and involved, so that’s something.
    Sigh. How can anyone not be bothered to see their son on his milestone birthday or even send a card? Or just assume that any inconvenience of travel, money, and time is OUR job to give (seemingly) 100%? He is such a good guy, how can his own mother seem to be content with never knowing him?
    Rawr.

  • RageFace

    This is the worst, though. I kind of have the same issue with Mr Rage’s mother (his father passed away recently) – everyone ADORES and DOTES on his sister (who is my age) because she is a flight attendant and because her jet-setting life is so “brave and glamorous” while the rest of us “losers” (fiancé and I) chose to wither our lives away in our shitty home-country, despite both of us being business owners and homeowners and busting our asses to make it on our own.

    It’s really crappy knowing that nothing my fiancé can ever do will be as good as his little sister.

  • Melissa Standard

    I lived through this. Long story short my dad’s parents and my mom’s parents did not not get along. My parents decided to have my older sister’s christening after-party at my dad’s parents then when I came along they decided to have my christening after party at my mom’s parents and dad’s parents chose to shun me…a baby… for 4 years. I literally met my paternal grandparents when I was 4 years old and after my paternal grandfather died when I was 8 my paternal grandmother clearly favoured my sister and one other cousin greatly. To the point where one Christmas my sister was given over $100 in clothes and gift cards to a mall and I was literally given a couple of bags of candy she picked up on the way there… I am not exaggerating. My parents had to set down a rule if she wanted to contribute to birthdays and christmases for us she had to do so equally and had to give my parents the money and they purchased gifts for us. I wondered for years why Grandma Jean got me some bomb-ass presents after the whole gas-station candy deal until I realized it had been my mom picking the gifts. My Grandma Jean also never invited me over to visit. I visited her twice in one year while my sister was invited at least once a month. And when I was there she always just sent me out to walk her dog or (literally) water her lawn. My sister got taken on day trips and shopping.
    Later on my parents divorced and my paternal grandmother made that side of the family shun us grandkids. Instantly we stopped getting birthday or christmas cards and no gift and no phone calls. I was 11 at the time. This continued up until she died when I was 15.

    The happy ending: My maternal grandparents MORE than made up for it. They were the perfect grandparents. I love my maternal grandma dearly and very much miss my maternal grandpa (he passed away a few years ago). I suggest don’t try to force your fiance’s parents, it’s never going to work to try to force someone to love and care about someone and even so it won’t be genuine. Focus on the people who DO want to love you and make an effort. Just have your side of the family spread their love a little further and while it may not heal things it will definitely make for much better memories.