DEAR AMY: My husband and I have three children. The oldest is almost 4, and we have 2-year-old twins. My husband’s sister has a teenage son. When our oldest son “Robby” was born, it became apparent that he was becoming my mother-in-law’s “favorite.” My sister-in-law kept pointing out this obvious favoritism, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her. Now, my husband and I have two other children in the picture, which my mother-in-law continues to ignore. Oh, she plays with them when she comes to visit. But every weekend she asks to take our oldest for a night or two and never asks the other two to come over. She buys gifts for “Robby,” but not the other grandchildren. About a month ago, she asked if she could take our oldest on vacation for a week. I told her no. I wasn’t comfortable with that. She did not speak to my husband or me for two weeks. While she was on vacation, she made a snide comment on my Facebook page that “her boy” should be with her. The other day, when she brought him home from an overnight stay, she said to him, “Come give me a kiss and hug, because you are my favorite.” Our younger two might not understand what that means now, but it’s still not right. I think my husband should handle this. He and I agree this is an issue, but he never talks to her about it. Any advice on how I can handle this without starting a family war?
DEAR WORRIED: You and your husband should handle this together, because if your mother-in-law senses any breach in your family wall, she will manipulate it to her advantage.
You know that overt favoritism is damaging to your family system — it is also not healthy for the child being favored because it throws off the emotional balance in the household. Favored children often feel bewildered and guilty about their status. Put a stop to this — firmly and respectfully.
Say to her, “Treating ‘Robby’ as the favorite isn’t good for him — or the other kids. We would like for you to remember that we have three children. They are all starting to notice that you have a clear favorite. We know that toddler twins are challenging, but we’d like for you to be more aware of this and more sensitive to the needs of all of the kids.”
You should also find ways to differentiate your toddlers so she can get to know them individually.
Continue to be in charge of your children, making choices on their behalf that are best for them. If your mother-in-law doesn’t like your decisions and chooses to sulk in the corner, it means she understands your message.
DEAR AMY: Recently, I tripped and fell — face first — onto a concrete sidewalk. As a result, I have looked like a badly battered woman for several days. To my surprise, only my friends have commented on my injuries. At church, at the grocery store and the post office, people either haven’t noticed or have pretended not to notice. Perhaps because I was a social worker for many years, when I see a woman who is banged up the way I am, I ask, “Are you OK? Did someone hurt you? Do you need help?” If I truly were a battered woman, I would feel that no one cared; that I was alone. Is it not “polite” to mention obvious injuries? Am I wrong to offer help? Your insight would be appreciated.
Diane in Denver
DEAR DIANE: You have expertise in this area and so it is appropriate for you to stop and query someone, just as a dermatologist might remark on a stranger’s visible mole.
But — if I saw a woman with facial injuries, I would not automatically assume that she had been beaten, but might think that she had fallen face first onto a sidewalk — and so I would try to interact with her without being too intrusive about her injuries. I’ll rethink this sort of “polite” negligence in the future.
DEAR AMY: “Bewildered” was thrown off by a wedding invitation for a wedding being held on a Thursday. Forty years ago I married on a Tuesday evening and had a cake and punch reception for a church full of guests. I then left that evening for our honeymoon, returning on Friday of the same week. I agree with your answer — she should accept the invitation and add another memory.
Married on a Weekday
DEAR MARRIED: Thank you.