Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Mother-in-law who favors one child should not babysit either
Help, I'm Horrified: I have two kids — a 2-year-old boy who looks just like his father and a 1-year-old girl who looks just like me. Their grandparents have played an active role in caring for our kids while we're at work. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law does not seem to have any affection at all for my daughter, while she just loves my son to death. My mother-in-law only watches my son, while my parents watch both kids on some days and then my daughter on the days my mother-in-law watches my son.
My husband and I have decided it's time to put the kids in day care. My mother-in-law has offered to watch my son so that he doesn't have to go, only my daughter would. My husband thinks this is a good option since it would save us money.
I think it's horrifying. My daughter is still young, but it's not going to take long before she wonders why her one grandmother seems to have love and affection only for her brother and not for her. And I can't imagine telling the kids when they're older: "Well, (daughter) went to day care from ages 1 to 5, but (son) didn't because grandma wanted to take care of him."
Do you have any advice? Is this as horrifying as I think it is?
Carolyn: It's every bit as horrifying as you think it is. You have to nip this in the bud, now, starting with a conversation with your husband — but soon followed by saying no to any babysitting by your MIL. Unilaterally if you must.
Here's why: If you insist that she watch both children, then she'll act out her favoritism with your daughter present. If you keep letting her watch just your son, then you send the message that her favoritism is okay, when it is not okay.
It is poison.
It is natural for people to favor some children over others — it's just the way personalities work, and kids are people with personalities like anyone else.
But the moment an adult frees him or herself from the obligation to be fair despite any personal preferences — the obligation to show love for all children equally because they're innocent and impressionable and deserve no less — that adult might as well wear a sign: "THIS IS ALL ABOUT ME."
Your mother-in-law doesn't give a sliver of a damn about your kids' emotional health, she's in it for her own gratification — and that means she's out, except for supervised visits. (Unless and until she demonstrates to your satisfaction that she gets it, but beware a calculated act.)
Even if your husband gets a clue, this will be hard. But it's nowhere near as hard as it would be when you start seeing the teenage fruits of this spoiling/neglect cycle your mother-in-law is setting in motion.
Just for starters, it has the potential to kill the relationship between your two kids. And it helps lay two emotional foundations almost guaranteed to dog them well into adulthood: a sense of entitlement (in your son) and a sense of inferiority (in your daughter).
By the way, the likenesses might change over time. It should be interesting to see if the allegiances do, too.