Relationship Connection: My parents are hurting my kids by favoring my youngest

Question

I am a single mother of four children and I live with my parents. I love my parents and they love all my children and me. However, they clearly favor my youngest. My mother buys her things and gives her a lot of attention that the other kids don’t receive.

When my older kids do certain things, they are scolded or punished by my mother. When my youngest does the same things, she gets away with it. I feel like she is old enough to take responsibility as she is in the first grade. And, when I take action, my Mom often criticizes me.

My daughter has become aggressive to her older siblings. When she is given consequences she runs to Grandma, who jumps to her defense. It sometimes starts arguments with me when I have to defend my parenting decisions. I feel like this is undermining my parenting.

When I try to bring this up to my mom, she gets defensive. I stick to my guns and don’t let my mother’s criticism affect my parenting choices. She tells me that this means I don’t respect her. My father’s role is that he goes along with whatever my mom says. Or, he just stays out of it. He rarely is supportive of me if it goes against what my mom thinks.

This has not gone unnoticed. My other children feel like Grandma doesn’t love them as much as their sister. This is very hurtful to them. My older son feels like he is singled out and picked on by both of my parents. And I see why he feels this way. They tend to ignore him the most. And he gets the blame for a lot of things that his baby sister does.

My goal is to move out on my own. But with my situation it isn’t possible any time soon. What can I do for the time being to help all of my kids and try to keep the peace with my parents?

Answer

I think it’s safe to say that the sooner you can get out and reclaim your role as the mom, the better. This situation isn’t likely to fully resolve until you are on your own raising your children by your rules. While you can’t control how your mom treats your children, you can change locations to limit her direct influence.

Since you mentioned that moving isn’t an immediate possibility, let’s talk about what you can do right now.

The good news is that as soon as you move out on your own, the special treatment of your daughter will end and she will adjust back to regular sibling life where she is accountable just like everyone else. Her entitlement won’t last forever because you’re not going to live there forever. When you’re finally able to be the full-time mom to her, she will quickly learn that the days of preferential treatment are over and she’ll adjust. She’s only six years old and this will happen quickly, so please don’t panic that grandma’s favoritism is going to transform her into a permanent diva.

It’s challenging to have multiple generations living under one roof. It’s common to have confusion about roles, boundaries, and expectations when there are multiple parents. It’s likely that your mom still sees you as her little girl and bypasses your authority with your own children. If you’re going to stay in her home for now, you’ve got to dig deep and find your voice so you can protect your children from the chaos.

Even though you have tried to talk with her about your concerns, I recommend you try again. If that time doesn’t work, then try again. Stay with the conversation until roles are clear and agreements are in place. Even if your mom struggles and takes your concerns personally, you’ve got to be persistent in addressing these dynamics if you’re going to have peace. It will raise the intensity for a while, but change will happen.

Instead of sitting your mom down and singling her out as the enabler who is ruining your children, I recommend you enlist her as a support to you as the parent. Let her know you need her support as the grandmother and describe how you feel she can best support you and your children. Instead of criticizing what she’s already doing, make it clear you want to work together as adults to do what’s best for the children.

Take the lead as the mom, even though you’re living under their roof. They have authority over their home and you have authority over your children. You might ask them if there are things you and your children can do to make it easier on them as your hosts. Find out if there are ways you can support them and decrease their stress.

Don’t be afraid to engage your dad in these discussions. Even though he’s quiet and doesn’t appear to have much to contribute, my guess is that he is a good observer and might have more influence on your mom than you can. When you visit with them, make sure to ask him for his suggestions on what he recommends. He might just surprise you.

It takes courage and stamina to keep revisiting discussions that don’t resolve quickly. You don’t need to be rude, aggressive, or dramatic with them. Keep addressing it kindly, calmly, and clearly so you can help co-create better living conditions while you pass through this difficult phase.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • anybody home March 18, 2015 at 7:59 am

    As usual, more questions than answers here. Why is she living with her parents? Why does she have four kids if she can’t take care of them? What is she doing to change the situation by moving out instead of just complaining? What’s she contributing to the problem? Dr. Geoff’s advice is good, but this situation is not going to change until she gets her own act together and gets her own place. Doesn’t look good.

  • fun bag March 18, 2015 at 11:40 am

    If ur the cutest one u can get away with a lot. thats just life 🙂

  • ladybugavenger March 18, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    I was my grandparents favorite

  • Mesaizacd March 19, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    Hey what’s the problem.? It’s always been that way and always will be.

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