Dear Dr. Bill,
My mother-in-law often shows favoritism toward my two sons at the expense of our oldest child, who is a girl. She’s always commenting on the “cute thing” one of our boys said, but rarely says anything about our daughter. My husband has talked to his mom about this, but her behavior persists.
The last time we shared a meal, I felt bad when Grandma wondered aloud why my daughter was sitting next to her, rather than one of the boys. Our daughter wanted to sit next to her grandmother, and we didn’t know what to say. How should we handle this situation?
It seems clear that your mother in law has some kind of an issue with your daughter. Perhaps it’s a personality conflict or the fact that she has a hard time relating to girls. It could also be that she has some kind of an issue with you, and is taking it out on your daughter. Whatever the reason, grandma needs to start acting like a grown-up and stop treating her granddaughter with such disrespect.
You and your husband should sit down with her and tell her you’re concerned about the way she treats your daughter. Ask her if there is a reason why she seems to ignore her and favor your sons. Point out some specific examples of her behavior, such as the recent incident at the family meal.
If she apologizes and tells you she didn’t realize what she was doing, thank her and take her at her word. But if she is defensive and refuses to take responsibility for her behavior, it’s time to set some clear boundaries.
Let her know you expect her to treat all of your children with the same kindness and respect. Tell her if she is unable to do that, then you will need to curtail the amount of time she spends with your kids.
Your husband needs to take the lead in this conversation, since it’s his mother we’re talking about. He is ultimately responsible for protecting your daughter from this kind of emotional neglect.
Thanks for writing, Jennifer.
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