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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 8

January 2010



 Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.

Her subject this month is on unintentionally favouring one grandchild.

Next month Jeanne will take a holiday while she prepares for future issues. If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:


Are you unintentionally favouring one grandchild more than the others?

You’ve promised yourself you would never let it happen. But then you find yourself drawn more to one grandchild than the others. It happens to many of us. And it is, most often, not intentional.

Circumstances may influence the apparent favouritism. When one grandchild or set of grandchildren live close by while the others live some distance away, it can give the appearance the grandparents favour the local children because they are able to be more involved in the children’s lives.

A grandfather who raised all daughters may be so overjoyed at having a male heir that he dotes more on his grandson than on his granddaughter.

Personality also plays a role in the way grandparents react to their grandchildren. Sometimes you simply like one better than the other, or one rubs you the wrong way. The shy child who does not run up to you with a great big hug and a kiss can be neglected while his more outgoing sibling jumps into your arms and says “I love you so much, granny.” Or grandpa.

The advice from one psychiatrist is “to look at each child individually. Find each child’s strength or interest, and focus on that.”

Gift Giving and Hurt Feelings

At gift giving times children particularly notice any favouritism, especially if one child receives a well-thought out present while the others receive something more generic, like gift cards or a new jumper. It may seem like a small gesture, but a gift that recognises each child’s interests can go a long way. One grandfather I know buys a wall calendar for each grandchild. With a variety of different calendar subjects to choose from, he is able to find something to fit each child’s individual taste.

When grandparents play favourites, it can cause more than hurt feelings for the children. If only one grandchild is singled out as a favourite, it can cause a rift between siblings. If one set of grandchildren is favoured over the other family units, it can create hard feelings between cousins, making family gatherings unpleasant.

Who else suffers?

Grandchildren aren’t the only ones who suffer. Parents are also hurt when their children are slighted. Parents, however, do recognise if one child is picked out as the favourite, and it is up to them to be the advocate of all their children. They need to speak up and make sure the grandparents understand how it makes the other children feel. The grandparents and the parents can then work together to make sure every child knows they are loved.

One daughter-in-law writes that her parents-in-law increasingly favour the eldest of her two sons who is a “real people-pleaser.” They show his shy, younger brother little patience and simply refuse to engage with him. She has attempted to discuss her worries with her in-laws and has suggested various activities for just the younger son.

If their behaviour still seems troublesome, then the parents should make sure the younger one feels he is equally loved. His individuality needs to be nurtured. If he‘s aware of his mother becoming annoyed with her in-laws, it could highlight the unfair comparison with his brother. If she seems comfortable around the in-laws, he will relax and not be hurt, even if she is seething inside.

A grandparent’s attitude toward their own children can cause serious hurt. This happened in my own family. My mother-in-law very much favoured her younger son over his older brother and sister. She paid no attention to their offspring and only when the younger son’s children were born did she show grandmotherly love. She had though, at one time, promised the first granddaughter that she would bequeath her treasured watch to her in her will. When she died there was no mention of the watch or anything for the eldest granddaughter. Recently, and this was thirty years later, her mother said to me somewhat bitterly, that she didn’t care about the watch but her daughter “could have done, at least, with a keepsake.”

In the end, the overwhelming advice for grandparents is: “Remember that every grandchild wants to be loved, and it’s up to the grandparent to create the time for that.”


  • Be an active listener by picking up on what each child is saying
  • Learn each child’s favourite treat and make sure it is on hand whenever the child visits
  • Find special time for each grandchild, whether in person, with phone calls or with emails.
  • Have a special activity for each grandchild, something that only the two of you can share.
  • Make sure each child is displayed prominently and equally around the home. Nothing makes a child feel worse than seeing pictures of one cousin or sibling around the house but none of her.

Extract from “Playing Favourites” by Sue Marquette Poremba


Previous articles in the series:

1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent
5. When the parents separate
6. Second time around
7. Who baby-sits?
8. Favouring one grandchild more than the others


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