When Families Have Favorites

I married into a family that openly practices favoritism. Hearing relatives say things at gatherings like ‘Oh well so and so was always Grandpa’s favorite,’ is not uncommon. Pre-kids, this was unfamiliar and strange to me. Post-kids, it has become a fierce point of contention.

One day a few years ago my toddler son was sitting on my lap during a visit at my in-laws. My nephew entered the room, and my mother-in-law proudly declared to him, ‘Well there’s my favorite grandson!’

Insert record scratching noise here.

Ummmm what?

What in the bleep-itty bleep did she just say to him in front of my son and me?

Before, when the family referenced favorites it had always been about people who are now grown or gone. I’ve since thought of at least 1,000 ways I could have and should have addressed it in that moment. At the time though, it was so unexpected that I was stunned into silence. 

Later when I saw my husband I let him know what had been said. I also let him know I felt strongly that if it did happened again we should just leave. I told him I think it is wrong to have favorites. If my in-laws could not help but to have favorites at the very least it should not be announced in front of the rest of the family, especially the kids. 

My husbands response? My husband said his sibling had always been the favorite, but he didn’t think his parents would do that with the grandchildren. He said he understood having favorite things but these are babies and children. My husband was hurt. I felt mom rage for the first time. Even recalling it now makes my blood boil. 

My husband talked to his parents. It was safer than me doing it. While his parents never verbalized their favorites in our presence again, they haven’t needed to. Their actions say it all. 

I was surprised that when I vented to some close mom friends almost every single one said they had issues with grandparents having favorites too. Is this a generational thing? Do people not realize they are doing it? If they do realize, do they not think it is wrong?

I’ve heard some people claim there is just a “special bond” with one kid or others say it’s natural to have favorites. To that I say bull. And if for some reason that is true, shame on the people who make it known or show it.

My husband is right. These are children we are talking about here. I thought grandparents were supposed to help love and support their grandchildren, not needlessly single them out. The non-favorites end up confused and not knowing what they did wrong, when they did absolutely nothing to cause the favoritism. The “favorites” maybe put in uncomfortable situations with other family members or have an inflated sense of self-importance.  

Having and showing favorites unnecessarily causes hurt and pain in family relationships. 

To my in-laws’ credit, the favoritism has gotten less blatant over the years, although it still shows up in subtle ways. I’ve tried to tell myself I know what to expect from them. I should stop letting it bother me. Then something happens, and I get upset all over again. I think when it comes to my kids I will always get defensive when they are slighted, even if I know to expect it. I want my kids to have a close relationship with their grandparents, but I also want to protect them.

Since it has improved, maybe it won’t be noticeable by the time my kids are old enough to pick up on the favoritism. I don’t know what the best way to handle this is. What I do know though is that my kids freaking rock. If their relationship with their grandparents isn’t as close or as full as it could be, that’s not on me or my kids. That’s on them, the grandparents. And man are they missing out. 

*Originally published November, 2017.

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  1. My oldest sister was the obvious favorite of my father and grandfather (who lived at my house after my grandmother died when I was 5). According to my sister who was two years younger than her she was also the favorite of my grandmother.

    Don’t parents etc realize that they are causing hard feelings to develop between siblings that can last 40 years after the favorite died. My sister did many nice things for me but I often can’t get past the favoritism that was shown her. My sister died more than 40 years ago but I can still remember the slights.

    My son was the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family. I’m not sure if it was due to him not being the first or being the child of the non-favorite children but he was slighted but he was enough younger that I don’t think that he realized it but I did.

  2. Oh boy, I can totally relate to this! My kids are not the favorite grandkids and they don’t get invited to week long sleepovers at their grandparents like the other ones do, and their gifts are significantly less. It sucks.

  3. “If their relationship with their grandparents isn’t as close or as full as it could be, that’s not on me or my kids. That’s on them.”

    This resonated so much with me. Thank you for putting into words what i feel sometimes.

  4. I have experienced be same thing but in a different way. My kids are always getting in trouble for little things the other grandkids do t get called out for…it’s like walking on eggshells. My kids aren’t perfect but they are kids just like the other grandchildren.

  5. I completely understand! My kids are not my mother in law’s favorites but any means. She has 4 other grandkids besides mine and shes always treated them better then mine. My son is currently her only grandson ( I think my sister in law is having a boy) and he’s treated far worse than the girls. He’s repeatedly come up and asked me why Grandma hates him. I told him to ask her. He did and got angry when she lied to him and told him how much she loves him. 5 minutes later, she told him to breathe quieter because it was bothering her. Birthdays and holidays are wished by her through text messages, no presents or cards. She doesn’t even ask to speak to the kids on the phone. My husband is 1 out of 4 kids and she treated him just as badly, but when the s*** hits the fan, he’s the first one she comes running to. He keeps telling me to let it go and ignore her but both he and I had a set of grandparents that were awesome. I’ve thought about how I was my grandparents favorite – there were 10 of us but all my other cousins had other grandparents. They spent a lot more time with those grandparents instead of our shared grandparents. I’m the only one that ever cared to have a relationship with them. One aunt was so bad, she never brought the kids over to see my grandmother after my grandfather passed. There were still wrapped Xmas gifts – 11 years worth. Money that was wasted instead of her using it for her bills or medication. Anyways back to the original subject. I told my son to make the effort like I did. Even doing that, my mother-in-law still doesn’t give a rats rear end. So now we live almost 2000 miles away from her. My son still gets angry because he loves her and wishes she’s love him too.

  6. I have a sister who always saying who are he favorites whenever we have a family function or a family event. We are older adults. I would not expect for this to happen. It makes me angry. I don’t say anything. I just brush it off. She says it in front of other family members. Everyone else just kind of get quite. I personally despise favoritism. I don’t do it with my children or other family members. I love my children and I love my family. I don’t want to do anything that would hurt my children or family in any way. I was abused as a child both mentally and physically by my Foster mother as a child and my husband when I got older. I was the less favorite in the Foster home. I never knew why. My sister was raised in the same Foster home. She was abused the same way I was. However, as she got older she was Foster Mom’s favorite. Maybe for my sister it was a learned behavior and she thinks it’s okay. I don’t really know.

  7. I have been the favorite of the grandparents. They would call me the “number one” grandchild in front of my sister and cousins. I felt extremely guilty as a child for them saying that. My sister and I luckily have a great relationship. My cousins however hated me. I feel like I was robbed of having a full family because of the animosity it created between my cousins and myself.

  8. My step dad is was awful about these types of things. I definitely was made it aware that I wasn’t favored. In fact I was hearing constantly why I wasn’t then when I had my Two babies & was married he treated my husband better than his kids but the thing that got to me the most was he was very vocal about having a better bond with my two kids. Would go on about them & would say negative things about my step brothers daughter his own flesh & blood. I try to go out of my way to endure my kids know they’re loved very much & equally


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