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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.

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?"

PassTheSherry wrote the following previously in another one of her postings:-

"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".

Why too should the daughters be separated and have to go on their own to their grandmother's because of granny's bad behaviour?. It is all too clear from the above that granny would rather just have DD1 anyway over for a visit. Bad behaviour on granny's part should not be rewarded at all.

BTW PasstheSherry, being the golden child as your eldest is being moulded into by her grandmother is also a role not without price either. She is being put on a pedestal by her grandmother and that is very difficult to live up to. It will cause her problems long term. Look at your man now, he was favoured and you state his self esteem is not great nor is his own relationship with his sibling.

PassTheSherry wrote the following previously in another one of her postings:-

"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".

Why too should the daughters be separated and have to go on their own to their grandmother's because of granny's bad behaviour?. It is all too clear from the above that granny would rather just have DD1 anyway over for a visit. Bad behaviour on granny's part should not be rewarded at all.

BTW PasstheSherry, being the golden child as your eldest is being moulded into by her grandmother is also a role not without price either. She is being put on a pedestal by her grandmother and that is very difficult to live up to. It will cause her problems long term. Look at your man now, he was favoured and you state his self esteem is not great nor is his own relationship with his sibling.

headoverheels Sat 09-Nov-13 09:07:15

How about suggesting to MIL that they go separately? Then if (when?) she objects, you could explain that you are worried she seems to be developing a stronger bond with DD1 than DD2 and you think this might help her relationship with DD2. Then see if it has any affect. Just plant the seed rather than go in all guns blazing.

I do think that you need to say something more strongly when she uses the phrase 'I could've throttled her' - that is an awful thing to say about a child, you need to make it clear that is not acceptable.

Retroformica Sat 09-Nov-13 09:15:56

Id probably sit down with MIL and explain that you don't do favouritism and you expect her not to as it could destroy the relationship between the siblings in the future. I'd mention that you don't feel MIL has bonded that well with DS2 and that you are going to send DS2 on her own for a few weeks so that they have a chance to bond. Then suggest activities DS2 would enjoy.

Retroformica Sat 09-Nov-13 09:18:47

I would arrange DS2 to visit in her own for a few weeks. I wouldn't send DS1 again till they had made more of an effort.

vvviola Sat 09-Nov-13 09:37:29

As someone who was on the 'wrong' side of favouritism I wouldn't recommend sending DD2 by herself. I frequently saw my grandparents alone and while she wasn't malicious about it (I think her favouritism was too deeply ingrained, she didn't even think about it), she still made it clear how much 'better' my DB was. I could mostly handle it as it went on more as I got older. At 4?? I think that sort of thing can just be internalised and could do serious damage to her self esteem.

Your poor DD2, how can anyone call a 4 year old trouble? That is shocking, 4 year olds are not trouble.

I think your MIL is just not providing a stimulating interesting environment for her, she is causing the behaviour that she so doesn't like in your DD.

You really need to sit down and talk to her, in no uncertain terms, and also maybe equip her with lots of suggestions and ideas for what to do and what to provide for a4 year old to keep them entertained, happy, and engaged.

Anniegetyourgun Sat 09-Nov-13 09:52:59

If MIL won't accept she does favouritism it may be best to avoid the word, but to tackle the negativity itself, not "you're much nicer to DD1" but "I would like you to say x and avoid saying y to DD2", sort of approach. MIL may even have the impression that you and DH favour DD2 because you're always bigging her up, so that she's redressing the balance rather than the other way round! Sadly, she sounds like the sort of person who only has enough love, or at least appreciation, to give to one at a time.

I think you need to address the core of the problems for MIL too, ask her exactly what it is that she struggles with with DD2, what it is that DD2 does that is so naughty or trouble, and go through each of these things telling MIL it is normal behaviour at that age, and telling her how to deal with it and change how she interacts with DD and her expectations of DD to minimize the negative labeling.

Perhaps that would be a better way to start the conversation with mil, so in her eyes you are trying to help her rather than just accusing her.

In relaition to the painting in particular, emphasise to your MIL that at 4, theprocess is more important than the end result, and things like mixing all the colours together are important learning stages. Suggest some 'art' activites that might engage a 4 yr oldmore than just sitting formally at a tablewithpaint and rushes and white paper. Suggest finger painting, using other things instead of paintbrushes (cars, rollers, sponges, marbles etc etc)

I also think you should tell your MIl that a child's attention span for one activity is their age plus one or two minutes, so she should never expect your DD2 to stay focussed on one activity for more than 6 minutes, and that doesn't make her trouble, it just makes her developmentally normal.

If this whole issue could be solved simply by talking it would have been solved a long time ago. OP is dealing with someone who is at heart completely unreasonable and will not listen to anyone except her own self. MIL does not think she is doing anything wrong and is repeating patterns she herself did to her own now adult children.

Confronting is also not for now as both of you as well are simply not strong enough to stand up to this woman. Your DP certainly is not and I doubt very much if he would completely back your opinions anyway.

It is also not a solution at all to send these two young ladies over there separately. The MIL prefers the older child and has put barriers up in the past re having solely the younger child over (for instance when DD1 went to a party rather than her grandmother's the decision was made by the ILs to not have the youngest child over; it never occurred to them to have just the youngest child over).

Anyway why should both these children be at all subjected to such awful treatment in first place. Both of them are being damaged here, not just the youngest one. This would not be tolerated at all if anyone else was doing this, its really no different when relatives are doing the favouring.

dozeydoris Sat 09-Nov-13 10:17:39

I'm not sure you could get to the bottom of this without some willing soul-searching by MIL.
My DM was closest to my DD2 (and was a nice lady and didn't show it) but DD2 had interests that my family liked. My MIL's fav GC was DD1 but DD1 was more like that side of the family MIL wasn't so fair and made favouritism clear.

Funnily DM was a DD2 and DMIL a DD1 so that could have influenced it. I think GPs are influenced by the happiness or not of their own childhood.

It' ridiculous to compare a 6yr old and a 4yr old. But have a look at DMIL's siblings and childhood. Did DMIL have a younger sibling who got all the attention for example and this has left it's unconscious mark?

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 10:30:23

Wingdingdong

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.

grin Oh that is tempting.

Aussiebean Nice story - I totally agree that if dd2 is told she's 'trouble' often enough she will think of herself as that, which is so not true. I do want to tackle MIL about it but don't want to create so many ructions it causes a rift in the family. Not sure it's possible.

SunnySummer

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? There may be an element, but I think it goes deeper than that tbh. PILs are in their 70s but are quite active - they run a part-time business that entails travelling most weekends - both locally and overseas every few months (hence we have to fit around their schedule). MIL has a busy social life (golf twice a week, art club etc), so whilst some of it may be her slowing down etc, it's certainly not the whole story.

Dd1 has always been doted on because she is the pfb of a pfb (in MIL's eyes). There were a couple of instances that irked me when dd1 was a newborn. MIL for a while referred to dd1 as "my baby" (until maybe somebody had words, or she realised and stopped). When dd1 was 11mths old MIL handed me a card to give to DP - turns out it was a Father's Day card, written and 'signed' on behalf of DD1, which hadn't been discussed with me, and annoyed me loads as it felt very overstepping. DP made out that I was over-reacting by taking offence. However as dd2 wasn't around it just came over as inappropriate behaviour or over enthusiam rather than potentially damaging.

When dd2 was born, MIL would rush past the pram in order to greet dd1 but this was justified by saying it was more important to not make dd1 feel pushed out, and a baby would not be aware - which made sense to me too.

Another thing is (and I know how bonkers this sounds) - dd2 is left-handed, as am I, as am BIL, as is BIL's daughter (dc's cousin, whom they also meet up with at ILs). When dd2 was 9mths old I casually mentioned she might be left-handed too - for no other reason than just conversation about general development etc. MIL smirked and said "Poor her!" I was right there and BIL was in the room too. I was shocked at the rudeness but she was oblivious. Later on she said their cousin changed schools because "the other school couldn't cope with her left-handedness" - I challenged her and said it's not a disability, and it's never been a problem at all for me etc etc. But she seems to thnk of it as some sort of defect. There has been times since when she has given us 'ergonomically designed' pens for left-handed people - to give to our toddler dd2. I have since told her that it's the attitude of people who think that left-handedness is defective that causes more damage. The 'left-handed adapted gifts' have now stopped. Anyway - it's another thing which separates puts right-handed DP and dd1 above the rest of the family!

Taken together those incidences probably come over really, really badly - but these things are spaced over years apart - so inbetween, I think "actually she's lovely really, it's me being super-sensitive" which DP tells me I am too - and then get stung by something which seems quite judgey and crass again.

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 10:35:34

I am asking DP to read this thread.

Sunnysummer Sat 09-Nov-13 10:41:27

That Father's Day card thing really is overstepping the mark, the more you say the worse it sounds! Poisonous for all of you if it doesn't get sorted soon, good luck.

Totally unrelated note, but as a fellow leftie those left handed pens can be awesome. Don't tell MIL though wink

dozeydoris Sat 09-Nov-13 10:43:36

I def feel the treatment of DD2 is to her detriment. My DSis was a late baby and treated as a bit of a nuisance by everyone ( blush but you follow the behavior of the others around you, it was also a difficult time for our family) and, imv, it has affected her health and self-esteem through adult life.

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 10:46:42

dozeydorris

But have a look at DMIL's siblings and childhood. Did DMIL have a younger sibling who got all the attention for example and this has left it's unconscious mark?

She has recently told me something about her own upbringing which she'd never really talked to me about before. Her own father was very very "competitive" (her words) towards her brother - as in ridiculously and abusively. She said once he made her brother wear shoes that were too small for his feet even, because he couldn't stand that his son had bigger feet than him. However, he would do anything for her - so I think she was the 'favourite'. She and her brother actually somehow managed to remain close in all that, so perhaps she doesn't see the damage that it does to siblings.

However, she does recognise that there was something very wrong in her father's treatment of her brother - the word "abusive" is never used, just "wasn't that awful and strange of him." In fact it is a factor in why she married FIL - as apparently his father was "a lovely man", and it was a contrast that highlighted to her how abusive her own father was.

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 10:50:50

SunnySummer Aargh! See, those leftie websites that flog those pens etc are doing me NO favours at all!!! There's me going on to MIL about how bad it is to see left-handers as needing these 'aids' and it's just a marketing ploy to exploit a niche - and there's a whole bunch of lefties going "Ahem. Actually we love them and it DOES help!" Argh. confused

Once a month my siblings DB and ds and my cousins would stay at my nanas house for my Mam and Auntie to go out. There were seven of us, with two favourites. I wasn't a favourite at first, but tried desperately to be. I watched what DB and cousin 2 did, I watched what nana liked, I changed myself to try to go into the favoured section. I read the books that nana liked, and as it was clear she liked children who did sports I joined sports clubs so I could tell her I was doing x,,y and z. By the time I was a teen I was a favourite. She was that fickle. But the pressure was worse to stay a favourite, and my sis and cousins resented me for pleasing nana. It's seriously affected two of the not favourites, their self esteem is awful and neither talk to nana or the rest of us. Dsis hates nana and our brother for it. She also blames Mam for letting her go there despite knowing nana didn't like her much. She wasn't nasty to her, and didn't get abused, but it was clear she was an afterthought for nan. And the pick up appraisals were awful for all of us 'dgc has been lovely, I hear they're doing well at school, oh dgc has been no trouble, but all she does is sit and mutter so how could she be? The girls were fine apart from the shrieking, wouldn't it be nicer if they ALL could play football in the garden like favoured dgc?
She didn't say direct insults, but the implications were horriblesad
Why can't you change the visits so that you visit too? Then you can nip it in the bud as and when without losing the chickens time with dgp

MIL overstepped boundaries (which were never enforced properly by yourselves) years back by both her behaviour with the pram and the father's day card which should have been really stomped on by you and your DP but he being in FOG state with regards to his parents did not.

I do not blame you entirely though (to my mind the main fault here lies with your weak man; he is certainly part of the overall problem here) because you come from a family who are not like this i.e emotionally healthy and balanced. It is very difficult indeed to deal with such people effectively; the only way forward to my mind for you is to keep your distance both physically and emotionally.

Her own father was himself very damaged hence his own behaviour towards the girl who became your MIL and her brother. Dysfunctional stuff like this can and does go down the generations.

It has to stop now and you as parents need to be the ones to call a halt to it otherwise you will also play a role in continuing this nonsense shown now towards your own children.

dinnaementiontheprunes Sat 09-Nov-13 12:15:07

"She has recently told me something about her own upbringing which she'd never really talked to me about before. Her own father was very very "competitive" (her words) towards her brother - as in ridiculously and abusively. She said once he made her brother wear shoes that were too small for his feet even, because he couldn't stand that his son had bigger feet than him."

That's horrific. No wonder she has problems working out what's ok and what's not normal. That's a clear example of 'not normal' but she must have witnessed a lot of borderline behaviour as a child.

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 12:59:07

MIL overstepped boundaries (which were never enforced properly by yourselves) years back by both her behaviour with the pram and the father's day card which should have been really stomped on by you and your DP but he being in FOG state with regards to his parents did not.

I do not blame you entirely though (to my mind the main fault here lies with your weak man; he is certainly part of the overall problem here) because you come from a family who are not like this i.e emotionally healthy and balanced. It is very difficult indeed to deal with such people effectively; the only way forward to my mind for you is to keep your distance both physically and emotionally.

Atilla - At the time I didn't think much about the pram as had read articles about making a fuss of the older sibling first when a new baby arrives. Just in hindsight that it fits with what she would have wanted to do anyway!

The card - really wish I had opened it in front of her as she would have seen my reaction instantly - but she handed it to me in amongst other things as they were leaving, in a "btw nearly forgot!" way. We waved them off and it was only when I got inside that we opened it and I went "wtf is this?". I was agape at the cheek and ranted at DP - and by the time ILs had arrived back to their home, he had talked me down, explaining it as just an eccentric thing. Then I felt to bring it up as an issue would seem a bit petty (but maybe I should have). Next time she visited I made sure that I left a bigger, more personal, 'baby handprint and photo', homemade card I had done with dd1, out. Somewhere very prominent and obvious and I knew she'd peep inside. She has not done anything like that since.

Just had talk with DP - he is adamant most of this thread is 'bollocks' and I've misinterpreted a lot. For instance he says he and his brother were close as children and it's simply the passage of time, and distance (2hrs away by car?) that has caused the fading of that relationship. He doesn't seem to get it, that I have never said they were never close - and in fact if they were close friends once, it reinforces the theory that something happened that eroded that friendship.

However. He has said that he will talk to MIL "about treating them in a more egalitarian manner" - and he will back me up if I end up saying something, but has pleaded with me not to be unpleasant to her.

I will arrange to go up with them next time - MIL has always said I'm welcome to go so will just take her up on the offer.

dozeydoris Sat 09-Nov-13 19:48:53

Even if she appears to be fairer she might still avoid eye contact, sound insincere in tone of voice etc when dealing with DD2.

Does FIL see what is going on?

You could chat in a discrete way to DBIL and MIL's DB about their upbringing - as the sibling relationships are friendly no one will object to that - just to reassure yourself.

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 21:15:41

dozeydoris No she usually seems quite sincere to dd2 and will say nice things too - it's not just all exasperation and nothing good, or I wouldn't be so conflicted about it. It's just that the exasperated tone and the "could've throttled her" comments are to US, and with predictable regularity.

It's not just one long slagging-off session either, she does say nicer stuff inbetween the negative comments, like "dd2 gave the toy to dd1 which I thought was very kind." (except this is tainted by the tone of surprise - even though the only person in the room who is surprised by this, seems to be herself.) Then, after a while she will also tell us about why she "could've throttled her" over something else, again. She seems to love dd2 (I know many here would disagree), but is too quick to interpret her behaviour as 'disruptive' or 'naughty' - in a way that she never did with dd1, and seems rather blinkered unfortunately.

Not sure if I could chat to DBIL privately as it's quite hard to get him alone in the house - MIL's DB has sadly passed away now. FIL - he gets pretty irritated with MIL and he himself seems more 'fair' with dd1 and dd2 - and seems to enjoy dd2's company, but I'm not sure he sees what's going on as potentially detrimental. He also thinks of dd2 as "the naughty one" but he doesn't necessarily consider this as negatively as MIL. So he's part of the labelling too, but doesn't ascribe judgements in the way MIL would.

There is stuff between him (FIL) and BIL's daughter (their 12yo eldest dgc) which I don't find healthy at all either, so not sure how much I could talk to him about setting up unhealthy dynamics etc. According to MIL 'he used to tease [BIL's dd] mercilessly' - jokey banter and teasing, pretending he was about to sit in her favourite chair - that sort of thing, but more than a young child would cope with probably. MIL would then be the 'rescuer' and intervene and be the Nice one.

This has totally carried on over the years and now BIL's dd gives it right back - mealtimes are a bit odd, usual pleasantries are interspersed with "No I'm not sitting next to Grandad!" or things like (this isn't exact but the gist is there) BIL might say: "So, you DO have something in common with Grandad - you both like cheesecake!" BIL's dd: "NO!!" [much laughter around the table] "I'm not having cheesecake!! I'm having what Grandma is having!" It's all colluded with by the family, when actually I think sometimes BIL's dd is bordering on being really quite rude to FIL, yet it's all laughed off. MIL has said to me that it's terribly hurtful sometimes, poor Grandad, but it's his own fault, I told him little girls don't like being teased like that but he didn't listen..." I find it all a bit odd, but everyone probably puts it down to me not 'getting' the family banter and humour. So there are a LOT of fixed roles going on - to say the least.

PassTheSherry Sat 09-Nov-13 21:34:06

because you come from a family who are not like this i.e emotionally healthy and balanced. It is very difficult indeed to deal with such people effectively; the only way forward to my mind for you is to keep your distance both physically and emotionally.

The thing is, I didn't come from a healthy and balanced family so it's difficult for me to see what is 'normal'.

My background is only child, older parents who were immigrants, who socialised with their own culture. My upbringing was characterised by not fitting in. Anywhere. I didn't have the same type of home life as my school friends, we never did things as a family like my friends' families did, I physically stood out at school, and I wasn't enough like my parents at home. Growing up was hard. My parents worked intensely throughout my childhood and teens, and I was left to my own devices a lot. I have no real idea what an ordinary, family life is like - DP's family seem as 'normal' and ordinary as any. Over the years I've come to realise that even so - there are dynamics under the surface that are not quite as happy as I thought. However, is this more strange than other so-called 'normal' families? I don't know...

Glimmerberry Sat 09-Nov-13 22:01:21

My parents treated me and my sister like this. I am DD2 and was considered trouble. I'm probably a bit more cerebral than my sister and got bored easily I suppose. In adult life I went on to uni, a busy professional career and continue to like being busy and stimulated. My sis is a very happy SAHM.

I have virtually NO relationship with my parents. The idea that I was "trouble" caused so much harm. To be brief:

1. As a young adolescent, having being continually told was I trouble, I proved them all right by drinking early, playing truant etc.

2. As an older adolescent I avoided people who deep down I thought were too good for me (because I was trouble, of course) and only had friends who treated me badly, and some terrible boyfriends.

3. As a young adult I married an absolute loser (a classic MN cocklodger) despite knowing what a twat was, because being trouble, I felt I'd never do better.

It took me until I was about 30 to realise, how can I be trouble/bad? All I've ever done is study, try to do my best, try to be good to my family, pay my bills and otherwise live a pretty conservative life. So I tried to put it behind me, allowed myself to fall in love with a very good man and start to have the life I'd pushed away before.

At (nearly) 40 there are still repercussions from this early labelling. I don't think my sister has really let go of the idea that I'm trouble, so although we're reasonably close, I keep any misfortune to myself (missing out on sibling support) as there's always the sense that she believes I deserve any bad luck, or have brought it on myself. I also have a very, very limited relationship with my parents because I can't identify with who they label me as and it's just weird and uncomfortable being in their presence, and too easy for me to slip into old habits believing their labelling to be true IYSWIM.

I think that you just need to be honest with MIL. Explain what she is doing, acknowledge that you are sure it is without malice or malintent, but that it is strongly at odds with how you parent and what you find acceptable from anyone spending a lot of time with your children (which you hope she will continue to do). Thank her, and reinforce her behaviour, every time you notice any effort NOT to behave in this way.

moldingsunbeams Sun 10-Nov-13 08:53:11

my Grandad did this with me and my cousin for many years, we cannot stand to be in the same room as each other now despite being close as small children because of him, you have to stop this. There is so much resentment and anger.

PassTheSherry Sun 10-Nov-13 09:03:33

Glimmerberry Thanks for your post, it really hits home when you lay out the thought processes like that. I definitely don't want that to happen for dd2 and had thought of the situation as something that needed monitoring for the future, but hadn't thought it had gone as far as needing addressing right now. I understand why it's important to stop it asap now.

I will speak to MIL about it, the next time I see her (in a couple of weeks) and I like your suggestion about the way of doing it. (Think she will be upset enough by that anyway.) My trouble is I will spend the next couple of weeks rehearsing it in my head, and still worried that I will go too far - as this has gone on so long, that if she even tries to deny it I can see myself getting angry.

dozeydoris Sun 10-Nov-13 09:06:11

You said she married FIL because he had a nice father but what usually happens is that people inadvertently repeat the relationships they know and marry someone who on the surface is different but underneath are like their own parent.
So FIL's treatment of his older DGD sounds a bit like MIL's father.

Perhaps if you comment to DD2 as some point to let her understand that you think the DMIL's behavior isn't nice or is strange DD2 will feel able to speak up if she feels picked on. If at the moment everyone is implying that DGPs are lovely people she will think it is her that is wrong. There's no harm imo in letting DCs see that adults have failings, perhaps criticize or explain DFIL's behavior towards older DGD so they can see why DGD behaves in such an apparently rude way. But at a level they might understand and without blatant criticism.

I feel things should be aired with DCs as they were never during my childhood and you can misunderstand the adult behavior and wrongly blame yourself. Excuse the amateur psychology, am quite happy if someone more knowledgeable comes along and says I am talking bollocks!!

Even though your own childhood was not great you realise that what is happening now with your two girls is wrong so your radar is not completely off kilter here. His radar though is. Unfortunately for you, your man cannot or equally does not want to see that what his mother is doing is wrong. Denial is a powerful force and I see he's already dismissed much of the thinking on this thread; a decision that could well come back to haunt him. Its too painful for him to realise that his, to him a "good", mother is actually anything but and has caused a lot of damage.

Its certainly not the childrens fault that their granny chooses to behave like this.

I would also state your man's family is inherently dysfunctional and has been that way for many years. This type of stuff does go down the generations.

I have stated before that MIL now is just repeating the past and re-enacting the same patterns seen in childhood. One generation i.e your man and his brother have been profoundly affected by their parents actions and now there is a second generation being treated the same.

My guess too is that whatever you say to her re your DDs is not going to go down at all well regardless of how nicely you put it. I would still talk to her about it though even though you may not actually get very far, I think she will be completely unreasonable and accuse you of all sorts. Your own behaviour must remain above reproach. Also you cannot count on much if any support from your man, I think he is far more afraid of her than he is of you. She could possibly then have a previously unknown of health problem or illness.

I would consider actually seeing her sooner than in two weeks time or at least when you think you feel strong enough to talk to her. Any weakness on your part will be exploited by her so be very careful when you do speak to her.

PassTheSherry Sun 10-Nov-13 09:23:27

Something that has occurred to me - do you think I should actually speak to the girls about it? Or just keep them out of it? Because if the visits change in any way - I wouldn't want them to not know why, and think it was somehow their fault.

If I'm serious about tackling it I should probably plan for the contingency of MIL not taking it well. Dreading.

I've noticed that since coming back from dgps they've been really tale-telling on each other - they do a bit of that anyway, but it seems more than usual. Yesterday they were bickering in the car and DP caught dd1 givng dd2 a sneaky kick (not hard, but still). We told dd1 off and made her apologise to dd2. Dd2 seemed to shrug the incident off as soon as she got the apology, but dd1 was in floods of tears for about 10mins. It could be coincidence (busy week) but they do seem more insecure and competitive this week.

PassTheSherry Sun 10-Nov-13 09:24:59

X- posts lol

youarewinning Sun 10-Nov-13 09:37:13

Any child being spoken about negatively at 4yo is going to suffer. Whether this is by parents, GP's, teachers, extended family or friends of the parents etc. It's also a time where a child will start to find their own identity and may begin to play up to the label they have been given.

I feel for your DD2. That's not a nice way to treat a 4yo and whilst MIL should celebrate your DD1's obvious talent for Art she should be celebrating your DD2's strengths aswell.

I agree totally with glimmer. Your DD's are who they are. They are separate people who should not be compared.

youarewinning Sun 10-Nov-13 09:39:59

pass your post about your DD1 being uber upset reminds me of something someone posted here on MN not so long ago. That children who are often treated as the 'good ones' or are not use to being told off can react badly when caught out. It's because they don't know how to react to a telling off. So perhaps it is a reaction to the weekend with MIL.

"I've noticed that since coming back from dgps they've been really tale-telling on each other - they do a bit of that anyway, but it seems more than usual. Yesterday they were bickering in the car and DP caught dd1 givng dd2 a sneaky kick (not hard, but still). We told dd1 off and made her apologise to dd2. Dd2 seemed to shrug the incident off as soon as she got the apology, but dd1 was in floods of tears for about 10mins. It could be coincidence (busy week) but they do seem more insecure and competitive this week".

What youarewinning has written.

I doubt very much it is coincidence; its a result of them being subjected to their granny and her enabler of a H again. They are separate individuals and any comparison is highly damaging; they both have strengths and weaknesses.

The role that your MIL has assigned to your DD1 is a role also not without price. Being on that pedestal is very hard for her, small wonder therefore she reacted as she did because she got knocked off it. She cannot handle it at all and is being damaged here as well.

SmallMechanicalBrain Sun 10-Nov-13 09:58:56

I don't think your MIL will take any of this on board at all.
It's worth saying something, but carefully or she'll turn it on you, but I can imagine a scenario like this happening:-
Mil - ooh dd1, you are wonderful. Of course dd2, you are wonderful too <rolls eyes>.
Which could actually be more damaging to both dd.

I think that for the time being the sleepovers need to stop and you need to be there with your dd's so you can stand up for them and be quite vocal on their behalf.
If your dh isn't on board with this, then there's even more reason to be there with them - someone needs to put their welfare first.

Your mil sounds very manipulative.

dozeydoris Sun 10-Nov-13 10:02:58

DMIL seems to be in denial of any flaws in her father's behavior in her childhood so it will be unlikely she will truly accept that she is wrong in her treatment of DCs, not that she is deliberately being difficult, more that she won't see what she is doing wrong due to her past.

vvviola Sun 10-Nov-13 10:16:44

PasstheSherry - that's exactly how DB and I would act after prolonged time with my GM. In our case it was the favoured child trying to extend that to times when GM wasn't there (I think). It became a habit after a while, and our adult relationship still has a fair amount of childish oneupmanship going on.

HogFucker Sun 10-Nov-13 17:03:59

How horrible of her. I don't think I would allow that arrangement to continue and would have fairly strong words.

It may upset your MIL, but she's an adult and that's her issue, she'll have to suck it up. The alternative is a situation that could erode your daughter's confidence.

liquidstate Sun 10-Nov-13 18:31:34

I would say to your DH it definitely needs sorting out. I was labeled as a child compared and to my sister. Not as a troublemaker. But I was the brains and she was the looks out of the two of us. I still think I am ugly. I do not speak to my sister at all, there is jealousy on both sides tbh.

Each of your daughters has the potential to excel and both are wonderful in different ways. People who do not see this are simply toxic.

PassTheSherry Sun 10-Nov-13 20:13:24

dozeydoris

I understand what you say about how dd2 might not feel able to say anything as there IS a perception of everything being 'lovely'. In fact MIL has a habit of asking "did you have a lovely time?" over the most innocuous of things (there is no alternative option).

One family Christmas she literally asked me "Are you having a lovely time?" 3 separate times in the space of about 15mins, before breakfast. I was grinding my teeth by the end. Thing is I put it down to a generational gap as well - they are a bit olde worlde. She sort of behaves like a clucky Mother Hen, getting everyone else in order. There is a family in-joke about her 'bossiness' as she organises everyone. FIL can get quite ill-tempered with her, over it - but she says it's because she lives with FIL and BIL, and if she didn't 'organise the men' then nothing would ever get done. Some of it is actually true though - as they (FIL and BIL) do seem to just take themselves off and she potters around keeping house, making tea, 'looking after' everyone, making sure everyone is 'having a lovely time'. In some ways we were never going to see eye to eye as I have very different views on gender roles.

There was another thing which occurred on the recent visit - when we arrived to collect them, dd2 came rushing up and jumped up for a hug. Both dds usually do that - it's a lovely welcome we always get. dd1 went to get a picture to show us and MIL said "She's not pleased to see you at all - she's run in the other direction!" hmm Obviously she was pleased and came running to us with her picture, full of chat etc. This sort of 'joke' from MIL isn't uncommon. I don't find it particularly funny, so just ignore, ignore, ignore. Then she will also say "They do miss you very much, but they had a lovely time." The dcs tell us that they miss us, but they do like going and enjoy themselves there too. So I just think she and I don't share the same sense of humour. It's all a bit confusing.

On this occasion MIL and FIL seemed a bit less understanding with the missing us bit - on one of the evenings dd2 had apparently suddenly had a bout of tears. Dd2 was lying on the floor in the lounge, watching TV with dd1 - when she suddenly got a bit weepy and kept saying "Mummy! Daddy!" Crying. The way MIL was telling us it was almost like a complaint in tone. DP and I were saying "Oh no! Poor dd2.." but MIL said "Well the trouble is when she does that it sets dd1 off." Which made me think my poor dd2 needed a cuddle and have her feelings validated, and maybe didn't get one and was told off instead. Hope not, but I don't know, and hearing this also started making me question...Btw when we showed up dd2 was all bouncey and happy, full of tales about being taken to a Fireworks display, things she'd done etc and seemed fine.

I just wonder if anything that rocks the Happy/Lovely Boat, is seen as mildly treacherous behaviour as MIL is basically in charge, therefore it's taken personally.

PassTheSherry Sun 10-Nov-13 22:11:27

I'm not sure FIL is as bad as MIL's father - he teases dgc but from what I see he cares about her. They both do. They used to fret about her when she was a toddler, and was quite a fussy eater, I remember lots of worried discussions over how to encourage her to eat - genuine concern. MIL's father sounds as though he was pretty awful to his ds and downright nasty, to make him wear shoes that were too small.

Spoke to dd1 this morning and asked her if she ever feels pressured to be 'good'. She didn't really know what I meant, so I said
"You know...I wouldn't want you to think that Mummy and Daddy wouldn't love you as much if you weren't good all the time...because...[searching for words]" ...
"You love me the way I am?"
"Yes."
"I like being good, and anyway, being good is good!"
"[laugh] OK..."

I made up a fairytale tonight, as I didn't know how to broach it with dd2 about being labelled and how it might make her feel. Not sure if it was any good, as it was on the spur of the moment, but it went something like this:

Once upon a time, there were two princesses, 'Milly' and 'Tilly', who were twins. Each had different magical powers - they could both fly, but one could make things invisible, and the other could make people happy. Princess Milly liked Maths, and Princess Tilly liked sweeping (? Names, magical powers, and interests were dd1 and dd2's input, respectively!!)

One day they met a Wizard (Dc's requested a presence of an evil wizard) who wanted to play a trick on them, so he could rule instead. The wizard decided the best way to weaken their powers, was to trick them, and the people in the land, into thinking they weren't friends anymore - so they wouldn't be able to use their powers together. That way, they would be easier to fight. So the Wizard started spreading rumours that Milly who liked Maths, was super-talented and wonderful, and Tilly was naughty, because she was different from Milly. At first Milly and Tilly didn't believe these stories, but after a long time, they grew sad. Milly didn't like having to be wonderful all the time, and she really missed the fun she used to have with Tilly. Tilly was sad because she wanted to make people happy, but everyone thought she was naughty, instead. But she wasn't naughty! She liked sweeping(!), and that wasn't a naughty thing to do at all, and it was just as good as liking...erm, Maths. So one day, they realised that it was all a trick and it was OK to be different from each other, and everyone is 'wonderful' some of the time, and 'naughty' some of the time. They were both fine as they were...so they joined hands and were able to make people happy, AND use the invisibility power to escape the Wizards castle where he'd locked them up, and promised to stay friends. The End. (Finished abruptly as it was getting late!)

Four things that happened immediately after:
1) They want to know what happens in chapter two!
2) Dd1 said she knows the moral of the story - the Wizard wanted them to break friends so that the princesses would like him more, instead of each other.
3) Dd1 said "I love you so much Mummy"
4) Dd2 said "I miss "[BIL's dd]" " (Interesting..do you think she was randomly relating the story to dgps household?)

dozeydoris Mon 11-Nov-13 09:59:55

Perhaps the Wizard can up his game in the second chapter and they can win over him again Hurrah!!!!!!!

DD1's comment seems very perceptive an DD2's is food for thought.

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 10:07:45

Oh my goodness. MIL's ears must have been burning as this morning an envelope arrived for dd2 (just dd2).

In it was some drawings and a note saying she'd found some of her and dd1's artwork while tidying, and please could she show Mummy and Daddy, and dd1...love dgm xxx

That's rather sweet isn't it? She's never written a personal note just to dd2 before. Now I feel like this thread is being really horrible to her, and it's back to this favouritism thing maybe being unjustified...she is well-intentioned and doesn't realise.

I agree that talking to her about it, is very likely not going to go down well at all, but I feel I 'should' try, rather than just limit visits with no conversation beforehand. I think she would be heartbroken and it would cause such a massive rift.

Atilla
Won't get a chance to see them before the two weeks as we have stuff going on at the weekends, and I have school runs during the week. Have thought about ringing up and casually mentioning, but I rarely ring MIL for chats (I did do in the past, but stopped when DP and I had a big bust up once. He rang his parents (!), and they immediately got in their car and drove 2hrs to sort it out with me, on his behalf. I had gone to work and MIL showed up in my workplace wanting to advocate for her ds. Hugely inappropriate. I was completely embarrassed and humiliated and have never confided in her since, and usually just keep things polite and on a superficial level. I very nearly broke up with DP over that as I lost so much respect for him - however he said he never asked them to drive over. Even so it remains a painful incident in our past that I still feel they never should have got involved in (and he should never had got them involved). So really, just by bringing up the subject of what has been bothering me, is a 'big deal' because normally we wouldn't discuss much beyond the weather or make small talk now.

Anniegetyourgun Mon 11-Nov-13 10:22:42

No, this thread is not unfair to MIL, because she has been doing the things you observed. The fact that she has done something nice is encouraging, and will give you a positive thing to start the conversation with ("oh thank you so much for sending DD2's pictures, that was a lovely thought, you know I sometimes worry a bit that you don't get on with her so well because..."). However it has not always been like that. It is most unlikely that she has suddenly changed. She doesn't sound like a bad person but she does have some very entrenched attitudes that will continue to give trouble for your DDs if you do not watch her like a hawk.

mummytime Mon 11-Nov-13 11:04:41

"Yesterday they were bickering in the car and DP caught dd1 givng dd2 a sneaky kick (not hard, but still). We told dd1 off and made her apologise to dd2. Dd2 seemed to shrug the incident off as soon as she got the apology, but dd1 was in floods of tears for about 10mins. It could be coincidence (busy week) but they do seem more insecure and competitive this week."
I just wanted to highlight this passage, because in reading the thread I have become concerned about the effect on DD1 as much as DD2. There is a lot of research now showing that praising children for being 'clever' as opposed to 'working hard' can have very negative consequences.

I would think as your DDs get older going to visit Grandma every 4/5 weeks will become less convenient as they have more activities at weekends.

Actually I also find it a bit odd, that they mainly interact with the extended family without you or your DP. That isn't really a "normal" family dynamic.

IamGluezilla Mon 11-Nov-13 11:15:50

Think MIL might be a secret mumsnetter!

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 12:30:34

mummytime

When I started this thread it was mainly because I was concerned about dd2, as being labelled as 'trouble' has more negative connotations than 'wonderful'. However, over the course of it, have been reminded that it all puts extra pressure on dd1 as well.

As others have pointed out (and thank you btw), if dd1 is a sensitive soul, it's even more important to not get into fixed roles where she ends up feeling she has be be 'good' and 'wonderful' all the time to maintain approval. I'd hate that, myself.

I'm sure we make loads of mistakes every day, but we try to provide a balanced view of themselves, and each other (sounding like Jerry Springer now!). We don't want to dictate that they are "this" or "that" and no room for flexibility.

It's difficult not to compare sometimes though, as they ARE different. I catch myself saying "dd1 can be quite sensitive sometimes", or "dd2 can be quite fiesty" BUT it's never said with the implication that sensitivity is 'better' than fiestiness. To me/us - they each have their own personalities that are interesting and lovable, and it's good that they're not clones of each other!

I think "wonderful" vs. "trouble" - is a slightly different issue, to "clever" vs. "working hard". However, I see what you might be saying, because "wonderful" is nice, but a bit wishy-washy, and it doesn't tell dd1 anything about why she is wonderful. So ultimately adds to the stress.

Were you thinking about the study by Carol Dweck? If so, I did read an article on it once, and it was very interesting. I showed it to DP who also took it on board, and we do try to praise for effort or specific action. But... we do forget sometimes...

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 12:34:23

IamGluezilla

Well I wish she were! In which case: MIL, I'm really sorry if any of this is upsetting but I am concerned.

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 12:58:53

mummytime
Sorry forgot to add - yes it may be a bit odd that they go and see extended family mainly without us. It's just something that developed over the years, probably initially from when I was heavily pregnant and expecting dd2.

We had no other back-up and dd1 was still under 2yrs, and didn't feel comfortable dropping her off at friends etc. I was worried about what to do with dd1 if I suddenly went into labour with her around in the house (prev emergency c-section). So ILs had her to stay for the first time without us. All went well and dd1 had great time etc. So it probably set a precedent from there. We then used to stay overnight with both dcs until dd2 got a bit older too - then they said if we liked we could just take some time off (as not had any time on our own for years by then - not even a couple of hrs on the odd evening). All seemed happy, dds fine. I don't drive, so if we waited for DP to be available, they would only be able to go up Saturday and come home Sunday. At the moment ILs drive up Friday afternoon and pick them up, and take them back with them. They want to, as they get longer with dgcs, and drive quite a bit in their work anyway. Also BIL's dd stays over there every other weekend so they get to see more of their cousin as well, if she's on a visit. If BIL's dd is there, there is also less bedspace.

So we've just fallen into this pattern were DP and I stay home, then go up on Sunday to have a family lunch with everyone and bring children home. Worked OK up till now, and as I don't particularly find it relaxing being there, but the dd's have loved going - they've just gone by themselves.

It's probably reached the point where we need to go with them again though.

mummytime Mon 11-Nov-13 16:21:21

I'm really bad at the clever thing BTW! And it was from work based on Carol Dwerk's initial work.

PicardyThird Mon 11-Nov-13 18:03:54

PassTheSherry - you are very perceptive and I think your instincts are bang on.

I do think you need to tackle it, calmly. I'm sorry your dp is not as completely on board as he should be.

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 18:04:07

I think it's bloody hard work trying to do the right thing all the time!

Like we affectionately call them "beautiful" sometimes (well, to us they are lol). But then, sort of back-track clumsily because we don't want them to get the message that being 'pretty' is the be all and end all. So it's all a bit clumsy cos of our own ingrained habits, but we at least try.

Thing is, I know we're not perfect parents either, and regularly trip-up. In some ways because I have this lack of 'normality' reference due to my own background - no siblings, no cousins, own Mum passed away long before dc's arrived - I've tried to fill in the gaps by reading a fair amount.

This means that MIL and FIL's 'old school' approach can sometimes be even more at odds with what I'm trying to do. I do think I should give them some slack, because they won't have read various parenting articles, etc.

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 18:16:07

PicardyThird Thank you - that's very nice to hear. I'm kind of looking for hand-holding, and to have a sounding board really as I didn't really have a normal childhood myself. I veer between thinking "No. It really isn't in my head." to "Maybe it's me just spoiling things for everyone. After all, everyone else seems quite happy with the arrangments (even dd2)."

I am virtually discounting DP as any strong support in this as he won't say boo to his Mum. But then, he can do no wrong in her eyes either so it's a powerful tag team. I am dreading rocking the boat tbh.

dozeydoris Mon 11-Nov-13 18:29:57

You are doing a great job OP. We are all stuck with the childhoods we had, plus the characteristics we inherit, so no one will be the perfect parent. But being aware and keeping an eye on things is half the battle and you are doing a great job at that.
Providing a safe place where DCs can voice any opinions, such as using the wizard story, should mean that DGPs 'quirky' behavior can be discussed and explained. Then perhaps as they grow up they will just dismiss things as 'Granny being silly again' rather than having secret worries about who is or isn't best.
This will be a long term project for you so don't wear yourself out worrying about it, with support the DCs will be fine. Best of luck.

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 18:44:07

Going back through this thread makes me feel sad. Am grateful to all the posters who shared their experiences, and live with the repercussions of 'favouritism'. Thank you and Wow. It 'seems' like it's not that big a deal, 'shit happens', but it's so destructive! Wastes such a lot of years, never mind the loss of feeling connected to your sibling.

I look at our two, from the added perspective of an only child, and it's absolutely delightful how they play (and argue, and bicker) - but mostly laugh together. To me that is really precious. Found a note once that dd1 had written by herself, saying "I love dd2 because she is my sister." And dd2 often says dd1 is her "most favourite thing in the world". It's just very sweet right now, and I would do what I have to do to protect that friendship.

Wandastartup Mon 11-Nov-13 19:34:47

I could have written your post almost word for word( 2 daughters, same ages) apart from less frequent in-law visits! It makes me so sad that our children are labelled like this( in our case really from birth). Lots of usefuadvice here which I too will take on board!

PassTheSherry Mon 11-Nov-13 19:50:16

Also Atilla - throughout this thread you have been a strong voice advocating stopping dc's from going. I am not ignoring what you say and have given it some thought - just, not ready for that.

I feel we should try other steps first, as the family connection IS important to me, and I don't want to take that away from them lightly. Hoping you're wrong, but thinking maybe you could be right, so thank you for the warning, and I'll bear it in mind.

Will update what happens...

lifehasafunnywayofhelpinguout Tue 12-Nov-13 00:21:47

Ooh. It's not going to be easy but you need to talk to their grandparents and tell them that it upsets you that she differciates between your your dd's. As you say they get on well now but believe me if this continues resentment and jealousy will eventually rare it's head.

PassTheSherry Tue 12-Nov-13 10:25:10

Thank you life - I think I have been well and truly convinced that I do need to address it! It just feels like the beginning of a possibly long and painful road. I don't intend to let dds go without me until when/if I feel that the dynamics are much healthier. Not expecting miracles but at least with me there, I can see for myself what goes on.

This means DP and I won't get any time as a couple anymore, which am also rather gutted about as we're not in great shape either. But dc's need to to come first.

Anyway, I'm even more curious what goes on now, what on earth do you make of this?

This morning, while I was getting them ready for school, dd1 said to me completely out of the blue (hadn't mentioned anything to do with MIL):
Dd1: "You know when we were at Grandma's the other day? She put us in "[BIL's dd]"s knickers and vests and they were too big for us."
Pass: "But you've got your own underwear in your cases."
Dd1: "Yes I know, but she put us in the other knickers anyway."
Pass: "Why did she do that?"
Dd1: "I don't know. She just did"
Dd2: "We were walking around and they were too big!" [laughs]
Pass: "Well you need to tell her you have your own knickers, just get them out and show her."
Dd1: "She already knew!"
Dd2: "She did it anyway!"
Pass: "Hmm...Do you like wearing too big knickers or something?"
Dd1: "Yeah! It was funny" [laughs]

Not saying it was anything sinister, but it sounds senselessly bonkers. BIL's dd is 12 so the size difference wouldn't have been insignificant! Why would you do that?? They each had their own supply of clothes and undies with them, neither of them are prone to 'accidents' so it's not like they ran out or anything. Just very odd. Should I mention it?

dozeydoris Tue 12-Nov-13 15:46:23

Did DGM think she was passing on some outgrown clothes of other DGD?

But there was still no reason to dress them in them - a 4yr old in a 12 yr old's knickers? - def v weird.

PassTheSherry Tue 12-Nov-13 17:55:01

Not passing on of clothes as they didn't arrive home with them.

Mentioned it to DP though, and he has a plausible explanation - it was night of fireworks display, so she dressed them in a double layer of underwear, their own, then bigger size on top. 'Old school' concern about keeping nether regions warm!!!

PassTheSherry Tue 19-Nov-13 10:37:58

FIL phoned to say they can't have dds over next time as planned - work commitments have come up. They suggested a weekend in early Dec but dd1 can't make it due to other stuff going on then - so settled on a date in mid Dec (again no mention of dd2 being still welcome - although, as I'm not sure if I'd want dd1 and dd2 to visit separately at the moment anyway, I didn't suggest it either).

I asked if it would be OK if I went along and stayed too, "as it's been a while since we've done that", and FIL was delighted, said that's even better.

So we are all going up as a family for one overnight, and all coming home the next day. Dgps get to see dds, I can keep an eye on things, and have dd2's back if MIL says/does anything to make dd2 out to be the scapegoat, and generally bring some levity to the over-praising of dd1 as well. DP and I can still hopefully get a bit of time on our own, for a couple of hrs in the evening when children are in bed.

I'm anticipating that at some point over the stay, I will probably have to say something, but it feels easier to have it broken down in smaller steps i.e. not have to make a point of staying over, and ILs taking offence at that already. At least this way it seems more 'natural'.

boschy Tue 19-Nov-13 13:44:02

god OP this all sounds so wearing. I've read the thread, and am delighted to see you are going with them on the next trip.

My MIL has a v. dysfunctional relationship with her own sister, to the point that they dont speak at all and can only be barely polite at public events (weddings, funerals, etc).

My older DD was a difficult small child, while DD2 was a delight. MIL took great pleasure in telling them both for a while that sisters always hate each other... which I continually told them wasnt true, of course.

About 7 years ago we really dramatically cut down contact with the PIL, just through making excuses about busy lives etc. PIL now totally favour our DDs cousins, SIL's children (which we knew was on the way anyway). DH would not have seen this as a deliberate thing btw, because as the non-wonderful child himself, it was and still is too difficult for him to address.

To get to the point, my DDs (now 17 and 14) have really seen through their GPs for the last 5 years or so, have learned to live with it, and tbh they really dont care that the cousins are the favourites, they just shrug. it helps that my DM adores them - but the point is, we went to considerable lengths to absolutely reinforce their sibling bond, rather than the bond with GPs (because GPs were damaging them). dont know if that's any help, from the perspective of older parents?

HotDAMNlifeisgood Tue 19-Nov-13 14:27:29

I think you should have a read of "Toxic In-Laws" by Susan Forward.

I love the bedtime story you invented for them. Your little girls are as smart and perceptive as you are.

Like many on this thread, I come from generations of dysfunctional family dynamics. I was "trouble" and my sister was "the good one". We both have low self-esteem and unmet potential, and as an adult I spent far too long in a violent and abusive marriage. The messages your MIL is giving DDs will cause deep and long-lasting damage, as you have realised.

However, while you DO need to speak to your MIL, you will not and cannot get her to see your side of things. The only goal you can have when you speak to her is in setting boundaries which she will undoubtedly test and rail against. Sadly it doesn't sound like your husband is willing to back you up. So all the things you say will have to be short and uber-clear. The best and most effective thing is to catch her in the act, and:

- describe what she is doing, factually, in a way that she can't contest ("MIL, you just said you 'could have throttled' DD2")
- say how it makes you feel ("It makes me angry to hear you speak about my child like that.")
- request alternative behaviour, without saying "please" ("Don't demean DD2, or compare the two girls.")

She won't take it well, and her responses may include blaming you (for being "oversensitive"), or making it all about her (tears, tantrum, appealing to FIL and your DH...). Just hold the line, repeat your request as necessary, remember that you have every right to feel upset about her behaviour towards the DDs, even if they all try to convince you that you "shouldn't" be, and just remove yourself and DDs from her presence if she can't accept your simple request. You will probably have to repeat this scenario several times before they realise that they have to respect your boundaries if they want to see you and the DDs.

Good luck.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Tue 19-Nov-13 17:14:25

Another one here who suffers from favouritism and is seeing history repeating itself with my parents.

I was always "the moody one", my older sister "the sensible one", these stereotypes were repeated constantly, and still are, which has caused great damage to our relationship.

Now my DNs who are 6 and 4, same ages as your DCs OP, are being set into clear pre-determined roles by my parents, particularly by my DF. The eldest DN, who is intelligent, quiet, thoughtful etc is "Such a delightful child", while the younger DN who is feisty, cheeky, funny, entertaining is called "A little Bugger" and laughed at whenever he's naughty. THey say things like DGC1 was such a good boy, but this little bugger (DGC2) is the naughty one.

He's a lovely child, but I worry that my parents stereotyping will become a self fulfilling prophecy for him, and he'll think "well if you think I'm a little bugger, I will be one".... there's no talking any sense into my DPs though.

Spiritedwolf Tue 19-Nov-13 23:40:19

I think you are right to be there for your girls and to state your boundaries plainly.

I can't remember if my EA F was ever so obvious as to actually label us, but I was always aware of being the 'good, nice, well behaved one' when my sister was going through her moody teenage years.

What this meant in practice, is that I was the compliant one who tried to appease him and blamed myself when he was angry (over very small stuff), especially in my teenage years. I never felt like I could be angry or defiant back, I just stood there and took it.

It really messed me up. I was terrified of making mistakes, getting things wrong etc. Now obviously it wasn't all down to the labelling, a lot of it was his shouting and EA. But the thing was, I was totally limited by that label, I felt I had to be nice and good all the time, I couldn't rock the boat, I was frightened of telling people about what he was really like because that wouldn't be 'nice' to him. His love felt conditional on me being on my best behaviour. Which of course I couldn't be as he picked on smaller and smaller things wrong.

When I left home, I ended up dropping out of university due to anxiety that developed into agoraphobia. (I felt even more crap about this becuse I was also the 'clever one').

I still have problems with the "good" label, I can't enjoy a drink, feel I have to be absolutely above reproach (sounds good but means I'm hesitant about giving my opinion, feel I have to justify it and end up writing really long posts like this wink and I sometimes have trouble speaking in public).

It doesn't mean I don't ever tell my toddler DS he is "a good boy" but I do try to minimise it, saying "thank you/ta" if he has been helpful, or I am descriptive of what he's doing.

I know I'm not going to be perfect, but at least I'm aware that labels aren't harmless. Its good that your DDs aren't exposed to this attitude all the time and that you are going to protect them by being there. I haven't left DS alone with my F, if I had been unsure about that decision, I was made certain by the comments he has made around DS. One day he expressed that he'd like to tell him off (I can't remember the exact phrasing, but it was more like giving him a bollocking, but maybe he didn't swear), baby DS hadn't done anything wrong at all, not even something worthy of a firm 'No'. I told him he would not give DS a telling off (but used whatever phrase it was he had). He said "that sounds like a challenge" and I said "No its not, I meant it". Since then he's been pretty distant and not said anything similar. I had frozen up when he'd said similar things in the past. I'm glad I stood up to him.

I had mentally rehearsed for weeks how to call my F on his sarky, mean, bullying BS. But that was the first time he hadn't caught me off guard. I am prepared to walk out if he ever shouts at DS or belittles him. I had to live with it growing up, I'm sure as hell he won't have to.

Please be aware that your DH and you being unwilling to rock the boat, upset her, cause a row extra is exactly the kind of politeness bullies rely upon. Do read up on toxic parents/inlaws. And she doesn't need to shout to be a bully. DD2 is put in a situation with her where she can't do anythign right when she's just being 4 years old, and DD1 was right when she said that the wizard wanted her to like him rather than her sister. Her GMs love and attention appears to be conditional on her being quiet, artistic etc because her sister who isn't those things doesn't get it.

I think the siblings without rivalry book is probably a good one, I haven't read it, but I have read How to talk so Kids will listen which I think is along the same lines in terms of techniques - its all about respecting children. grin

Spiritedwolf Tue 19-Nov-13 23:43:35

My Dsis and I aren't close, but we are being kinder to one another since we both had children.

Spiritedwolf Tue 19-Nov-13 23:44:33

Oh, and she was there when I stood up to my dad, she didn't say anything, but I hope she noticed and felt that she could also put limits on how he deals with DNs

PassTheSherry Wed 20-Nov-13 11:50:42

boschy Thanks for your story and it's encouraging that your dc's seem able to shrug it off now, years later! So they would have been 10 and 7 when you dramatically cut down on contact. It's appalling they were constantly told that sisters hate each other. Luckily I don't think PILs are that bad. MIL does tell them to be kind to one another.

Are the cousins both girls too? If so they might be subjected to the same thing now. What a horribly negative message.

HotDAMN Thanks for the book recommendation - I will check it out! I like what you say about catching MIL doing something and then describing factually what has happened, stating how it affects me, and requesting alternative behaviour. That sounds assertive, and to the point. Exactly what I need to do, to stay calm. My nightmare is that I will get an uncontrollable urge to apologise for rocking the Happy/Lovely Boat saying something, before I even open my mouth. Or go the other way and jump down her throat as soon as she twitches! Those three things are quite easy to remember though.

Yes I'm not expecting great shakes to come from it. Probably more like a stunned silence and a bit of defensiveness from MIL. Then maybe someone changes the subject. Early Family xmas dinner in a stilted atmosphere along with the occasional favouritism slip up, which will be immediately followed by a look in my direction ('Oops did she catch that') and furtive glances at each other, in the 'must tread carefully around super-sensitive, uptight DIL' manner. I'll probably sit there seething at being regarded like a strange and alien species, and feeling uncomfortable that no one is backing me up. Dc's bewildered at what is going on.

That's probably a likely scenario, I can almost see it unfolding before my very eyes!!! Turkey, tinsel, and a (suppressed) Family Falling-Out, amongst the christmas crackers.

If it really is that horrible, at least we can leave the next day and I will have drawn a line, which they can then mull over (and possibly completely ignore - but will cross that bridge later). Then I will probably feel really guilty!

DoYouEverFeel Your dc's situation does sound familiar! Yes to the self-fulfilling prophecy concern. Glimmerberry's post upthread (Sat 09-Nov-13 22:01:21) rang alarm bells for me as I could see so clearly how she arrived at certain decisions. Of course if you're told you're trouble - or a little bugger, you internalise it and behave accordingly. If you feel like you fail at being 'good', you might as well succeed in being 'bad'. Then if you feel you're never good enough, or just trouble, you go with whatever you think you deserve, or can identify with. Other people who are labelled trouble of course. It's not a recipe for a happy life and just the thought makes me want to hug dd2 so tightly and tell her all the ways in which she shines.

See, I can be much more objective seeing your situation because it's not my own - and I would be saying exactly the same as all the others here. Challenge them on it, tell them it's not acceptable, or lessen contact. Simples! (If only...)

It's so sad. It's quite an eye-opener when so many people, siblings who have grown up with favouritism and labelling, actually say "it caused great damage to our relationship". So many people have said that in this thread. Yet it's so common.

Spiritedwolf Thanks for your story. It's another stark reminder that the damage goes to the 'good' one too. I do get concerned that dd1 runs the risk of perfectionism and being risk averse. Thanks in part to the many anecdotes in this thread I know to keep an eye on it. It was parents' evening recently and I casually mentioned that we were a bit concerned sometimes, that dd1 might be too much of a perfectionist - told the teacher the recent incident of how she had been in floods of tears for 10mins, over what had been a mild telling off. The teacher said she does take risks at school, seems confident and happy - no concerns but will keep an eye out.

I know many people consider it too late to reconcile with siblings in adulthood (I often wonder what would happen, if ILs were not around as the central gathering point for family occasions, would DP and BIL be in touch at all?). Such a pity though, that childhood bonds - kids are so open and naturally accepting too - get worn thin by the messed up behaviour of adults around them.

Sometimes I think maybe having children helps. I do notice that DP's self-confidence has grown a bit since we first got together, and more since having kids - maybe it's having that central point move from the family home, to their own life outside. Also having kids makes you view your own upbringing more analytically, and maybe with a more critical eye, as you go through your own choices...it does with me, anyway.

boschy Wed 20-Nov-13 14:21:06

sherry you are going to be just fine, because you know exactly what is going on, and are taking steps to address it. your girls will know that you are on their side (for both of them), and that is what matters the most.

the cousins are girl/boy, roughly each a year younger than our 2. their mother (DH's younger sister) was the golden child, while he was the naughty one (err, I think he was a small boy actually). his relationship with his parents is superficially polite but very shallow, and with his sister I would say pretty minimal - they never call each other, we see her and her kids maybe 2-3 times a year.

PIL, when we see them (maybe 4-6 times a year) constantly reinforce the brilliance, achievements, blah di blah of the cousins while asking nothing about our girls, or me. things are quite strained... DDs never actively want to see PIL, or when told they are coming will groan. Then we make a list of things to talk about so we dont have to hear about the wonderfulness of the cousins!!

so I would say continue to concentrate on your own family unit, and keep PIL at arms length - doesnt mean having to cut contact all together, but being in there and keeping an eye means you can nip incidences in the bud, or if you cant, you can at least explain them in age-appropriate ways afterwards.

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