How to deal with grandparent favouritism

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While we'd like to believe our parents and parents-in-law feel the same love for each of their grandchildren, this isn't always the case.

In fact, it's quite common for parents to feel that their children's grandparents show favouritism towards one of the kids.

Whether this is hurtful or painful to your child may depend on the circumstances, how the favouritism is shown, and your child's personality.

Jacinta knows the pain, as her child's grandparents – her in-laws – have a clear preference for other children in the family.   

"It's really upsetting, especially the gifts – not only money, but the thoughtfulness, care, time and effort put into different kids," she says.

"You can really see a difference."

After years of dealing with the situation, Jacinta says she's still working on how to handle it, but is coming to terms with it.

"I have to just try and be okay with the fact that my family give my daughter all the love she needs, and that I have some special friends that also act like surrogate grandparents. And it will be enough," she says.

Parenting expert and psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip says there are several reasons grandparents favour one child, or sibling set of children, over others. These include the facts that:

  • the child may be the specific gender they wanted
  • the child may remind them of their own child when young
  • they have a specific connection in personality or areas of interest
  • they may have more of a connection with the grandchildren they see more
  • the child may be the offspring of their favoured child.

Alternatively, a child may fall to the bottom of the list if their grandparents find them challenging and they're unable to manage the child's active mind or body.

But one thing is certain: if it's your parents-in-law who are being obvious about their favourite grandchild, get your partner to talk to them about it – it's not your job.

"Communicate the issue you believe is occurring. The child of the grandparent really needs to broach the topic, not the in-law," says Dr Phillip.

It's also important to try and avoid pointing the finger, and instead come up with possible ways to deal with it together. Dr Phillip suggests, "Have a solution worked out, rather than just discussing the problem. This may mean suggesting the grandparent spend equal time doing activities or caring for all grandchildren."

Unfortunately this approach didn't work for Hilary, who says talking about it flared things up even more. "They will dole out money and precious belongings to all the other grandkids and great-grandkids and mine get nothing," she says. "I once pointed it out and we ended up having a huge fight about it."

Jennifer, who's now a mum herself, remembers her grandparents having favoured children when she was little – and she was not one of them. She says that in her situation, it was noticeable but not damaging.

"My nan favoured my cousins over my brother and I," she says. "Did I notice it? Yes, once I was old enough. But to be honest, my brother and I quickly realised she wasn't going to change and there was nothing we could do about it.

"My parents never over compensated for it, they just made sure we knew they loved us unconditionally. And really, that's all that matters."

Dr Phillip agrees with this sentiment. "Remember that you can't change another person – you can only change yourself and your responses," she advises. "You may need to accept the grandparent as the person they are, tolerate their favouritism, and ensure your children get the attention from you and others if are not the favoured ones."

After all, sometimes you have to just accept the personalities you're dealing with and just do the best you can with the family you have.