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MomTalk.com November 17, 2017:   The women's magazine for moms about children, family, health, home, fashion, careers, marriage & more


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Grandparent Preferences: Good Enough Moms

Q: My husband & I have two children. Our daughter is 8 months old and our son is 2 ½. Due to our very busy schedules as working parents, we rely on help from my parents and my in-laws. My son has a close bond with my father- and mother-in-law, whom he sees almost daily. He only sees my parents on the weekends when they baby-sit or have dinner with us. Now, when my parents come over to care for my son he gets upset and asks for his other grandparents.

Q: My husband & I have two children. Our daughter is 8 months old and our son is 2 ½. Due to our very busy schedules as working parents, we rely on help from my parents and my in-laws. My son has a close bond with my father- and mother-in-law, whom he sees almost daily. He only sees my parents on the weekends when they baby-sit or have dinner with us. Now, when my parents come over to care for my son he gets upset and asks for his other grandparents. We frequently get together with both sides of our families (my parents and my husbands parents together), which has become something I dread because I know my parents are hurt by my son's clear preference for my in-laws. I am very close with my parents and my in-laws and I am concerned that this problem will drive a wedge between us. What can I do to make sure that my parents aren't hurt by my son's preference for the other grandparents? Do we need to stop the group get-togethers, where his preference for the in-laws is so obvious? Or can we deal with this issue in another way? I think my son is too young to understand that his behavior is hurtful, but if there is anything I can do to help him, please let me know!

Erin: This is definitely a sticky situation! I think it is pretty common for children to develop a preference for one relative over another. And a 2-year-old doesn't understand that his blatant preference for one grandparent over the other may be hurtful to the “rejected” grandparent. Since your son is too young to understand this, there might be some other ways to ameliorate this problem. Maybe you could plan some special outings for you, your son and your parents. By establishing a special tradition that your son does with just your parents, you may be able to help him see that each set of grandparents has something special to offer him and that they both love him equally. It may also be a good idea to explain to your parents that your son is more attached to his other grandparents because he spends so much more time with them. Help your parents understand that this is natural and that it by no means undermines the special relationship they have with your son. Time may be the best remedy for this issue!

Betty: Golly, that's a tough question. But I can certainly relate as a parent and a grandparent. I'd suggest you work with your son to help him get more excited about seeing your folks. That may be a tough thing though, especially if he just naturally relates more to your in-laws. But try to get excited whenever your parents are going to be coming and try to get your son to catch on to that excitement – maybe talking about the fun things he can do with his grandma and grandpa. I don't know if this will work with a two-year old, but it's worth a try.

Marti: Well, you two didn't leave much for me to say! But I agree with everything you've said. I'd add that kids sometimes change their preferences as they move into different stages of development and discover new shared interests with others. Meanwhile, your parents will be most likely to strengthen their relationship with your son if they just meet him where he is and don't try to force closeness, which never works.

All: We understand how awkward this must be for you. But we urge you to not worry too much about how your son's behavior might be affecting your parents. Your parents probably remember when you were a child and did things that put them in similar situations. And they probably understand that the time he spends with the other grandparents allows him to feel more comfortable with them. In time, your son will become more aware of the impact of his behavior and he may even stop favoring your in-laws over your parents. With your encouragement, he will likely become a loving grandson to both sets of grandparents. And how fortunate he will be to have so many adults who care about him!


Marti Erickson, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and director of the Harris Training Programs at the University of Minnesota. A well-known public speaker, writer, and media commentator, Marti also is the mother of two adult kids and three young grandchildren.

Erin Erickson Garner, Marti's daughter, is a writer and a specialist in maternal and child health. She currently is home with her two young children except for Saturdays, when she and her mom co-host the Good Enough MomsTM radio show on WFMP-Radio, FM107.1 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Betty Farrell, Marti's mom, lives in Houston, TX, and is known fondly as “Grandma Betty” to Erin and her kids.



Categories: Advice, Ideas & Stories, Family,


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