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How to deal with parents who treat siblings differently?

(14 Posts)
happynappies Thu 28-Feb-13 15:39:43

I've got four young dc's (6, 4, 2 and 5 months) and parents who live 10 minutes away, are retired, but have busy social lives, and although they are willing to help out from time to time, they aren't exactly involved with their grandchildren. I've come to terms with this over the years - to begin with I felt so cheated when I'd see other grandparents with carseats in their cars, loving spending time with their grandchildren - wanting to see them more etc. I've tried my best to just focus on our family, and to try to make things different for them (i.e. when they are grown up and have children of their own, we'll want to be involved etc). I had postnatal depression after my second, and saw a counsellor, and talked about the relationship I have particularly with my Mum. That was quite helpful, and I realise I've got to stop seeking 'approval' from her, and just get on with my life.

All fine and good, but then a few months ago my sister (10 years younger than me) announced her pregnancy. I've always had a good relationship with her, and am so happy that I'm going to be an auntie, and really want to help her in any way I can. What I'm finding difficult is that my parents have thrown themselves into her pregnancy with gusto, ringing every couple of days (she lives some distance away), visiting, buying things for them (e.g. cot, pram, car seat). Its not about the money, but it does rankle that they didn't contribute to anything for any of our children. They have also paid of my sister's overdraft and I can see they perceive my sister to need financial help. The thing between her and her partner they earn twice what dh and I do, have half the mortgage, and we have a family of six to look after. I can hardly say this to my parents without seeming bitter/ungrateful/begrudging, but its how I'm beginning to feel. Its mainly not the money though, that's a by-product if you like of how involved they are already, and the baby isn't even here yet.

I predict that they will visit even more, and may volunteer to look after their baby to enable my sister to go back to work, something they wouldn't entertain for us, hence I now share childcare with my dh, and our income has reduced considerably as a result.

My Mum is out shopping now for the new baby, even though she has a 5 month grand-daughter here...

I don't want my relationship with my sister to suffer because of this, and I can't see how I can tackle these issues with my parents. I feel incredibly resentful, hurt, emotional etc about it all - but don't want to blurt out like an angry teenager that 'its not fair'. Could anyone offer any ideas about how to deal with this myself. I'm not sure saying anything to my parents will have any affect. They tend to brush things off as 'being silly' and won't actually listen, so its really how can I learn to live with the situation myself so that I can move on without feeling so negative, and comparing my sister's pregnancy to my first (and subsequent ones).

I won't start on my brother. He is three years younger than me and recently my parents have been 'supporting him' because he and his partner's dog and to be put down. They don't have children themselves, and had a life very much dictated by the routine/requirements of the very challenging dog. I resented said dog because it absolutely terrified my children, and bit several people... I thought it was dangerous, and refused to have the dog in my house. My parents have been travelling down to spend time with them while they get through their bereavement, and while not meaning to belittle their experience, I can't help wonder whether it is a bit out of proportion? When I asked for help on my health visitor's insistence when I was diagnosed with PND, they laughed it off and said I didn't seem depressed. This may sound a little one-sided, and I'm editing the story down for the sake of brevity, but basically, they seem to emotionally support my brother and sister but are very 'at arms length' with me, and the financial thing bugs me. They are paying for brother and his partner to go to America this September to give them something to focus on.

Dh and I go out on average once a year. We work solidly day and night (as parents do) but get no support. My parents make it so obvious they are looking forward to seeing my siblings/spending time with them etc, but will only 'pop' to see us e.g. for half an hour on a Sunday... Outwardly all is cordial with them, its certainly not that I'm really difficult/awful to them! I just can't understand the apparent blatant favouritism. There is no doubt that my siblings are more 'fun' to be with. Up until my sister's pregnancy they all liked to go out for a drink etc, whereas I've been pregnant for 3 of the last 6 years, and have had to sit things out. We try - but we're tired, worn down with all the stuff we have to do, and just can't fit in with them and their plans...

I'm worried I'm coming across as very needy. I'm aware that I'm a grown adult, and don't need handouts from them (wouldn't want them anyway - we pay for our own things and save for what we can't...) but the fairness aspect gets to me. Why should we be 'punished' for our careful planning and money management? We're on a very tight budget, and have always bought things second hand/E-bay etc for the children, so it is particularly galling that ds is getting lovely new stuff for her baby, and has just started NCT classes which we could never afford.

So much for brevity!! Anyway - any thoughts will be very gratefully received!

cats22 Thu 28-Feb-13 16:57:30

Do you live closest to your parents out of your siblings? If so, I read in a novel, can't remember which, that the closest kid is 'chopped liver'. You seem to be the chopped liver. Bad luck (me too). Were you treated that way as a child?

Lafaminute Thu 28-Feb-13 17:04:50

You have four children: you'll know then that different personalities work differently together. Maybe you come across as more independant than your siblings? What would be interesting would be to hear your mother describe you - I bet you'd be surprised. I am probably closest in my family to my mother but one sibling and their children get more attantion (and babysitting!!) than the rest of us all put together. I feel that I know the reason for this (my sibling would never contact my parents & they would not ever see them if they don't volunteer to babysit) and it is understandable. However I also know that my mother will not babysit another siblings children because she thinks they are spoilt! So there you go: different reasons but the bottom line is that my parents are just not that into kids!

My mother once told me that although she doesn't have favourites, you're 'bound to get on with some children more than others'... still hurts tbh. She isn't a bad person but I do feel left out. I think other posters are right, there may be nice reason why your mother is like this - i know my parents think I am 'sorted' so don't need as much contact/support - but the reality is that I have had various upsets over the years I don't feel like I can talk to them about because they don't ask. No advice really but you're not the only one to feel like this, it sounds like you and your husband are doing really well with your own children though.

badtime Thu 28-Feb-13 17:36:58

My mother, while a bit drunk, once told me that the reason she treated me worst of all her children was because I was her favourite, and she overcompensated.

Perhaps your parents think you are more stable or than your siblings. If you have always have to cope without their help, they may just look at you and see that you are doing okay. Does your sister simper and act all helpless?

dontyouwantmebaby Thu 28-Feb-13 23:56:39

OP it is really difficult when parents treat siblings differently, mine definitely do and there's 10+ years between me and my youngest sibling who gets everything whereas I don't. I think its just how some parents are, the eldest child is deemed to be more capable or else has just simply had less attention due to the others coming along.

I expect your parents are throwing themselves into your sister's pregnancy with gusto is because she is further away (and ime if you live closer to parents you don't tend to get star treatment) and also because its her first. I am not sure whether they intend to seemingly ignore the fact you have a 5mo.

Also whilst you say that you and dh go out 'about once a year' and get 'no support', does this mean you were expecting gps to babysit more when you and dh decided to have 4 children? (not clear from the point you are making).

I totally get what you are saying about the financial thing bugging you e.g. your parents supporting your younger brother to go travelling (my parents are doing same with mine and it bugs me, not because I want the money myself, I just feel a bit angered that they are paying for my younger siblings lavish lifestyle!). Have to say though, I do feel that although they don't have children, please don't dismiss how much their dog must have meant to them. Even if you didn't like the dog or trust it, to them it would have been part of their family so I don't think its disproportionate to want to 'support' as you say or sympathise with their bereavement.

greencolorpack Fri 01-Mar-13 00:02:43

Try and separate your toxic relationship with your mum, from your good relationship with your sister. Ask your sister to NOT tell you about what excellent grandparents they have been to the new baby so that the poison of favouritism doesn't seep in between you and your little sister. Try to go on not seeking approval from your parents, and seek strenuously not to find out from siblings about how much money the parents have given over.

I know a lot about this sort of thing myself. My Sister never had kids but I know if she had, her kids would have been worshipped by my dad. My dad barely remembers the names of my kids.

nancy75 Fri 01-Mar-13 00:03:19

My ils do this and it drives me mad, a few years ago they stayed at our house for 6 weeks ( they live in aus) a few days before they went home they went shopping, they came back with really expensive toys f rom harrods for their 2 grandiose in aus, t hey bought my dd a worm from the pound shop. They actually sat with dd showing her the stuff they had bought and then said " and we got you this from the pound shop" I know love is not about stuff, but it is still horrible to see you are far from being the favorite!

ThisIsMummyPig Fri 01-Mar-13 00:08:29

Hmm, my parents do that, and so do my in laws - they are all scupulously fair with money though.

In all honesty I think that its because you live so close, they feel like you are always there, and so not a special treat. Wheras the others are more precious because they don't have the opportunity to spend as much time with them, even if they're not actually spending that much time with you.

Maybe the idea of babysitting 4 kids is a bit daunting if you're not used to it, and they can't get used to it because they won't try.

howtoboilanegg Fri 01-Mar-13 00:58:13

OP..I think you sound very measured, and justifiably hurt by your parents. My own parents still surprise me with their unfeeling, hurtful comments about me, or my family life (also four DC) from time to time and I have learned to expect nothing. And yet, they would laugh it off and dismiss it if I were to challenge them.
I think the ' Stop Seeking the approval of your mother' lesson that you learned from earlier therapy is very important here. Keep that in mind..Be yourself, be the good mother you are to your own children and never expect your own mother to appreciate you as the person or the mother you are. Sounds harsh I know, but you have to confidence in your own ability and not let yourself be undermined by the lack of appreciation from your parents.
There are key events in life which will force you to hold your nerve - becoming a mother yourself (which I think makes us re evalue how one's own upbringing), seeing your sister get preferential treatment...but build your own strong unit with your DH and your own DC. Be generous to your sister...I do hope you and she continue to have a good relationship and the little cousins have a lovely time together.

Corygal Fri 01-Mar-13 09:18:47

This is a nasty problem because there's not much you can do about it. Your parents are behaving badly, but there you are.

However, I would try, as an experiment, asking your parents for something to the value of a recent bailout for a sibling. Just to see what they say.

Stop worrying about your DC - children are remarkably good at accepting people as they are, inc their GP, so there won't be the pain and resentment you've had to endure.

I don't know how old your parents are, but when the subject of eldercare comes up I would not get involved or show much interest. You live nearest and the entire family prob expects you to do the lot - you can't afford the time. But you work for your money and family and have no parental support - the other siblings do have that support and it's to them your parents should turn. Get round actually saying these words (because, strangely, I bet they're impossible to speak in yr family envt) by explaining you're too busy.

happynappies Fri 01-Mar-13 20:55:10

Some good thoughts on here, and definitely good to hear that I'm not the only one who feels like this, although I obviously wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Yes, I do live the closest. Ironically dh and I chose to live where we do, close to our respective parents' homes, as we thought it would be good generally for family relations. I saw my own grandparents who lived about an hour and a half away every few months, and loved them to bits, but would have loved to see more of them. My brother and sister have both moved away, and are over three hours' drive away.

I'm not sure whether this favouritism was evident in childhood. My Mum has always been closest to my brother - she's not a 'girlie girl' and dresses, long hair, all that kind of stuff was out when I was growing up. She far preferred watching my brother playing football. Then when my sister came along she was the baby of the family and got extra attention because she was almost like an only child, because the age gap was so big if you know what I mean.

In my mind I think that perhaps they don't need to worry about me - perhaps they think I'm ok and managing alright, and yes my sister can be quite melodramatic at times, and will ring them in distress about something or nothing, whereas I tend to keep a lid on things and deal with them by posting on Mumsnet talking to dh etc.

We haven't always had four children wink - when we had one they were just as reluctant to babysit etc, if not more so because my Mum was working then. Given that we have four, I find it quite hard to believe that my Mum changed a nappy for the first time in over thirty years last year, when my oldest was five!! Most gps might lend a hand with the odd nappy, but then maybe my expectations are just too high? We certainly didn't decide to have four thinking we'd get more support/babysitting etc, we know from the outset what would happen, and it has proven to be the case. I know there is a difference between grandparents spending time with their grandchildren, and having a role in childcare e.g. looking after them while parents are at work etc. We definitely didn't have expectations about the latter, but thought they might want to be a bit more involved generally.

I think it is wise advice to ask my sister not to tell me about the things my Mum is buying for her/doing for her etc. I can't help but tot it all up and rage about it, and it really isn't helpful. I wonder if my Mum is competing with my sister's mil, who is like Super Granny. She is so involved, interested etc it is untrue, and perhaps my Mum doesn't like feeling that this other woman is 'muscling in' on her daughter. Ironically my own mil is equally underwhelmed about being a grandmother, so there is no need for my Mum to compete on that level!

While I was thinking about this today I realise that my Mum does something which I think 'lets her off the hook' - she will always say vague things like, 'If you need anything, you know where we are' instead of actually offering support/help/something concrete. Today I thought about testing her, so when she said something along the lines of 'I suppose I could get dd from school...' while I was feeding the baby, instead of saying 'No, no - you're far too busy, don't worry' I said, "Well yes, that would be a great help" to which she then replied that she wasn't sure she had time as she had to fetch something from the shops, but another time definitely. I don't know what the technique is known as, but she sort of tells me that I don't need help whilst sort of offering help? Infuriating!!

I don't mean to belittle my brother's loss re their pet - I know the dog was very much a part of their family, and I know it affected them both badly. The issue isn't that my parents offered them support, more that they couldn't manage to offer me support when I needed it most...

I do understand the different personalities thing. Yes, maybe they just get on with the other two more. I do think that with my own children even if that were the case, I'd be at pains to treat them fairly. I understand that you can't just give everyone the exact same toys/money/experiences etc and say, "There you are, I treated you all the same" but we try to do equivalent things for all of them, and hope that each one feels equally loved, valued and respected. I can't help feel that my brother and sister are loved and valued more, and don't understand how as a parent that can be allowed to happen? Maybe it just does, and I'll learn in time...

But thank you for your thoughts - definitely very interesting to read your views, and has made me think.

OP, it's a really disappointing and hurtful situation to see the favouritism going on, I know it's very hard to rise above it. I'm sorry that you're going through it. There is a lot of this sort of thing in my family, and when I had dc2, I felt very guilty and paranoid that they wouldn't get on. I desperately want to avoid the favouritism and conflict from my own childhood that still causes bad feeling and disputes in our relationships with each other as adults. I read a book that helped me process my own childhood and gave me insight as to what would lessen the rivalry between my dcs. It's by 2 American authors but is very easy to read, I highly recommend it, it's called Siblings Without Rivalry.

looseleaf Fri 01-Mar-13 21:41:57

It would be interesting to know what your sister thinks eg if you did decide to ask her not to mention what your parents giving her baby etc how she'd react as presumably she'd either be upset for you to see it from your view point or have a good suggestion why things are like this?
If it helps my parents don't help or change nappies and very focused on their social life too but I've accepted this and they are amazing in other ways; but I'd be so hurt too to see different treatment as you are and so sorry . It would be helpful if your siblings could realise/ somehow say something in a kind way to see if this might change anything

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