Q: My husband is the classic middle child — the peacemaker often overlooked by his parents. My problem is that this pattern seems to have extended to the next generation. Whenever we share exciting news about our son, my husband's parents always counter with something even more incredible that one of his cousins has done.
I grew up with a grandmother who greatly favored my cousins, and it was incredibly painful. I don't want my son to feel the same hurt. How do we bring up this touchy subject with my husband's parents?
A: Firmly, kindly and with concrete examples, but I don't have high hopes.
You can also:
• Limit your son's exposure to people who openly play favorites.
• Gently assert your concern on the spot. ("That's wonderful about Cousin — let's give each his own moment in the sun, though, no?")
• Recognize that you and your husband turned out well in spite of the undercutting and not get too worked up about the grandparents.
• Recognize there's no such thing as a childhood without "hurt," and make a calculated decision on how much you can or want to prevent, and how much you brush off as part of life, and how much you use as conversation starters about people's frailties. "Grandma means well but she has a way of treating life as a competition. Her remarks say more about her than they do about you."