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DCs being labelled 'wonderful', vs. 'trouble'

(121 Posts)
PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 13:51:16

It's been ongoing since they were babies, she doesn't mean any harm, but dd1 and dd2 are 6 and 4yrs now - I'm concerned that it might affect their relationship over time? They get on really well with each other at the moment, and I would like them to stay friends.

Dcs stay over at their grandparents' (my ILs) without us, for a weekend, once in 4-5 weeks - this has been an arrangement that we've been extremely grateful for, as we have no family nearby. They have lots of fun, get to see other members of the family, and ILs enjoy having them (we leave it up to them how often they wish to see them - there is no obligation although it's nice for us to have a break).

However, every time we go to fetch them and spend a bit of time there, at some point MIL will tell me she thinks dd1 "is a wonderful, wonderful child" - which is lovely of course, but this is offset by a tale of how dd2 is disruptive, inconsiderate, trouble and how she "could have throttled her!" It's become so predicable I could count the minutes before I hear those exact words, as they invariably get uttered every single time.

An example of why this happens, is MIL enjoys Art, so she will get her paints out and sits them down at the table, to do drawing and painting etc. DD1 loves this, excels in this at school - she could happily sit and draw for and hr or so. DD2 likes to draw, but not to the extent that DD1 would - and for her, it's just one activiity - not something she loves especially or shows particular interest in. So dd2 (from what MIL tells me) - will lose concentration and get off her seat after a short while, and want to do something else. MIL says she then disrupts dd1, as she wants her to play too. MIL gets exasperated and thinks dd2 is being inconsiderate etc. (perhaps, but she is still only a 4yo and can't be expected to sit as long as a 6yo would, doing something she loves anyway). This happens every time.

I've tried telling MIL that they just have different personalities and interests, and that's OK, but she doesn't listen. Even the artwork they come up with is judged in some way - dd1's being lauded as "wonderful", compared with how dd2 used to mix all the paints together until it was a grey/black sludge, and paint everything in that colour (this was when she was 2/3yrs). Cue "I could've throttled her!" again...

It's not just the art, generally dd1 is a bit of a favoured grandchild, pfb of their pfb. I was an only, so don't really know much about sibling dynamics, but have read Siblings Without Rivalry! I'm a bit concerned as DP and his brother aren't particularly close as adults, and I wonder if it's partly been damaged by childhood family dynamics like that. MIL also refers to him as having been a "wonderful child", and his brother as "trouble". They are friendly and civil, but not close.

(Sorry for length)

48th Fri 08-Nov-13 13:55:33

My inlaws are like this. We spoke very clearly to them about how we expected them to be equal to the gc in regard to time spent/positive comments with the implied threat being that if they couldn't manage this they would see less of them. I don't use them for child care and wouldn't because they do this habitually throughout the family and did it to dh and his sibling. They are an unhappy family, I don't want the same.

friday16 Fri 08-Nov-13 13:59:13

I'd put a stop to an arrangement in which your in-laws get to praise one child to the skies while running the other down. Tell them that if they can't behave decently towards both your children, they will be spending more time with you and less time with them.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 14:13:14

48th - how does your dh relate to his sibling now?

DP thinks addressing MIL is pointless as she won't change and I am reading far too much into it than there is (even though everything I have said here is true and he admits this).

48th Fri 08-Nov-13 14:15:30

They are not close at all. Inevitably...

Anchoress Fri 08-Nov-13 14:16:23

What Friday said, really. Being labelled like that at a young age doesn't just make for crappy sibling dynamics in later life, it can really erode self-esteem.

I have only one child, and he is my parents' only grandchild, so this situation doesn't arise, but I can entirely see how it would, as my mother has a strong (partly generational, partly her background) preference for 'well-behaved', quiet children, and would regard things I consider normal toddler behaviour outrageous. We have had to have words in the past too about her commending of my son's behaviour only when it suits her gender expectations...

Your mother's personal enthusiasm for art has led her into a damagingly obvious preference for one child over another. Either she recognises that, and acknowledges that her grandchildren are not there to mirror her hobbies, or she sees them only in controlled circumstances.

48th Fri 08-Nov-13 14:16:31

If mil won't change she sees less of the children. It's an unpleasant message she gives them.

Notmyidea Fri 08-Nov-13 14:19:38

Can you redress the balance? Praise your dd2 to grandma and mention some of dd1's misdeeds? You could also respond by letting them go less, because she seems to find dd2 hard work.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 14:19:43

To be fair to FIL he doesn't seem to be as biased as MIL - and in fact seems to have a soft spot for dd2. They get on well.

He does buy into the "she's the trouble maker" perception, but I think it's lead by MIL. He doesn't do as much praising of dd1 to the skies.

Anchoress Fri 08-Nov-13 14:30:18

Whatever you decide to do, keep picking MIL up on her choice of language.
Eg.
'Oh, she's a trouble maker!'

'What a negative thing to say. What on earth makes you say that?'

'She blurred all her paints together and then wanted to go and do something else!'

'Well, that's not trouble-making, that's just because she's not as interested in painting as you and her sister are. Why not do something you all enjoy? I'm sure you understand it's not fair for Dd to be labelled a troublemaker because she likes different pad times.' Etc etc.

No to they don't mean any harm; they know they are playing favourites (which is probably what they did to their own now adult children). You've tried talking to them and they do not or want to actually listen to you. Your opinions to them do not matter.

I would actually stop the overnights over to the ILs as of now because such favouritism is extremely damaging and could well wreak their own sisterly relationship in the long term. Its being affected now; DD2 already senses all too keenly that her other sister is more favoured.

You both have to step in as parents and confront this issue properly. If it causes ructions so be it; that would have happened anyway.

Hi PassTheSherry,

Re your comment:-

"I'm a bit concerned as DP and his brother aren't particularly close as adults, and I wonder if it's partly been damaged by childhood family dynamics like that. MIL also refers to him as having been a "wonderful child", and his brother as "trouble". They are friendly and civil, but not close" .

Its no real surprise why that is.

That same dysfunctional dynamic also is now being played out with your two girls. The same result will arise with them if you do not act as well as damage to their own self esteem.

You should be more than just a bit concerned but you perhaps have trod carefully to date because you do not want to"rock the boat" or be seen as "unreasonable".

Such favouritism should not be at all tolerated by either of you as parents due to the long term harm it causes.

MistressDeeCee Fri 08-Nov-13 15:24:18

My DM was exactly like this with my 2 DDs. She favours the eldest. I put a stop to her inappropriate comments as soon as I found out - basically, she is to keep her biased opinions to herself. Theyre my children. & if DM can't behave, then she's around them less. As simple as that - Ive no time for those who attempt to instill low self-esteem in children, and are in a sly way, criticising their parent. Normally the mother - surprise surprise. & remember, your MIL will be making these derogatory comments in your absence whilst your DCs are at her house, too. Its just not on.

I also discussed with my children, when they were old enough to understand. I didnt want my youngest to feel inadequate in any way, nor did I want my eldest to be caught up in this favouritism nonsense. My eldest is 19 now & just laughs off how my DM is; she wont play the game at all. & she and younger sis are very, very close. If Id not addressed this, I believe it would have been entirely different.

Put a stop to it right now and dont take into account how MIL feels at all. Your child, her self esteem and wellbeing is far more important and precious to you than your MIL could ever be.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Fri 08-Nov-13 15:28:21

I can see where this is going. MIL will tire of two GDDs to stay and start petitioning for one (DD1). There is often a fondness for one GDC over another but it's not usually as blatant. Knock it on the head asap so quietly say that you and DH don't want these negative comparisons being made. Four is plenty old enough to detect that an older sibling is preferred. It may be part of life but it needn't be made obvious. Fwiw FIL may be compensating but I think you're right to be apprehensive.

It probably has uncomfortable echoes for your DH.This doesn't have to mean a breakdown in grandparent relations. Maybe reduce if not cut entirely those stayovers. It's lovely to share a hobby or marvel at aptitudes being passed down the generations but not if it creates discord.

1charlie1 Fri 08-Nov-13 17:57:58

I was 'wonderful', my DB was 'trouble'. He now pretty much loathes me, pathologically jealous, very difficult relationship. Being labelled 'trouble' is cruel - and self-fulfilling. And being 'wonderful' is not a loving moniker if it's only being given in comparison to a child for whom contempt or disapproval is shown. It feels too late for DB and I, and I would, sadly, not mind if I never saw him again. Please protect your girls' lovely relationship.

dinnaementiontheprunes Fri 08-Nov-13 18:15:45

Same in my family: it couldn't be clearer. My grandmother even said to me "You were a model child, couldn't have been easier" and when my brother asked about himself - in his thirties by this point - she snapped "you were just a pest" and tried to make it affectionate, but how can you? angry

I've had my share of troubles with my brother (he is a scary man) and we don't have much contact, but I had to defend the little boy that he was. It was heartbreaking. He was challenging, that's for sure, but that's not being a defective, bad person.

Could it be that your ILs just can't cope very well with both of them? I know one family where this sort of dynamic was happening, so for a while they asked them just to spend time with one grandchild at a time (until the younger, more chaotic one grew her way out of exactly the sort of behaviour you describe, basically). It seemed to work quite well.

Botanicbaby Fri 08-Nov-13 18:28:20

I agree with everyone who says that you should not tolerate this favouritism any longer, it is extremely damaging.

My step-brother has 2 DD. My DM clearly favours the younger one over the older one (who DM says is 'difficult' just like her father). I cringe every time I visit my DM and the GDDs are there. It affects everyone else in the family really, even if you don't realise it at the time. I have found myself trying to compensate for it by making a fuss over the older one. (Which isn't really fair to the younger one, she hasn't done anything wrong). It is so damaging to have favourites and leads to resentment in later life. They are now 8yo + 10yo. I wish my step-brother and his wife would say something but afaik, they haven't.

ljny Fri 08-Nov-13 18:40:17

Perhaps as a last-ditch measure, they could alternate grandchildren - have one overnight at a time.

In an ideal world, granny gets to share the art activities with DD1, then find other activities to share with DD2.

This assumes granny is willing to make the effort. If she sticks to her favouritism, then I would cancel the visits and let the grandparents see the kids at yours - being sure to cut any visit short if favouritism rears its ugly head.

It's toxic, it's unfair on both girls, and to paraphrase another poster:

Your child, her self esteem and wellbeing is far more important and precious than their relationship with their grandparents.

I don't say this lightly. I'm a gran, my grandchildren mean the world to me, and I'd be devastated to see less of them.

But. The welfare of the children comes first.

"Perhaps as a last-ditch measure, they could alternate grandchildren - have one overnight at a time".

I do not think that is a good idea in this particular case. If OPs MIL cannot behav then she and by turn her enabler of a H do not get to see their grandchildren. That would also not work out here as OPs MIL clearly favours the eldest child and would likely want to just have her over to stay.

friday16 Fri 08-Nov-13 18:46:39

Perhaps as a last-ditch measure, they could alternate grandchildren - have one overnight at a time.

Why the hell should two sisters be separated and have to go on their own to their grandmother's because of their grandmother's bad behaviour? How do you present that as not being a punishment for the children?

It's simple. Either grandmother plays nicely, or grandmother doesn't get to play at all. There is nothing complicate here. The OP's husband just tells bhis mother than either the favouritism stops, or the visits stop. I'm sick of this idea that children should have to tolerate sub-standard care in order to pander to the feelings of manipulative older relatives. The OP's MIL might be upset. Let her be upset.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 19:55:14

Thank you for your replies, I'm working through them and reading them all.

Notmyidea I already talk about them in fairly balanced terms to MIL - but she doesn't seem to hear it. I say when dd2 has done something well, and about her good qualities (she's courageous, kind, stands up for herself, adores her big sister, is wholehearted and determined etc.) - and I also mention times when dd2 has behaved less than impeccably.

MIL brushes off anything negative about dd1, or is very quick to jump to her defence. On the other hand - if I mention something nice about dd2 she changes the subject back to dd1 again.
e.g. MIL: "I think [dd1] is a wonderful child."
Me: "Yes - they're both wonderful."
MIL: "But [dd1] really is wonderful." "
Me: Yes and so is dd2 - she is very kind and loves dd1, and great at sharing..."
MIL: But I think dd1 is kind...

It's as if the world revolves around dd1! This is a bit odd for me to say, since as dd1's Mum I do think she's 'wonderful', but I have two 'wonderful' children, not just the one.

The thing is, dd1 is usually well-behaved, a people-pleaser, well-mannered etc. For instance dd1 often gets awarded merits at school for good work etc. - dd2 rarely gets them. She isn't rebellious or challenging, just sort of gets along quite happily singing to her own tune, and doesn't stand out so much as a 'star pupil' type so far. She's lovely though, and it saddens me that MIL doesn't appreciate her sparky little personality (I think FIL sees some of the things I see).

Anchoress Yes I will. I suppose I'm just feeling a bit fed up with it and beginning to wonder if it is me taking things to heart. I don't get that much back up from DP.

Nanny0gg Fri 08-Nov-13 20:07:37

DD2 is four!

I think, honestly, that your MiL is being really horrible and it won't be long before DD2 is going to be really hurt (if she isn't already).

Break or no break, I don't think they should go without you.

Don't be blinded by the fact that your MIL is providing childcare, I would hope you wouldn't put up with anyone else treating your DDs so differently, and being so unkind to DD2.

Wingdingdong Fri 08-Nov-13 20:22:04

I'd ask MIL "so, did you do anything at all DD2 enjoys? Or just things you enjoy?". Then I'd start going on about how much the DDs like FIL, how much they both look forward to seeing him, how he's really on their wavelength, how great he is with young children... Give MIL a bit of food for thought wink.

If it carried in, I would just stop the visits, saying they obviously cause too much trouble for MIL and she can't cope with them.

But then, easy for me to say. Neither of my DC are MIL's favourite DGC but she is far too generous a person to deliberately show favouritism, and would never be negative about any of them.

Rollermum Fri 08-Nov-13 20:22:50

That is really hard. My DH is clearly the favourite of his parents and was also with his GP (when alive). I think favouritism based on the circumstances of his birth and his sunny disposition as a baby vs his brother (difficult birth and more challenging behaviour) have had a profound impact on their lives as children and adults. My bro in law is 28 and a v jaded adult. Since I met him at 14 I have felt sorry for him and that I need to fight his corner. It had been ingrained over years. Amazingly the brothers get on despite his mum saying in his presence she prefers DH.

So nothing to add really except you are right to take action early.

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