Relatives who play favourites

Q: My mother clearly favours my eight-year-old son over my 10-year-old son. She pays more attention to him and buys him more lavish gifts. She even has taken him on overnights, but never done the same with my older son. I sense he is resenting his brother because of it. How do I handle this without causing a rift with my mom?A: Although this may be difficult, you need to talk to your mom.

Q: My mother clearly favours my eight-year-old son over my 10-year-old son. She pays more attention to him and buys him more lavish gifts. She even has taken him on overnights, but never done the same with my older son. I sense he is resenting his brother because of it. How do I handle this without causing a rift with my mom?

A: Although this may be difficult, you need to talk to your mom.

I would begin by telling her what you have observed and be curious rather than accusatory (“Mom, I’ve noticed you spend more time with Johnny than with Sam. I was just wondering if you were aware of this?”). If your mom gets defensive, which she might, have some specific examples (“I know you don’t mean to treat them differently, but Sam has never had a sleepover with you and Johnny slept over twice last month”). Offer some explanations that might help your mother to get in touch with the real reason for her behaviour.

Maybe your younger son is easier to be around, shares some special interests with your mom, or is more affectionate and enthusiastic about spending time with her. Your mom may not be aware her favouritism actually bothers your older son. If he appears less interested in her or in going to her house, then he could be unknowingly giving her the wrong message.

The other person you need to talk to and support is your 10-year-old son. Validate his experience by letting him know that you notice this too and you understand it’s hurtful. Help him understand that this is not his fault or his little brother’s. If your conversation with your mother reveals anything that your 10-year-old may want to do differently (for example, try to talk to his grandma more often), then you can coach him in these new behaviours. While you may feel caught in the middle, you have a golden opportunity to effect some change in these very important relationships.