Q: What’s the best way to handle grandparents who play favourites? My parents are partial to our oldest child and our youngest child has noticed and is beginning to ask questions.
A: Your first priority is to affirm and reassure your youngest child. Let him know that you’ve seen signs of favouritism as well. Avoid blaming the grandparents, but make it clear that this is an issue that needs attention.
Hopefully you can address it by means of a good-natured, non-defensive discussion with your parents. Begin by telling them how much you appreciate their interest and involvement in your children’s lives, and point out some positive contributions they’ve made to your children’s upbringing. Once you’ve set the right tone, explain your concerns. Let them know that while you’re certain that they’ve always acted from the best of intentions, some of their words and actions have nevertheless been hurtful to your youngest child. Ask them to help you find a way to counteract this unintended effect.
They may deny the charge of favouritism, in which case you should thank them for listening and let the matter drop. It’s possible that after a period of sober reflection they’ll come to see the sense of your words and quietly make the necessary changes.
If, however, they react in anger, there may be deeper boundary issues below the surface. If so, you may want to invite them to discuss the problem with you in the presence of an objective third party — a good friend, a disinterested relative, or even a qualified family therapist. Finally, in extreme cases where grandparents refuse to cooperate, it may be necessary for you to limit the amount of time they spend with your children – at least until they begin to take some positive steps in the right direction.
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