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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)

My DB was the favourite in my family. I was labelled as the "mare" - this was said frequently as a kind of "joke". Except it wasn't funny. The world revolved around my brother. His achievements were praised to high heaven. I was pitied for not being as clever, talented etc. Literally pitied aloud, to anyone who would listen. And then the joke about what a little mare I was.

It IS damaging. My self-esteem is rubbish. I have never fulfilled my full potential - I held back from trying, for fear of being compared to DB and failing.

My relationship with my DB isn't too bad - although I do feel somehow inferior to him, even now, and I know my parents admire him more than me. My relationship with my parents is strained.

I think you should actually show your MIL this thread. Honestly, I do.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 20:58:25

Off to put the kids to bed but am thinking about the whole issue of limiting visits. Not sure I want to go that far, as they do both enjoy going, and although MIL has this attitude, to dd2's face she is pleasant enough, I think. They try to be fair in other aspects - presents and treats are equally nice etc. At any rate, dd2 hasn't seemed to have picked up on it yet (I hope??) - I have been hoping she wouldn't, or that MIL will give dd2 some slack.

Re: alternating visits. One time, we had a weekend arranged for dcs to visit them, but something came up for dd1 which clashed (birthday party of best friend or something). Dd1 decided to stay home that weekend and go to the party. Dd2 was still available to go but the invitation was sort of immediately withdrawn. It wasn't done nastily, but almost as thought it just never even occurred to them, that dd2 could still visit without dd1. They just immediatly suggested arranging another date that was "more convenient". At the time I was a bit hurt on dd2's behalf but DP again thought it was just a practical thing, not done in malice.

I would love the dcs to both have positive relationships with their grandparents. I never knew either set of mine, grew up as an only child, from immigrant parents, and have always had a sense of being alone and an 'outsider'. I still keenly feel the lack of family connections in my own life now. I would like my dc to have a strong sense of family/roots, fond memories of childhood visits to their grandparents.

At the moment they love going - FIL bakes with them, they help him water the plants, do drawing with MIL (if only she didn't take it so seriously with dd2). They also see their uncle [BIL] who lives with them, and their cousin [BIL's daughter], when she visits.

But...I also agree that if dd2 is continuously exposed to put-downs, we'll be letting her down. Quite conflicted. Has it come to that?

SteamWisher Fri 08-Nov-13 21:04:27

What I'm not clear on, having skimmed the thread, is what you've said directly to your MIL about this. Don't make excuses (different personalities or interests?!) - just tell her to stop favouring one dd over the other.
Plus your dd2 is 4?!! What self respecting 4 year old would sit down and do art without mixing up paints and generally making a mess. Some of the behaviours being described are just 4 year old behaviours.

Nanny0gg Fri 08-Nov-13 21:11:44

But...I also agree that if dd2 is continuously exposed to put-downs, we'll be letting her down. Quite conflicted. Has it come to that?

I would have said so.

SteamWisher Fri 08-Nov-13 21:14:40

I also agree that if dd2 is continuously exposed to put-downs, we'll be letting her down. Quite conflicted

Not sure why you're conflicted.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 22:15:26

Not sure why you're conflicted

SteamWisher Because it's cutting them off from other members of the family too - not just MIL. If we limited visits, they would also see less of FIL, BIL, and their young cousin. At the moment the nice stuff outweighs the exasperated comments from MIL - though I am wary of it.

They love going, and have lots of fun at the moment and I'm hoping to get some advice about how to improve the situation. Perhaps you think I'm naive then. I don't think MIL is actually evil, or ill-intentioned - I don't think she even realises what she is doing. Not even sure she relates DP and BIL's cordial-but-distant relationship, to patterns in the past, that she seems to be repeating now with our kids.

I have said things directly to MIL like I think it's fine that they have different interests and personalities. It's not an excuse (excuse for what?) - it's what I think. Have also drectly suggested to her "I wouldn't push the art activities with dd2 if she is bored."

DP has said that perhaps she does it because FIL has the baking and gardening stuff...maybe she doesn't know what else to do, and we need to actually tell her, be more proactive with helping MIL engage better with dd2, if she doesn't find her as 'easy'.

In a way you are right though - I have never confronted her about the favouritism, it's like the elephant in the room. I once heard her mention that BIL had said she played favourites, to which she vehemently denied. BIL wasn't there at the time. We were having dinner and I kept my mouth shut on that occasion (though DP knows I think it's pretty obvious as an outside observer, he was the golden child). Even back then it seemed like it would be opening a Pandora's Box of accusations and blame. If it came up again now, a few years down the line, I would probably say something - there'd be ructions, though.

On the surface it's a 'happy family', but there are underlying tensions - I get the feeling if I said something about Favouritism and damaging relationships, MIL would be hugely upset and then FIL would be angry...BIL lives with them and that would be no end of awkward. Maybe DP would get caught in the middle and be angry too...Dcs would think it was my fault they didn't see dgps, uncle and cousin anymore...sigh. Nothing could be proved one way or another either - DP seems to think the reason for his non-relationship with his brother, is just that his brother was difficult to get on with anyway, and they drifted apart because of distance and lack of time etc. So even he's in denial and tells me I'm making a big deal out of harmless banter and family in-jokes.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 22:24:03

Though - seeing the weight of opinion here I do feel less like it's all in my head, and I just happen to not get the 'humorous' teasing that goes on. Feel more inclined to have a difficult conversation about favouritism. For a while I have been tempted to give me the book 'Siblings Without Rivalry' for xmas. Perhaps this is the year...

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 22:25:36

me? I meant MIL of course lol - I've already read it which is probably what raised the alarms in the first place.

Offred Fri 08-Nov-13 22:53:19

It isn't just dd2 you should be worried about here. Everyone else has pointed out the very real and obvious risks of being labelled as trouble but 'wonderful' is equally damaging, ESPECIALLY if dd1 is a people pleaser and reward seeker. No person can hope to live up to wonderful.

Please stop allowing them to be subjected to this abusive behaviour which will absolutely be damaging them both.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 22:53:26

Fourth post in a row! This is bugging me!

Following the most recent visit I had quite a heated conversation about it with DP. He said I was right in some respects, i.e. that MIL is slightly ott about dd1, which is why he makes an effort to sing dd2's praises when we're there. He, thinks I'm just of the mind that she can do no right - which is ironic because this is how she comes across with dd2, and BIL. One can do no wrong and the other can do no right.

I showed him the first page of this thread and pointed out that the views have been pretty unanimous that it IS damaging, and we should be concerned. He said no one else's views are relevant. (However, he's a bit on the stubborn side, and it may be that he's mulling it over - not sure he's ever been confronted with these ideas before).

I do feel a bit alone in this right now and just want to do what's best for dcs. I am not always confident I'm doing the right thing though.

Botanicbaby Fri 08-Nov-13 23:07:46

please listen to what's been said on this thread OP.

your youngest DD is only four. already she's been labelled, subject to put downs and compared. and this is also, as said above, not fair to your older DD who is 'wonderful'. thats a lot to live up to as well.

I sincerely wish my SIL and step brother would stand up to DM and speak up for their DDs. I don't know why they don't tackle the favouritism, I know my DM does a lot of childcare but really...is that a good enough reason to put your DC through this? So so damaging & neither of them at fault.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 23:23:54

Thinking about it, DP's self-esteem isn't that great.

Oh dear we tell our dcs they're 'wonderful'...haven't thought of it as abusive, just affectionate. We do tell them off too though.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 23:26:10

So most of you feel I should just bite the bullet and confront her, it seems.

If we stop the visits or I limit them, then it will lead to questions, which will lead to a confrontation anyway...sad

IamGluezilla Fri 08-Nov-13 23:28:06

No else but who? What about your children, he obviously discounts their view now, but they will grow up and perhaps you'll both be confronted about why there is a non-relationship between your daughters.

PassTheSherry Fri 08-Nov-13 23:43:15

DP thinks that they don't spend enough time at the dgps for it to have that much influence. He thinks it's pointless rocking the boat as she won't listen (apparently he has long given up on ever trying to change her mind about anything), and as they are not the parents, it's us who have the greater influence.

He feels as long as WE don't play favourites, and appreciate them as individuals, they will carry on having a strong bond. That's his hope/argument.

Personally, I think seeing someone who subtley tells you you're a nuisance, naughty etc or at least, helps to build up that reputation as an in-joke/fixed role in the family, is damaging. Even if it's for short spaces of time, but over regular periods, across years.

Aussiebean Sat 09-Nov-13 02:33:39

There is a famous story in education about a child psychologist who went into a school to do IQ testing on the children.

She told the staff about one particular bright boy that she tested. This surprised the entire staff as this boy was a trouble maker and had been pretty much written off by the teachers.

So armed with this knowledge they tried harder and he excelled and ended the year top of the class.

How great it was the teachers thought that he finally showed off his talent and they invited the psychologist back to show her.

She then informed them that she had lied. His tests weren't that outstanding and was an average kid. The difference was the teachers now saw him differently and treated him according. And in the environment he excelled.

We were told this at the start of teacher training. If you treat a child like a failure they will be a failure.

Every time your dd goes over your mil will treat her like a borrow. And eventually that is exactly how she will behave.

Aussiebean Sat 09-Nov-13 03:31:15

Sorry. That should say. Treated like a horror.

CanucksoontobeinLondon Sat 09-Nov-13 03:33:06

I'm not really sure what advice to give you, because I was an only child. DH, however, is one of three, and is the favourite. Mind you, some of that could be because he's the only one who has kids or wants to have them. DH believes a lot of the favouriting behaviour started after we had our first child. It's led to quite a lot of tension with his siblings over the years. They're not at daggers drawn or anything, but the relationships there are quite complicated and somewhat fragile, in no small part because of their parents.

I'm not sure I'd go in all guns blazing, but I would consider alternating visits. i.e. they have DD1 one weekend and DD2 another. Maybe your MIL will develop a greater appreciation of DD2's good qualities if she spends more time alone with her. It might not work, but it's worth a shot. And if it doesn't work, then you'll know you exhausted all the possibilities before taking radical action.

I would say that, difficult as it must be for DD2 to see her big sister getting all the praise and attention (and it must be very difficult), it's probably no great fun being the favourite either. My DH is a bit of a people-pleaser himself, and he tends to judge himself very harshly when he screws up, particularly because he knows people have high expectations of him.

Good luck!

vvviola Sat 09-Nov-13 04:34:04

PassTheSherry. I saw my grandparents once or twice a year until I was about 7, and then probably twice a week after that. It was more than enough for my grandmother's favouritism for my brother to impact me (even before they moved closer to us at 7 and we saw them more often)

And GM's favouritism was a lot more subtle. I couldn't have been classed as 'trouble' by any means as I am a pathological people-please and rule-follower. I was however, too clever. DB was the golden boy. I was too clever, too fat, too something. GM took DB's side on everything, right down to who got which piece of cake.

My Mum did her best (--outs self if any of my family are on here-- including one memorable incident when she snapped and ranted at top volume to my Dad - forgetting the door was open and GM could hear everything!) , but it definitely impacted my self esteem.

I was lucky that my wonderful grandad while never showing any favouritism between DB & I, was always there for me. I fully credit him with some of my more traditionally masculine hobbies wink

DB and I don't have a brilliant relationship. I put some of it down to GM's favouritism and Mum having to fight it (which made DB assume that I was her favourite, when she was only trying to fight my corner)

What I'm trying to say is even a small exposure to that sort of favouritism can have lasting effects.

Sunnysummer Sat 09-Nov-13 04:50:35

To go back to what an earlier poster said - do you think that an element of this could be your MIL finding it tricky to cope with 2 small children at once, and so picking the older, easier and more mature one as 'good' because she doesn't have enough energy to come up with alternatives for DD2?

Favouritism is awful and totally agree that the situation as it is sounds unsustainable. But I do wonder if your daughters did some solo overnight stays (DD2 definitely going first, and perhaps with some helpful games or hints provided by you and DH), it might give them each a chance to shine?

My DM never played favourites with us growing up, but I've noticed that when my sister and I are both there, 4 kids in total, the good-little-girl eldest and my still-tiny baby get red carpet treatment while the others are seen as a bit of a burden, and I think it's because she can't remember how or doesn't have the energy to entertain lots of kids at once. When it's just the littluns they are all absolutely treasured.

Hope you can find a resolution, yoyr ILs does sound like they want to be involved GPs, and it would be a shame for both DDs not to be able to build a strong relationship.

Offred Sat 09-Nov-13 04:58:51

Pass - don't worry about telling them they are wonderful. It is particularly the wonderful/trouble contrast that makes it abusive. Dd1 has to live up to wonderful under the threat of being labelled trouble and dd2's faults are highlighted in comparison to 'wonderful' dd1 - that is how it hurts them.

SteamWisher Sat 09-Nov-13 06:30:44

Actually you don't have to go to the extreme of cutting them out. You just be direct with your MIL, with the support of your DP, and tell them not to favour one over the other.

We're influenced by everything around us as children - and the number of visits is certainly enough to impact on your children. I remember negative comments made by people I only saw a few times in my childhood and they stayed with me.

I feel a bit sorry for your 4 year old to be honest. I have a 4 year old and would hate for them to be labelled.

Also you should tell your children why they are wonderful - tell them what they're done well and talk to them about things they enjoy to boost their self esteem eg you like drawing don't you? What do you like to draw? So it gets them thinking about what they do in a positive way. That will do more to counter negative remarks as opposed to more generic comments.

SteamWisher Sat 09-Nov-13 06:31:41

what *they've done well

"I would love the dcs to both have positive relationships with their grandparents. I never knew either set of mine, grew up as an only child, from immigrant parents, and have always had a sense of being alone and an 'outsider'. I still keenly feel the lack of family connections in my own life now. I would like my dc to have a strong sense of family/roots, fond memories of childhood visits to their grandparents"

Well one of them will perhaps have fond memories but at great cost to ultimately both of them. Your youngest will perhaps ask of you both why she had to go there at all to see her eldest sister being so blatantly favoured.

I think at heart this is why this has been allowed to continue; your wanting them to have a positive relationship with both their grandparents.

But the evidence in front of you is to the contrary; your eldest is being overtly favoured by her grandmother at the cost to the younger one's self esteem. It may not be too apparent now but you have already read up on it and feel uneasy. You cannot and must not ignore it,

DP has his own reasons for acting as he is doing and is probably in fear, obligation and guilt state of mind with regards to his awful mother. Is there any wonder that his relationship with his own brother is so distant; the innate favouritism shown by his mother (I would not let his dad off the hook here either as he is playing the bystander and enabler roles to perfection) has played a large role in that overall dysfunction. Now the pattern is being repeated with your two girls; it was never going to be any different.

"He feels as long as WE don't play favourites, and appreciate them as individuals, they will carry on having a strong bond. That's his
hope/argument".

He needs frankly to get his head out of his arse and see properly what is happening in front of him.

He can hope all he want but hope is a triumph over experience.
Well it did not happen with him and it won't happen with your DDs. Their relationship will start properly unravelling in their teens; by the time they are adults they will hardly speak to each other. Their sisterly bond will have long since disappeared.

You are both facilitating this by allowing them both to go there at all. Do not reward such behaviour. Not seeing FIL and BIL so often will not harm them because they're also playing a role in this too; that of enabler and bystander.

Mummyoftheyear Sat 09-Nov-13 08:34:40

I know it's less of a break for you but send them separately? Or, let them go to grandma just when the other sibling has a party to go to. BUT stop this arrangement if MIL is at all negative about a sibling having had her in her own.
Sadly, if she's relaying such negative comparisons to you, you can be absolutely sure that she's comparing them directly and saying things like: "Why can't Ju be more like / sit like / listen like X?"

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