DEAR KELLY: My mom is one of four girls. Then my two aunts each had girls. Then my mom had my older brother, whom my cousins and I have dubbed “The Prince.” My whole family acts like he is the greatest thing ever. My grandparents would not miss one of his football or baseball games. My brother can do no wrong. Last summer, my grandpa took my brother on a special fishing trip for five days. My grandma didn’t do anything like that for me or my girl cousins.
When I told my mom how wrong it was, she defended my grandpa and said that he had dreamed of a boy his whole life and I should be happy that he loves my brother so much, and that he loves me, too. My cousins and I feel like my grandparents have made it so clear who the favorite grandchild is, and it makes us so mad. Even my aunt, my mom’s sister, admits it’s true, but just said that there is nothing we can do about it. She knows it’s wrong but says that they are too old to change and that it doesn’t mean they don’t love us, it’s just different because they always wanted a boy.
My brother doesn’t help the situation because he’s a 4.0 student, good athlete and a Boy Scout. Recently, my whole family went to my grandparents’ golf club for brunch, and so many of the golf members knew all about my brother and his accomplishments. No one asked me about my swimming or my cousin how her acting is going, since she’s in a lot of plays, or my younger cousin about her soccer or art classes. Instead everyone wanted to hear about my brother, his sports, his fishing trip, his golf game (because he plays with my grandpa sometimes). My cousins and I just sat there texting each other how bored and mad we were.
My cousins and I don’t know what to do. I love my grandma and grandpa and I’m sure they love us, but I’m tired of being treated like I’m second class just because I’m not the boy they always dreamed of. Any advice? Are they too old to change, or should we tell them? I’m worried that if we tell them and they suddenly get sick and die, I would feel bad or get blamed for doing that to them. Should I be quiet, or say enough is enough?
– Not A Boy
DEAR NOT A BOY: First, no one is ever too old to change. I don’t care if your grandparents are 100 years old, they can still change if they want too or feel the need. Change usually comes after awareness. If we are not aware of what issues there are or how others feel, we are not likely to change. Instead of setting out to change them, let’s start with making them aware of how you and your girl cousins feel.
Your grandparents had a hole filled in their life by your brother. I’m not justifying their behavior, just helping you understand it. There was probably some envy of people who got the “boy experience” as parents and they have fulfilled this loss through your brother and all his activities. Again, not justifying, just explaining. Your grandparents would probably say they love all of you grandchildren the same, but your brother gives them a different kind of excitement they have longed for since having their own girls.
It’s natural for some personalities to click more than others. Your grandfather clicks with your brother. They share a love for fishing, golf and other sports. Your brother connects with your grandfather in a way that your grandfather may not have been able to connect to his own daughters. But this does not mean he can’t find common ground with his granddaughters. Is it possible your brother makes more of an effort to spend time with Grandpa than you girls do? Look at your own behavior before you talk to them. Is there any chance you are contributing to the issue by your choices?
Stop worrying that you will upset your grandparents by talking with them, and that it will kill them. The bigger shame would be them dying and never knowing that you wanted more time with them. If you approach this the right way, they may not be upset and they will be grateful you took the time to let them know how you feel.
If you choose to sit down and talk with them (best idea), do it with the idea you are simply planting a seed. Don’t confront them (“You’re bad grandparents”) or make them feel defensive (“You treat my brother like he is the epicenter of the world”). Try a softer approach. Tell them how much you love them and how you have felt hurt lately because it feels like they show preference toward your brother. Give examples (“You haven’t made it to one of my swimming meets and yet you haven’t missed a baseball game”) and stick to the facts. Let them know that you would love the chance to go on a trip alone with one of them like your brother did. Maybe you don’t go fishing, but perhaps you and your grandma can go to a national park or do a girls trip somewhere with all the female cousins. Reach out to them instead of pushing them away by pointing out all the negative things they do. Go for the kind and respectful approach.
Hopefully, they listen to you and respond in a positive way that makes everyone feel valued and equally important. If not, at least you tried and they are aware of your desire to spend time with them. Let your mom or dad know your feelings as well, so that if the grandparents choose to make your brother “The Prince,” your parents can be mindful of your feelings and spend quality time with you as well.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.