Grandparents that ignore granddaughter: how to deal?
February 20, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with my child coming in last with her grandparents?

My sister lives nearer to my parents (we're about 15 min away, they're less than 5), works with them, and they are constantly caring for her two kids. When we want our child to spend some time with her grandparents, there's always an excuse while they either can't do it or can't do it for very long, so she only sees them when we can schedule it far in advance and they don't cancel, or when we go to their church, where we'll see them for about 2 minutes. My sister and her family vacation with my parents; I only find out about the vacation after the fact.

I've always known, but have had trouble accepting, that I'm just not a priority with my parents, but I don't know what to do when my daughter starts to notice that her cousins have a much closer relationship to her grandparents than she does.

I'm trying to remedy this issue with my parents but I've tried for years and years, get the same apologies and promises to change, followed by absolutely zero follow-through; they just don't see me and my family as a priority anywhere approaching my sister and her family.

How do I deal with this when it comes up? How do you explain to a child that her neglect from her grandparents has nothing to do with her as an individual and has everything to do with her mother?
posted by tigerjade to Human Relations (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would you mind sharing the ages and genders of all of the children?
posted by bunnycup at 8:20 AM on February 20, 2010

"How do you explain to a child that her neglect from her grandparents has nothing to do with her as an individual and has everything to do with her mother?"

It has nothing to do with you either; it has to do with your parents.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 AM on February 20, 2010 [22 favorites]

My daughter is 20 months. My niece is 5 and my nephew is 3 1/2. This situation has gone on since birth; I'd've put it to having a little one around but they cared for the older two since birth.

Eyebrows McGee, I know in my head you're probably right, but my heart has a hard time accepting that there's not something about me that's causing this. Not that I plan to become a wingnut any time soon just to match their preferences.
posted by tigerjade at 8:27 AM on February 20, 2010

How's your relationship with your sister? How does she feel about the situation, and would your parents listen to her if she told them to start being nice? Otherwise, can you have your daughter hang out with her cousins, even if you're not around?
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:33 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a similar situation when I was growing up; a great-aunt, who was more like a grandmother after our own grandmother died, looked after my same-aged cousin all the time, but even though I could walk down the block to her house she never made much effort with me. Later my mother told me that the woman felt uncomfortable around little girls--she'd always wanted a daughter and instead got three sons, so she overcompensated by endlessly stating that she didn't really like girls anyway. I remember being three or four and noticing that the relative obviously favored my male cousin over me and I just didn't understand what I'd done wrong. You're right to tread carefully, as your daughter could easily pick up on cognate tensions.

My mom didn't explain the situation until I was much older. She also made sure that my time with the great-aunt, even though she lived down the street and was an important part of our family, wasn't Priority #1 in our lives, either. If the great-aunt was coming over for a large family dinner, my mom didn't make me give her a hug and kiss the way she did with my uncles and aunts. If we were going over to her house, she'd say brightly, "We're going to see Great-Aunt Doris, but we're only staying for a few minutes so I can pick up my pans. Do you want to come in or stay in the car and draw?"

I know it sounds cold or petty to treat a grandmotherly lady this way, but I see how my mother wanted to give me a small sense of agency: I couldn't choose a better relative who liked little girls, but I could choose how much time I wanted to spend with the grandmother-figure I wound up with. My mother wasn't going to force or beg this woman to be a better relative--like your own parents, sometimes people won't listen to pleas for stronger relationships and instead they forge hurtful, obvious preferences with some family members. Your daughter will soon notice that you're basically begging her grandparents to pay attention to her. You've done your part as their adult daughter by putting your concerns into calm words, but your top priority is making sure your daughter doesn't spend lots of time with people who are more interested in her cousins than her.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:36 AM on February 20, 2010 [30 favorites]

This is coming from a grandchild who was in your kids situation. If your parents are "wingnuts" then your kids probably won't mind being around a pair of adults they feel obligated to, but don't really like that much. There's nothing worse than being forced on grandparents who don't like you (and kids always know) or that you don't like either. If you have other people in your family, like aunts and uncles or cousins who you're close to, those relationships will mean so much more to your kids, than two people who can't be bothered.
posted by Unred at 8:36 AM on February 20, 2010

*won't mind NOT being around...
posted by Unred at 8:38 AM on February 20, 2010

My in-laws are kinda similar (in a less intense way) and my children (9,6,2) don't seem to realise their non-priority status because their lives are filled with other people that love them and make spending time with them important. Children don't generally compare schedules so unless the cousins are especially evil and lording over your little one "gramma loves US more" then your child will just accept that is the relationship they have with that person. It must be very hurtful for you though, I hope you have someone to talk to and reassure you that really, really, it ISN'T you. Sometimes the family we choose is much healthier than the one we are born in.
posted by saucysault at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

This sounds like it would be very painful.

Much more painful for you, in fact, than it may ever be for your daughter. I say that because my grandparents are extreme favorite-players, and it never really bothered me or my siblings (they favor mostly one male cousin, the only child of their favorite child). I think it's always very painful, though, to have one's own parents play favorites. You get your sense of self-worth, at least initially, from your parents. It could be bewildering and upsetting to have grandparents do this, but it's world-shaping to have parents do this.

I would keep that distinction in mind when you decide how to handle this with your daughter. She'll take her cue from you on how upset to feel about this, so I think you should try to think of this more as an unfortunate matter of circumstance than as a terrible thing for her. The first thing I would suggest is that you not bring it up with your daughter, nor talk to your parents about it where she can hear (small children can understand a lot more than they can say, especially in tone of voice).

The next thing I'd suggest is to stop bringing it up with them entirely, and for the most part, just take the relationship they're willing to give. They're the ones who are missing out on time with your daughter.

Finally, if your daughter brings it up with you, try to be very matter-of-fact, and frame it for her as something that external circumstances have created -- "Well, they live closer, and their mom works with Nana and Poppa, so they spend a lot more time over there." Cheerfully, matter-of-factly. NOT any variation or implication of "Well, they've never loved me as much as they love Aunt Carol, so I guess they don't love you as much as her kids, either." Just try not to bring that lifelong pain into her life, and instead treat this as a matter of circumstance.

From my own experience, in fact, it has eventually become something of a pleasant family joke, with my sister and me smiling along with our parents at my grandparents' favoritism. Just not a big deal. We still love our grandparents very much, and have gained so much from loving them and being loved by them, flaws and all. My guess is that you may have people in this thread suggesting that you withhold your child from them, and I would strongly argue against that. Children learn a lot from loving and being loved by grandparents, and all those relationships are imperfect in some ways.
posted by palliser at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2010 [7 favorites]

I think your message, as your daughter gets a little older, is, "Grandpa and grandma are human, and humans aren't perfect. We can love them very much (if you do and that's the message you want to send) while not approving of their actions, and we can respect them while choosing not to spend much time with them when they behave this way." Of course in more age appropriate language and suited to the situation. I think it's helpful for kids to know adults aren't always perfect ... and that lets your daughter know it isn't her, it's them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

My relationship with my sister has improved over the last few years but she can't see past the end of her nose; when I've tried to talk to her in the past, she thinks there's nothing wrong with my parents constantly canceling visits with my daughter and spending sometimes weeks at a time with hers. After all, she does work with them, so it's natural that they'd be with her family all the time.

I've tried to get playdates with the three cousins, but she cancels just as often as my parents do. That, or she can have her kids over here for 30 min, or mine at her house for an hour, just long enough for a toddler to warm up, basically, and then it's over.

We're trying to find a regular babysitter so we can have dates, too; we used to try and try to schedule with my parents, who claim they want to see her, but they canceled so much we quit trying. We haven't had a date since August, thanks to the last-minute cancellations.
posted by tigerjade at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

**Only if your daughter notices a problem, though, as others point out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:41 AM on February 20, 2010

Wait, wingnut? Is there a political aspect to this? This whole thing may be an attempt at 'punishment' for not believing the same things they do.

It's not you, it's not your daughter, it's your parents. *They're* the ones being assholes.
posted by notsnot at 8:42 AM on February 20, 2010

Not that I plan to become a wingnut any time soon just to match their preferences.

Might this have something to do with it? When I see 'wingnut' I fill in the bank with 'right-wing' so maybe your sister's political philosophy more closely aligns with theirs? Your child is just collateral damage.
posted by fixedgear at 8:43 AM on February 20, 2010

Good grief, it sounds like you're trying to build a house with broken tools. Your sister and parents are both behaving insensitively. You can decide if you're one of those people who practices unconditional love with family even when they won't do the same for you, or if you'd rather look outside your immediate relations for love and commitment. Both ways are fine, but I personally wouldn't waste much more time relying on these people. Get a good babysitter, find parents of similarly-aged children where you live, and undoubtedly you'll start meeting people who are reliable and interested in your family.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:47 AM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

If your daughter has paternal grandparents, or other older relatives, with whom to build positive life experiences with, do you think it may be more valuable to invest your energies in those directions? It may cost more, e.g. in terms of travel, but the improved rapport would be worth it.

To answer your question more directly, whatever you say to your daughter, it would be an opportunity to learn about fairness, perhaps in the sense of accepting or tolerating some amount of unfairness from people who had lived in a different era and sociocultural background.

Also, if you haven't found this already Parent and Child (nytimes)
posted by polymodus at 8:51 AM on February 20, 2010

My little cousin's elementary school had

"Grandperson's Day"

Because not everyone has grandparents.

can have Grandpersons. Why not get your daughter an even better person to care for her and love her?

Church is a good place to find someone, other older relatives, be creative. Build on your strengths. 20 months is perfect, charming age for her to find a grownup who will love her forever.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:53 AM on February 20, 2010 [10 favorites]

After all, she does work with them, so it's natural that they'd be with her family all the time.

Look, she's closer to them than you are. It happens. It hurts. But you have to move on and make the best of what you have.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:54 AM on February 20, 2010

edit: it would be an opportunity for her to learn
posted by polymodus at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2010

But you have to move on

No, you don't have to move on. Nobody has to in situations like this, no-one has a social or ethical obligation to move on. But you can do things that have effect, and that's where your power comes from.
posted by polymodus at 8:57 AM on February 20, 2010

Let her notice it for herself first. Chances are she'll notice that you are not the priority (not her) and she's just inheriting the treatment. Then slowly start bringing up how the other sibling is the favorite. Just do it in a non-resentful tone*. Hopefully she won't take it personally. I never did. If anything, I felt sorry for my grandparents for missing out on giving my absolutely awesome father a chance.

*my dad would do so in a "oh well, that's life. sad, but true" tone. and he'd explain to us how growing up with non-favorite status helped him become a much stronger, more independent person. Just be careful with your tone, try to end it with a positive spin. It doesn't need to be joyful, just careful enough not to instill extra resentment in your child.
posted by Neekee at 8:58 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

After all, she does work with them, so it's natural that they'd be with her family all the time.

I actually think that while you don't quite believe this, it's the least painful way to frame it for your daughter, if she brings it up herself one day.

That said, there's a lot you can do to shield her from the knowledge -- do you tell her in advance, for instance, when she's going to be seeing the grandparents, and then have to tell her they canceled? I wouldn't; just tell her when you're on your way over there, or let them surprise her when they come over.

And yeah, I think you're on the right track in hiring a babysitter -- all in the general service of making your own life for your little family, including whatever relationship with your parents is possible, and trying not to lament what would be ideal.
posted by palliser at 8:59 AM on February 20, 2010

My brother lives next door to my parents; for the last 17 years, they have regularly provided childcare for his kids, taken them to appointments, gone to school events and so on. I think they watched our oldest son once for us while we went to a movie, about six years ago. We live an hour away.

At this point, I have a good relationship with both my brother and my parents, and we enjoy seeing them, which we do maybe four times a year. But in the past I have left family gatherings feeling unhappy and left out, with all those old feelings about how my parents never really thought much of the person I was being re-stimulated.

At the same time, I recognized that wanting to be more a part of a dysfunctional family was just crazy and wrong--it wasn't so much that I really wanted to be closer to the family I had, but that I wanted a different family--what zoomorphic said about building a house with broken tools resonated very strongly for me.

And as my relationship with my brother has improved, he's talked to me about what a mixed blessing it is to live so close, given that my parents are both very generous and also very nosy and judgmental.

My kids, who are now almost-9, 6, and 2, don't seem to be either aware of or bothered by the fact that their cousins are closer to their grandparents than they are. They get other-than-parent adult validation from other friends of ours they are very close to, and accept what their grandparents are able to give them in time and attention without seeming to want more. Your daughter may never notice, or, if she does, she may not be bothered by it. In my kids' case, it doesn't seem to have occurred to them that it might be any other way, and since there is nothing missing in their lives (they get lots of love and attention and validation) they don't seem to expect or want more from my parents.
posted by not that girl at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

but my heart has a hard time accepting that there's not something about me that's causing this.

This is key. Please don't overlook it. Kids have a way of picking up on these things from their parents.

Others have given good advice about what to do when it comes to your daughter's relationship (or lack of one) with that part of your family. But I just want to point out that this aspect isn't permanent and nor are you lost to feeling better about this situation. There might be scars, but you can heal. Don't give up on yourself in this regard.

Maybe it will take some therapy, or just some other way of healing your own wounds. There's something over at called healing the inner child that I used to consult years agowhen I was working through something.

They seem to be a part of LiveStrong now, but here's the relevant page. They're easier to find by actually going to the page and following the links.

It won't be easy, but you owe it to yourself (and it will help your daughter too).
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:04 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna answer this from your folks perspective, maybe. I have a young relative whom I don't really like all that much right now because I find him destructive and unthinking. I stay away from his mother because I don't think she's raising him well, and any attempt to give input gets nothing but anxiety on her part.


when he's older and I can contribute in a valuable way, and his mother is less of a focal point in decisions involving him, I plan to be involved.

so what's more coldblooded: being around because I'm supposed to be, and not liking it, or staying away until I feel like I can do justice by the kid and his family?

your parents could be thinking similarly.

just throwing that out there as another possibility.
posted by patricking at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2010

No, you don't have to move on. Nobody has to in situations like this, no-one has a social or ethical obligation to move on.

It is an expression that is meant to imply that it is the overwhelmingly better choice to move on than it is to constantly experience rejection, purposeful or not.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:11 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have three sets of grandparents and different issues with favoritism with all of them. It took us a few years to accept that it isn't as big a deal for the kids as it is for us.

Your sibling being treated differently right in front of you is going to be hurtful. That's what you experienced from your parents and that's the pain you're afraid your daughter is going to suffer, but that's not the situation here. Your daughter is not likely to notice (unless you tell her) or care that her cousins see her grandparents when she's not around. It will be years before your daughter is going to be capable of paying close enough attention to other people to understand that what's happening is unfair. A lot can change in the meantime. Maybe when your daughter is old enough to talk on the phone and ask grandma to come over herself, the invitation will carry more weight.

If you want your daughter to have a relationship with your parents, focus on that, and don't worry about anyone else. It doesn't matter if they are closer to your niece and nephew as long as your daughter feels love from them. You need to stop keeping score. Your daughter isn't.
posted by Dojie at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2010

I would stop trying to make time to see your relatives. If they actually want you around sometime, fine, but don't make special play date appointments any more. I think trying to do that with people who clearly don't want to is going to call the most attention to the fact that you and her are left out. Just carry on with your own lives and only see them at group family gatherings, like most people. And claim that the living 5 minutes away is why they get different treatment.

But that said...I'm sorry, but odds are that before age 10, she'll figure out that her family isn't the favorite side. Hell, I figured out what relatives didn't like me by about age six. There's no way to not be hurt on some level by this, but the older she gets, the more she'll figure out that her grandparents are just like that and there's nothing that can be done. The more matter-of-fact you are about it, the more "this is just how things are," the more she'll just take it in stride, rather than if you cried about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

tigerjade, my grandparents had 2 daughters. My aunt was the favorite of my grandmother, and my mother was her father's favorite. My grandfather died relatively young, and my grandmother spent the rest of her life playing her daughters off against each other, and playing favorites with my aunt, and my aunt's kids, in preference to my mother and my mother's kids. It ate my mother up till the day she died not to be closer to her mother and sister. Her relationship with her mother was always toxic (and her mother died when she was in her 80's.) My aunt was always doing things to snub my mother till the day she died.

So, my point about retelling this sad story is that I want to second what zoomorphic and others have said. Please don't let my sad family drama be some version of what happens to you.

Right now, the most important people in your daughter's life are you and her father. You three are the primary family unit and support group for each other. You having a close relationship with your parents and sister, and your daughter having a close relationship with her grandparents, aunt and cousin would be a bonus, but it is not something she needs. As I said, it would be a nice bonus for all, but so it goes sometimes. Don't try to force it, or chase after it if it does not seem like it will happen on its own. That way ends in tears (trust me, it was still playing out at my grandmother's funeral in my family). Your daughter will go by the example you set, will drink in the love you give her, and will appreciate the good friends and other good relationships you and your husband go out and create for her.

Also, not that girl has good advice, and you rightly marked it as a best answer. I knew things were messed up with her mother and her family, but it really didn't affect me, the grandchild/niece much, other than feeling sad that it hurt my mother. I had other things going on to substitute for it.

So, do the family stuff, like holidays, and some playdate things with your sister and her kids, just don't count on them for much more. Work on cultivating your own support group. Hire a babysitter, or better yet, get together with other parents and set up a babysitting coop. Find some "grandpersons" for you daughter - years ago my parents acted as surrogate grandparents/parents for a couple with 2 young kids, doing some babysitting and mentoring for both parents and kids. Now that my father is a widower in his 90's, that younger couple does things like helping him shovel snow, having him over for dinner, taking him to the doctor, etc. which we very much appreciate since we live far from my father.

Also, you don't mention your husband's family at all. Are there some options there for your daughter?
posted by gudrun at 10:15 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have this on both sides of my family, sort of. One set of grandparents was estranged from us for years, and developed much closer bonds with the grandchildren they weren't estranged from. On the other side of the family, my grandmother had a hard time getting close to my sister and me because we weren't baptized so she's convinced we're going to hell. When my aunt had kids about ten years ago, the difference between how she treated my cousins and how she had treated us was very clear.

It makes me a little sad that I don't have close relationships with any of my grandparents, but the kick-ass, tight-knit nature of my immediate family more than makes up for it. I agree very much with palliser:

I think it's always very painful, though, to have one's own parents play favorites. You get your sense of self-worth, at least initially, from your parents. It could be bewildering and upsetting to have grandparents do this, but it's world-shaping to have parents do this.

I feel far worse for both my parents than I do for myself. They gave me what their parents couldn't always provide for them - unconditional, enthusiastic love. Being able to experience that, I know what they're missing and I get angry about that. But I don't really give a damn that my relationship with my grandfolks is subpar.

So, I guess my advice is - treat yourself nicely. Work on understanding that this whole situation is not your fault, and is not a reflection of your own value. By showing that you can still be happy and confident and loving to others even in the face of rejection, you'll be an excellent model for her to understand that hey, some people are jerks, but life goes on.
posted by shaun uh at 10:21 AM on February 20, 2010

It may be that your parents simply are at an age where they don't want to have to deal too much with a child as young as yours. I think part of the joy for grandparents is that fact they get to play and enjoy kids without having to do the more burdensome work of regular parenting and caring for them when they're little. More so, it may be that after doing it for your sister's kids, they decided they don't want to do it again.

Likewise, your nephew and niece may not want to play with a child that's younger than them, especially your niece. If I was 5 and was told to play with a 20 month year old, I wouldn't really view it as fun. My own cousins constantly go batty when they're told they have to play with a fellow cousin who is significantly younger than themselves. As they grow older, they could certainly learn to enjoy playing with each other.

With your sister's kids, it could well be that you're simply forcing the issue of interaction too early. Let a few more years pass so these kids can have a lot more in common in terms of likes and dislikes. Also, your parents' excitement at enjoying the company of their granddaughter may grow when she's older and requires a little less responsibility and care, as well can do more things.

In short, take a break from all of it now. It's causing undue stress on your part and when your daughter is older, give it a go again. Not only may her relatives be more interested in hanging out with her, but she may also make the decision that hanging out with her relatives isn't that big of a deal.
posted by Atreides at 10:23 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree you don't need to say anything unless your daughter brings it up.

If she asks why Grandma and Grandpa don't like her as much as her cousins:

"[Daughter], Grandma and Grandpa love you just as much as they love your cousins! You are part of their family, just like you are part of mine and I am part of yours. Just because you don't spend as much time with them as your cousins do doesn't mean Grandma and Grandpa love you any less. Grandma and Grandpa and I have different opinions about things, and sometimes that makes it hard to enjoy our time together, but we still spend time together because we love each other. Friends can be like family too. Mr. A and Ms. B and Johnny and Mary are like family because we enjoy being with them and we choose to share important moments with them. They love you very much. You're a lucky girl to have so, so many people--both kinds of family--who love you so much. And I love you so much too!"
posted by sallybrown at 11:16 AM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

"It is an expression that is meant to imply that it is the overwhelmingly better choice to move on than it is to constantly experience rejection, purposeful or not."

That's a circular explanation though. I don't know about you, but I really resent the phrase "have to move on". I am lucky to have been on the receiving end of it maybe twice in my life, but the assumptions couched in "having to" do something, combined with the philosophical tenousness of the notion of "moving on" just leave a rather sour response in my mind. They were even saying it gently, too, being very sympathetic about it.

As per phrasing of the original question, let's try to deal with problems and states of being, perhaps face them and learn from them, instead of allowing society to dictate for each of us the sequence of things to be moved-on. That's what I meant earlier, by power.
posted by polymodus at 11:50 AM on February 20, 2010

Seconding internet fraud detective squad, station number 9. The key is family friends! I can't speak about the grandparents issue (my grandfather and I were very close), but I can relate because the only aunt who lived locally was often terrible to me and my sister. But my mother had plenty of friends who acted as de-facto uncles to me; my relationships with them showed me that it's entirely possible to choose one's family, and that it doesn't have to be decided by blood. These people don't have to be anything more than your trusted friends. When they lived closer, I was a frequent babysitter for the toddler of some close friends. And I loved the aunt-like relationship I developed with him. I don't think the lack of blood relations diminishes that kind of friendship at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:06 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, don't keep letting your parents' and sister's flakiness affect your daughter. Don't tell her in advance that you're planning to see them, so that she's not hurt when they cancel yet again. Don't let her get all excited to see people who couldn't care less about seeing her.

I guess I'll swim against the current here and recommend that you not only start looking for support and love and friendship and grandparent-figures for your daughter outside your own family, but that you also start being bluntly honest about why you're not interested in dropping everything to see them. I'm confrontational so this might not work for you, but I'd tell them in no uncertain terms that their behavior is not okay and that if they can't keep plans without canceling at the last minute, you won't be making plans with them anymore. Would you tolerate this from a friend? If not, ask yourself why your parents and sister get a pass.

As a child, I was in your daughter's shoes. My paternal grandparents disapproved of my mother, so they actively shunned us in favor of my cousins. My siblings and I picked up on it very early in life and it caused us no small amount of pain. In fact my earliest memory, the very first thing I can remember about being alive, is running up to my grandmother for a hug and her pushing me away and then cavalierly strolling into another room. Our parents still made us spend time with the grandparents, but it was always forced and miserable and, looking back, did me a huge amount of damage. When my grandfather died, I barely noticed and we didn't attend the funeral. My grandmother now lives alone and has never met my toddler, and never will.

You can't force people to be good parents, or good grandparents. What you can do is set boundaries for your own protection and in the meantime make connections with people who will actually treat you with love and respect. Canceling over and over again is just disrespectful, and I don't care who's doing it. You don't have to eat dirt with a smile just because the person serving it up shares your DNA.

To be clear, I'm not advocating total estrangement. That's a last resort that should never be handled lightly. But telling them openly that their behavior is hurtful and that you won't tolerate it anymore, and then following through, will empower you while making it clear that you won't subject your child to these shenanigans. And setting boundaries, and keeping them, will set a lovely example for your daughter, who will learn that nobody gets to treat her like garbage--no, not even her family.
posted by balls at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2010

I was the less-favored grandchild, largely stemming from my mom being the less-favored child. Getting slighted so obviously bothered me sometimes, but it also occurred to me even when I was very young that hey, they weren't my favorite grandparents, either. I had another set of grandparents who adored me and went hugely out of their way to ensure that me and my cousins on that side were always treated completely equally in terms of attention, but they lived an hour away and thus they were always a special occasion.

But I had next-door neighbors who I called "aunt and uncle" but were really more like grandparents, even though they were only 10 years older than my parents. They babysat me, nagged me to keep my hair brushed, asked how school went and listened to me opine about my teachers, spoiled me with an extra glass of soda and all the port wine cheese I could spread on triskets, taught me to stuff almonds in dates and roll them in sugar at Christmastime, and raised an eyebrow when I got rides home from boys. I grasped for myself the importance of "chosen family" REALLY early (and took it to heart much more than my parents ever did, incidentally), and never felt neglected for grandparently attention. Understanding that the people who love me like family are my family has served me very well.

What was frustrating was how much my mom's grandparents it hurt my mom. She tried hard to never badmouth my them, she kept trying to involve them and get them to observe at least the appropriate benchmarks of grandparenthood (y'know, birthdays, Christmas, major accomplishments). As I got older and understood and noticed more, I went from annoyed to angry at my grandparents for hurting my mom's feelings so needlessly. Moreover, it made my mom insecure about her relationship with me. When she and I disagree, I still occasionally have to remind her (I'm 36) that she and I are NOTHING like her and her mom.

This turned out very long. But in short, do what you can for nominal grandparentyness with your folks, but as long as your kids get a stable of grownups who love them, they're gonna be fine.
posted by desuetude at 12:56 PM on February 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

To be clear, I'm not advocating total estrangement.

I am. Well, not to the point of not returning calls or refusing invitations. I would definitely refuse to be put in the role of needy, clingy, and desperate for love from them, though, which is what they're doing to you. Know what? Fuck them. They're being intentionally rude to you, and extending it to your kid. Is that something you want your kid to be seeing all the time, them being rude to you, and you accepting that?

Let them be embarrassed when someone asks them when the last time they saw you was. Let them make the plans for the obligatory visit, which they don't really want to do. Let them drop by or not, don't make any special arrangements like cook a big meal that they can ruin by canceling at the last minute. Don't badmouth them to your daughter, but also don't act like they're any more special than the next door neighbors, either. She'll grow up ok with that.
posted by ctmf at 1:38 PM on February 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Check your email.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:42 PM on February 20, 2010

There's a difference between these two situations:

1. Daughter doesn't spend much time with her grandparents, but sees her mom trying desperately, repeatedly to persuade them to make time for her.

2. Daughter doesn't spend much time with her grandparents.

I don't want to try to guilt you at all, because I don't think you're doing anything unusual or wrong by trying to have healthy family relationships, but I do think that in this type of situation it's wise to consider the impact of what the parent models for the child equally or more than the impact of a child having limited contact with grandparents (or cousins).

I have one set of grandparents I didn't see often as a child due to geography and one set of grandparents I didn't see often as a child due to family issues. For me, my family was "normal"--even when other kids talked about spending lots of time with their grandparents, I knew my own grandparents in a different way (same way I didn't think anything of it if other kids' parents had different jobs from my parents). However, I did notice the times when my parents had serious, emotionally draining conflicts with their parents or siblings. I am grateful to my parents for modeling healthy, loving and gracious but also self-respecting ways of dealing with difficult family relationships.

Your daughter does not need scraps of attention from your parents or sister. She needs to see you navigating a difficult family relationship with self-respect and love.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:43 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I grew up in exactly the same situation as desuetude. By the time I was old enough to be aware that my grandmother had favorites, and that I wasn't one of them, I was also aware that my grandmother played favorites with everyone, both her children and her grandchildren, and the "favorites" were in a distinct minority. So it did sting to realize that one of my sisters was a favorite, but I had a lot of company amongst the disfavored cousins, and as we got older it became a source of camaraderie, as strange as that may sound.

I was also aware that my mother was not a favorite either, and from a very young age I understood that this caused my mother much more pain than my grandmother's favoritism caused me. There is a difference between being aware of a situation and taking it personally. It may help to re-frame this disappointment as more of a loss for your parents than it is for your daughter.

I'm not saying that you should cut yourself off from your family, but after a certain point I think that you and your daughter both are better served by surrounding yourselves with people who love and appreciate you, regardless of blood ties.
posted by ambrosia at 2:21 PM on February 20, 2010

i have another thought. my brother and i grew up with mom and grandmother (in our grandmother's house), and my grandmother actively disapproved of me until we were in our high school years. my brother could do no wrong in her eyes. nobody in our family really knows why, including my brother. we finally had one major formative event when i was about seventeen, and turned into best of friends for the rest of her life.

it may just not be the right time to involve your parents. the kids may end up doing it on their own when they get older.
posted by patricking at 2:48 PM on February 20, 2010

I grew up with a similar situation--Mom and Dad living far away from the grandparents who were surrounded by assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins. My cousins were basically raised by a set of my grandparents, and I saw them maybe four or five times a year. Sure, it made family visits a little boring sometimes, but I think the saving grace for the family was that we didn't try to force a relationship that just wasn't there. When I saw my grandparents, they were more amiable strangers than anything else, and while I knew that my cousins saw them more often, I didn't particularly care.

What kept us visiting at ALL was the fact that while my grandparents didn't seek out a relationship, they didn't treat my siblings and I badly, either. I didn't even become aware of the tension between my parents and the family until later--which to me is important to the discussion. As long as everyone is civil and visits are good for your daughter, keep visiting, and don't let her hear that there's an issue. If things come to a head and your daughter becomes involved/ aware of problems, then you may need to rethink what's best for her in regards to extended family. Ultimately, there are teachers, family friends, and others who can fill the gap, but there isn't a lot than can make up for the overt rejection of a child. If that seems likely to happen, you need to not put your daughter in that situation. Problems between adults should not affect how children are treated. I don't know if that's an issue for your situation or not.

Also nthing what everyone has already said about this being the problem of the grandparents. There is a fine line between wanting your parents involved in your daughter's life and repeatedly exposing her to family members who are indifferent to her.
posted by _cave at 3:15 PM on February 20, 2010

Thanks all for the tons of advice. I'm still not sure where we go from here, but I'm thinking I'll put the ball in their court for a while. They want to see her, they make an effort. Otherwise, we'll focus on strengthening the relationships with people who do realize what a treasure she is. And when she's ready to wonder why she never sees them, we'll just focus on the people she does see.

I have some work to do on my end, though. Not sure how I go about accepting that my parents really just don't care enough to make an effort; I'm sick to death of therapy after dealing with all the other horrible things that happen to us all in life. But just knowing that several other people have gone through similar situations without permanent damage makes me feel a lot better. I can deal with my stuff; I just don't want her to follow me down some of these paths.
posted by tigerjade at 3:44 PM on February 20, 2010

I had one final thing to think about, which is not at all to blame you for the situation, since it seems like it's been going on since you were yourself young, but to see if there's another angle to pursue: do you invite your parents over just to spend time together, maybe for lunch or dinner or for coffee on a weekend morning, or are your suggestions for getting them together with your daughter pretty much always "can you babysit?" My folks are out of town, but when they visit, I try to make sure I'm doing special things for them, making big family meals, etc., in addition to asking them to babysit while they're visiting (which I don't always do anyway, since they're often in town only one night).

Again, NOT trying to make you feel guilty, just wondering if there's another way to try to forge a better relationship, even if they're not interested in babysitting.
posted by palliser at 4:56 PM on February 20, 2010

Not sure how I go about accepting that my parents really just don't care enough to make an effort;

It's tough. It's a serenity prayer kind of situation, I think. Just do better with your kids, and don't beat yourself up no matter what.

If it helps you at all, I don't feel like that growing resentment at my grandparents that I mentioned in my previous comment damaged me. It was just a thing. All kids have things, none of us have perfect childhoods (whatever that is) and that's okay.

If anything maybe it was a even a good, safe way to get an object lesson in the realities of human behavior. (I can respect adults for their role but be critical of their actions, I can be mad at someone but not be eaten alive by hate, some people just aren't very loving people, etc.) And I can still remember some good memories of my grandparents; they're not tainted by the bad stuff.
posted by desuetude at 5:50 PM on February 20, 2010

My grandparents on one side favor one of my cousins over the others, partially because they had to help raise him due to lack of parenting skills of his own parent. I never resented this, because I have other grandparents who I am much closer to. If your husband's parents are in your lives at all, try to make an effort in that relationship. The suggestion to have non-blood grandparent figures is really great also. There are plenty of old folks with no grandkids who would love to have some little kids who come over and play on a regular basis. My grandparents who I'm close to had many friends whose kids waited a lot longer than my mom did to produce grandkids, so I was a de facto grandkid for those people. It was pretty cool.
posted by ishotjr at 6:08 PM on February 20, 2010

And when she's ready to wonder why she never sees them

It's tough, and they're being jerks, but please realize that it sounds like you're still waiting for the other shoe to drop, as though it's inevitable that she will one day look at her situation and burst into tears.

I grew up in another state while all of my cousins surely saw my grandparents plenty, but since every time we saw them they were pleasant and we were all happy, it never dawned on me--until this question, in fact--how much more time my cousins probably spent with my grandparents. Whenever we cousins saw each other, we just played and didn't talk about interpersonal strife. I never compared grandparent time with friends.

Your daughter has no basis for comparison, so for her, seeing them as often as she does is normal and healthy. Meg_Murry hit it on the head when she mentioned how important the parental model is for the children; kids can often sense the level of guilt, anxiety, and loss that you feel. Years later, when we moved back to where all four of my grandparents lived, there were always excuses about why my paternal grandparents couldn't get together, or why a promise was broken, which hurt. (Why would a kid need to be told something just to be disappointed, when ignorance is bliss?) But every time I got together with my maternal grandparents felt like a holiday, and today we have a much, much closer relationship that's of our own doing.
posted by blazingunicorn at 9:13 PM on February 20, 2010

I'm thinking I'll put the ball in their court for a while. They want to see her, they make an effort. Otherwise, we'll focus on strengthening the relationships with people who do realize what a treasure she is.

This is what my parents did, and it worked out well. I've never been close with my grandparents. My cousins were babysat by them all the time when we were little, most likely because they lived close and their mom was the favourite child. My grandparents taught my cousins to sew and make ships in bottles. When we went over there, they put us in another room to play with dolls, and would only visit with my parents.

But! The two elderly couples living across the road who gave us treats and spoiled us and traded jigsaw puzzles with us and watched Phantom of the Opera with us and told us about life during the war? Those were great relationships. We spent so much time with them! I think they were healing relationships for my parents as well. My "Grandpa" White (neighbour across the road) did the pacing-the-halls thing when my mom gave birth to her children, and her father never did that for her.
posted by heatherann at 7:38 AM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

I had an epiphany night before last, after I got up to rock my daughter back to sleep after a nightmare (hers, not mine!). :) My sister is not the best parent in the world: her 5-yr-old regularly stays up past 10 p.m., her 3-yr-old hasn't had a nap since he turned one, the kids get all the caffeine and sugar they want, and the only rules they have are around what words are appropriate to say. So I can see where my parents will need to spend more time with them.

Also, she's just like them: conservative, an elder in their church, and of course the business thing. She's very outgoing, like Dad. I'm an opposite almost across the board: liberal, occasionally attend the church but not actively a member, and a geek. Quiet and reticent, and uncomfortable meeting new people (something else I'm working on), I'm just not like them, and sometimes it's hard to grok that.

I want to give a particular shout-out to @Meg_Murry for her advice in self-respect. My daughter does not need to see me throwing myself at people, desperate for whatever scraps of affection they choose to give me. So there are some relationships in my life that are going to change drastically, not the least of which is finding a new church and a new community. Sometimes you can't go home, and last night that was emphatically thrown in my face, just in time for that message to finally sink in.
posted by tigerjade at 3:30 AM on February 22, 2010

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