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Grandma Picks Favorites

Grandma Picks Favorites


Dear Rachel,

I have three daughters, ages 16, 14, and 11. While I know their grandmother loves them, she seems to favor the eldest, often doing things with her or for her that she doesn't do with my middle daughter. Just yesterday, my mother-in-law went shopping with my two oldest girls. She ended up buying the eldest two pairs of Puma shoes, while the middle one came home empty-handed. Unfortunately, things like this happen all the time. My daughter doesn't say anything to her grandmother, but I know this is hurting her and damaging her self-esteem. She simply feels that her grandmother doesn't love her as much. What is the best way to approach this situation?

Upset Mom
Jacksonville, FL

Dear Upset Mom,

Favoritism can be so hurtful. From what you describe, I can understand why your 14 year old may be struggling with self-esteem. It sounds like she is receiving some very potent messages about her worth in her grandmother’s eyes. The gifts and attention given to her sibling appears to be disproportionate. But before we incriminate Grandma, I think it wise to do our best to understand where she may be coming from.

We have a Torah commandment to “judge each other favorably.” This means that before we start analyzing your mother-in-law’s actions, we must start with the premise that there is a rational explanation for her behavior. For example, was the initial purpose of the shopping trip discussed beforehand? Was the eldest rewarded for something she did, while your second daughter failed to do something that was expected of her? Did they originally set out with a particular agenda to purchase only for the 16 year old? Are there some hurt feelings on Grandma’s side because of something your 14 year old did or did not do?

There may not be answers to these questions that will satisfy you or your 14 year old, but, by giving Grandma the benefit of the doubt, you make her a little more human and approachable.

There is a story of a well-known rabbi named Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov. He was notorious for finding the good in every situation. One day, he came across a Jew eating a sandwich on Yom Kippur, and Reb Levi said, “Oh, you must not know that it is Yom Kippur today.” And the Jew said, “I know.” “Oh, so then you must not have been taught that on Yom Kippur it is forbidden to eat or drink,” Reb Levi retorted. “No, I learned that,” said the Jew. “Oh, so then you must be so sick that you have to eat.” “No, Reb Levi,” The Jew answered, “I feel fine.” Reb Levi turned his eyes heaven-ward and said “Master of the Universe, you see how holy your Jews are, they don’t even lie to their Rabbis!”

I think that your 14 year old definitely needs to speak to her grandmother about how she is feeling. But before she does so, she needs to take a long look at the good that exists within her grandmother. Whenever we have something difficult to share with someone, it is always wise to remember that they are human, fallible, and capable of wonderful things. Then, she can make a special time to speak with her grandmother and tell her how she feels.

It is also really important for your daughter to know that sometimes people hurt us, and they absolutely don’t realize what they have done. The responsible and mature thing to do is to be honest with her grandmother and tell her how hurt she feels. If she is really uncomfortable with this idea, maybe she could begin by writing a letter and either reading it aloud to her grandmother or allowing her read it alone and respond in her own time.

This situation is really about your daughter and her grandmother. While it may be tempting to intervene on her behalf, I think that it will be far more meaningful and constructive if your daughter approaches this with her directly. Growing up can be down-right painful at times. But the growth that comes out of facing a difficult situation and coming to a resolution or deeper understanding because of it, is a gift that she will cherish forever.

(However, if after she speaks to her grandmother nothing changes, I would then suggest speaking to your mother-in-law and explaining that this is painful and hurting your child, and cannot continue.)

It’s not easy to tell people we love that they have hurt us. But if we really care about them, then we owe it to them (and ourselves) to gently show them where a correction needs to be made.

I hope this works out. I wish her (and you) much strength, confidence and clarity with this.


“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sarah Zadok.

Sarah Zadok is a childbirth educator, doula and freelance writer. She lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, with her husband and four children.

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LW Ny October 27, 2016

Grandmother Grandmother I have one daughter my husbands brother has 3 children .They were taught when they visit their grandmother to ask five dollars . Who's parent's taught them this .
Their their mother was head teacher while their own son let this go down . My daughter who sees her grandmother often gives a hug and kiss which we did not tell her do . Reply

Susan August 3, 2015

toxic grandparents The upset mom says the favoritism occurs a lot. Why should the burden be placed on the grandchild to fix the relationship. The grandmother should be ashamed buying two pairs of shoes for one child and nothing for the other. There is absolutely no excuse for this. The grandmother is an adult and should be there to be a role model. Yes - maybe the grandmother feels hurt over something the middle child did - but she needs to be the adult and work it out - not be spiteful by showing favoritism. I say the parent should step up and talk to grandma about the situation and if it doesn't change then sever the relationship. A parents job is to protect your kids not worry about grandparents who are being manipulative and controlling. Reply

Anonymous December 7, 2014

Grandmothers playing favorites rips families apart. I've seen it in my family and in my spouses family.

My spouse's favorite playing grandmother FINALLY died. He disowned her and her favorite children/grandchildren long ago. I also see what her favoritism did to her children...not good.

I'm still waiting for my favorites playing grandmother to die. I disowned her when it became obvious she was going in on my child the same way she went in on me starting at age two...and I'm pretty sure she did to my mother what she did to me and my kid.

Like my spouse, I will breath a sigh of relief when my favorite playing grandmother dies and takes her brand of thoughtless undereducated evil with her. I am sad she was raised the way she was, but I no longer have to take her mindless bullying of my person and I shall certainly NOT let her do to my child what she did to me. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 1, 2011

Grandma Picks Favorits Did you ask your mother-in-law WHY she practices favoritism? Does she know she does that? Does she care?

Tell her straight out that ALL her grandchildren deserve respect! She may get along better with some of her grandchildren than others, but that's NO excuse! You can even threaten to refuse things from her if she doesn't treat ALL your children with proper respect!

Tell your children they have the right to refuse gifts and anything else from their grandmother if she refuses to treat all of them equally. Reply

Anonymous May 25, 2010

? I'm 14 and it seems to me and my sisters that my grandmother favors me. It really hurts my sisters (and me to) does anyone have any ideas? my sisters probably wont talk to my grandmother about it b/c she might get mad at them. Reply

Anonymous February 21, 2009

We lived through this... but in our case, our children were all the unfavored in favor of my sil's children. My husband tried hard to get his parents to stop. But they would not. I have been married now 36 years...and my mil died almost 10 yrs ago. While that stopped a lot of the grief, the distance in our family from the rest of my husband's family continues. Nothing we do has made any difference. Our children are all raised now. While it is sad, sometimes we just have to go on and make the best of things. Not until this year did my husband reveal to me that his mom's dad was also a very partial character...and in this case my husband was the unfavored compared to his twin boy cousins. Had I known this yrs ago, I do think it might have helped me at least understand and not get so upset when it happened. In all of life, the only thing we can control is our own actions, isn't it? Reply

Anonymous Woodbridge, CT January 6, 2008

Re: Grandma I think the parent should speak to Grandma in this matter; and not permit the older sibling to receive anymore gifts until a resolution. No matter the reasons to be found, Grandma's behavior is unacceptable and that should be conveyed to the child. It would be unhealthy for her to think that spiteful behavior can be justified. Reply

Laura Mushkat schenctady, ny October 18, 2007

re-cheyl great idea but if you do not try to do something to change it in some way as well, you are trying to defeat G-d. Reply

cheryl October 16, 2007

favorites My mother does something simular..however it is my brothers children that receive the favortism. My mother knowing did things to that hurt my children mentally. Often when we would leave my children would ask why she did not love them. I told my daughters that she did live them. I told them that she was hard to understand but that they had done nothing wrong. My girls are always well behaved...always. To rise above circumstances and situations are not often easy but are a nesessary part of life. We may not like it..but it is there in one form or another. Doesn't mean that hurts don't come but that it can be dealt with and depend on HIM TO NOT BECOME BITTER. Bitterness can become a poison and will overcome even the strongest of bodies if allowed to stay in your system.. Don't let it. It's not worth it..for you or your daughters. Be kind to those that are not kind, do good to those that do not and loving to those that are unloveable. The hurt and bitterness will lessen.. really Reply

Laura Mushkat schenctady, new york October 16, 2007

re-grandma picks favorites I have seen this problem all over the internet from all sorts of people.
It makes me ill as a grandma to read this.

Grandma needs to be sat down and told what she is doing-she should realize it but for some reason may not.

If she argues tell her you respect her, love her but will limit what she can do or not do, if grandma does not change, with any of the children and the children will be told why.

If she has a reason-maybe she thinks the others do not like her or something-speak with her and if need be find out from the children if grandma's feelings are hurt because of their actions. Ifso maybe a talk with them and grandma with you as moderatori is called for.

It all has to stop. Children must be protected emotionally and physically from adults who hurt their self worth. Reply

Anonymous Tel Aviv, Israel May 28, 2007

Rachel's wisdom and chesed wonderful insight and article. thanks for teaching us how to understand.... Reply

Anonymous Marblehead, Mass. via March 23, 2007

Birth order I wondered if the grandmother had had any siblings herself growing up and if she were a first or second daughter and how she was treated by her parents and grandmother?? Sometimes we repeat what was done to us without thinking about it and this could be a necessary growing opportunity for the grandmother. Reply