Grandparents Show Favoritism

What's the best way to handle grandparents who play favorites? For many years my parents have been partial to our oldest child. At first their favoritism showed itself in small ways, but now our youngest child has noticed and is beginning to ask questions. How can we best address this situation?

Your first priority is to affirm and reassure your youngest child. Sometimes complaints of this nature can be attributed to childish misunderstanding, in which case they’re fairly easy to address. But since you’ve confirmed his perceptions it’s clear that a problem really does exist. We think you should start by validating his observations. Don’t brush him off or minimize his emotions. Instead, let him know that you’ve seen signs of favoritism as well. You want to avoid casting blame on the grandparents, but you should make it clear that this is an important family issue that needs attention. Pledge yourself to serve as your child’s advocate and to address his concerns in a fair and balanced way.

Hopefully this can be accomplished by means of a good-natured, non-defensive family discussion. We’d suggest that you and your spouse arrange a meeting with your parents. Perhaps it would be a good idea to take them out for a meal at a nice restaurant. After dinner, begin by telling your mom and dad how much you love them and appreciate their interest and involvement in your kids’ lives. Make specific mention of some positive contributions they’ve made to your children’s upbringing.

Once you’ve set the right tone for the conversation, go on to explain that your youngest child has been noticing that Grandma and Grandpa are a bit partial to your oldest child. Don’t state this in an accusatory fashion. Instead, focus on your younger child’s feelings and perceptions. Let your mom and dad 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 favoritism, 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. Our advice to you in the meantime is to sit tight and be patient.

If, on the other hand, they react in anger, there may be deeper boundary issues below the surface. Under such circumstances, 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, a pastor, or even a qualified family therapist. Finally, in extreme cases where grandparents continue to display blatant partiality or refuse to cooperate despite your best efforts, 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.

If you feel further guidance would be helpful in this situation, we’d like to invite you to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. After discussing your concerns with you over the phone, they will be happy to provide you with referrals to licensed family counselors in your area.


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