'It's soul destroying': When grandparents play favourites

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

We all know that parents aren't supposed to play favourites, (despite research suggesting we probably do). But what happens when it's grandparents who have a favourite child? That's the question one mum posed to the parenting forum Mumsnet, admitting that her mother-in-law's preference for her son over her daughter is "killing" her.

"It's no secret that she gets on with men better than women and likes boys over girls," the poster wrote.  "Hence why I've never really had a relationship with her, nor do her daughters and other granddaughters." The distraught mum shared that while her mother-in-law adores her little boy, she "mainly ignores" her daughter. 

And it's breaking her heart.

"It's soul destroying to see my little girl sat there in the corner and watch her brother get all the attention," she wrote.

Her behaviours, the poster explained, aren't subtle either.

When she visits the home, the poster said that her mother-in-law will often ignore her daughter, walking straight past her to find her son.  "I've caught her many times kiss my daughter and son goodbye, and turn her back to my daughter even though both children are standing next to each other. She will literally sometimes call my son over for a kiss while she's next to the front door, and not my daughter," she said.

The poster also shared that when her mother-in-law went away on holiday she sent a text to her husband about the things he bought for her son, with no mention of any gifts for her daughter.

"I get that you can't help who you love most, but does it have to be so obvious?" she wrote.The mum added that her mother-in-law's behaviour is also starting to affect her little girl. "It's gone to the point now where nine out of ten times when MIL comes round, my daughter doesn't want to be around her and just follows me around the house," she said. 

"Please tell me this is not normal and I'm not overreacting?"

Forum users were quick to condemn the mother-in-law's behaviour, labelling it "disgusting", "damaging" and "poisonous".

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"Intentional or unintentional, this is emotional abuse for your daughter," wrote another. "Don't let this continue. Confront MIL and give her a chance to make amends, if she is unwilling to enjoy her grandkids equally then she is no longer allowed to visit."

But while many felt the mother-in-law was firmly to blame, others placed the blame on the mum herself.

"The person who is most at fault here is YOU," one woman wrote. "YOU have allowed it to happen since the children were born. Why? 4 YEARS is a long time to just let this happen."

Another commenter shared that being ostracised as a child can have long-lasting consequences.

"My nan doted on my brother and also my older sister (who was the golden child - brilliant at school, talented, funny, pretty and so on)," she wrote. "Nan told me (when I was old enough to understand) that I was a mistake. Not planned, not expected, not wanted." And, despite having lost her grandmother over 40 years ago, it's something she still remembers, "almost daily". "I'm in my 60's now," she added. "Please don't allow this. It hurts."

In an updated comment, the poster shared that she and her husband were in the process of separating. "This is one of the reasons why our marriage broke down," she wrote. "He is a mummy's boy and he is one of those men who cannot stand up to their mothers, who would rather bury their head in the sand than confront her."

The poster said she would talk to her mother-in-law when she next comes around to visit and call her on her behaviour. "If she continues, I'll just have to take my daughter out when she's due to visit. What else can I do with a husband who doesn't support me in this?"

Reassuring forums users that she was standing up for her kids, she said, "I am protecting my children by moving out, by removing them from the situation and limiting contact with this woman. I'm moving out soon."

A recent Mumsnet survey, conducted in conjunction with sister site Gransnet, found that 42 per cent of grandparents have a favourite grandchild. For 39 per cent of grandparents, it was the eldest who was the apple of their eye. When it came to gender, grandparents have a slight preference for their only granddaughters (16 per cent) while 10 per cent said their favourite was their only grandson.

Half of Gransnet users admit that having a favourite child is 'awful', while 56 per cent believe it's harmful for the favourite child's siblings.

"Favouritism is one of the last taboos and can provoke a lot of guilt, so it's important to say that feeling a greater affinity for a particular child - often, whichever one is willing to put their shoes on - is fairly common, and doesn't have to be disastrous," said Gransnet founder Justine Roberts. "Toxic favouritism, where siblings become aware of being treated unfairly over the long term, is a whole other ball game. The distilled Mumsnet wisdom on this issue is that lots of parents like their children differently: the crucial thing is to love them all wholly.'