Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Ongoing Issues With the In-Laws


I wrote to you last year about favoritism occurring in my husband’s family – his parents showing a preference for their other grandchildren over our two boys. We took your advice and spoke to his parents about a few of the issues we noticed. They were very appreciative for the information and accepted it, but things still haven’t changed for the most part. But voicing and sharing our hurt was helpful, especially for my husband.

However, I am wondering what your feedback will be regarding a few other issues.

One thing I have always felt with my husband’s family are the little comments that feel non-accepting towards me. For example, we give a gift to my mother-in-law, and she only thanks my husband, even after he has told her that I picked it. Another example, they gave us a large sum of money because they gave it to his sister’s family; therefore, we got the money too. The money is greatly appreciated, but they gave it on a weekend we were visiting their house and they told my husband about the money while I was in the other room.

My husband handled it as best he could. When I came back in the room he waited to see if they’d bring it up. When they never did, he decided to tell me in front of them so I’d have the chance to thank them.

I find they do it to my younger son, (he’s three) too. That is, they are dismissive of him or act likes he’s not there. They will ask questions just to my older son (who is five) while my younger son is sitting right there, or they give my older son his favorite treat, but don’t try to give my younger son anything special. My husband is exhausted because the whole visit he is reminding them to talk to our younger son and to include me.

Lastly, with the upcoming election, that brings a whole other issue. I vote differently than my husband’s family. My father-in-law has made comments that feel like he is baiting me. I didn’t say a word or react, and my husband asked his dad to change the subject. How should we handle these kinds of passive-aggressive comments while also being respectful? How should we handle my younger son and myself being excluded?

I’m glad you can point to some progress over the past months. Regarding both the current situations you ask about handling, it seems to me that they are, in fact, being consistently and ably handled by your husband. Although the origin of the phrase, “I’ve got your back” is not agreed upon, its meaning certainly is, and I want to commend your husband because he’s got your back.

He looks out for you and your sons, always vigilant that his parents’ slights and social insensitivities are called out and addressed when they are happening. From what you describe, your husband wants to keep the peace and make sure no one gets upset, especially you. This requires tremendous mental agility and energy. It is no small wonder that your husband finds these visits exhausting!

To lighten your husband’s burden and to help yourself and your boys, I am going to suggest you try to do a mental shift: every time you find yourself feeling hurt by something your in-laws say or do, that is, whenever you find yourself saying to yourself, “They’re doing it again,” give your self a mental shake and follow these steps.

1.  Accept that “they’re doing it again,” and that they’ll probably “do it” again, and again. Don’t get bogged down with whether they are doing it intentionally or unintentionally. Chances are they’ve made all the changes they are going to make right now, so I suggest it’s time to follow Maya Angelou’s advice: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you cannot change it, change your attitude.”

2.  Trust that your husband will do what needs to be done to protect you or your sons from the consequences of their grandparents’ problematic, and often hurtful, behavior. Your husband has a great track record, be it shutting down certain conversations or re-directing them.

3.  Find opportunities to “be-big” your in-laws, rather than belittle them, in your own mind, or in conversations with your husband and your boys. For example, let your sons know that thanks to their grandparents’ generosity, you can look forward to a special trip, or buying some new toys, or clothes, or whatever.

4.  Help your husband in his efforts to smooth the rough waters. Rather than be hurt and annoyed that your younger son is excluded in their attentions, create opportunities for both you and your sons to be included: “Grandma and grandpa, the boys created some artwork for you to put on your refrigerator. They would like to tell you what they have drawn for you.” Or, “We watched the movie, ‘Guess How Much I Love You: Autumn Journey’ together. The boys can tell you why they really liked this movie.”

A couple of closing comments: first, many grandparents are not great at talking with younger children; their discomfort can often take the form of exclusion. You may find that your in-laws interact more with your younger son as he gets older.

Finally, kids are always watching and learning from their parents. If you and your husband treat your in-laws with respect, yet firmness, when they are behaving in ways that you and your husband feel are exclusionary or baiting, your sons will in turn be respectful. Most important, your boys will have the security of knowing that you and your husband always have their backs.

 Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

E-mail queries to [email protected]

 Dr. Karen L. Rancourt‘s most recent book is,

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts

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