The Washington Post
She’s worried her baby will be the “second-banana” grandchild. Time to pick a new support system.
Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are expecting our first child after trying for a long time. I thought my parents would be thrilled for us, especially knowing it was a struggle. But this whole thing has been very much . . . their third grandchild.
They’ve always been more enthusiastic and involved with anything my sister does. They lavished her with attention during her pregnancies and dote on her kids. They haven’t sent us anything for the baby — though it’s not really about the gifts — or really checked in at all minus perfunctory questions like how I’m feeling. Tonight we shared the baby’s name, with the middle name after my father, and their reaction was . . . maybe mild happiness before changing the subject.
How do I let it go, that my parents aren’t going to give me the emotional support and enthusiasm I could use right now? More importantly, how do I navigate my child being the second-banana grandchild, which I can already anticipate?
— Second Banana
Second Banana: Is there any reason you’re still in close contact with your parents, having ample evidence they will always and forever treat you as the lesser child? You’re still chasing a sisterlevel dose of their approval, still, and at risk of chasing forever unless you work on not needing it. Some suggestions:
The first step is telling yourself the hardest possible truth. They will not value you as they value your sister.
That is their fault. And their loss. They are sick people, if only because healthy ones would never so clearly favor one child over another. Never forget this. It is not your fault. You are not less-than.
Your parents don’t deserve the attention you give them, especially that you give out of a vain hope they will respond in kind. In effect, your extra attention rewards them for mistreating you.
You can’t unbreak them, but you can break this cycle by resolving right now, today, to save your warmest attention for people who show the same regard for you.
If you don’t have people like this in your life, then now’s the time to cultivate stronger bonds outside the family.
Actually, it’s not, with an upside-down world and a baby on the way, but better now than putting it off. The family of choice over origin is a real thing and can be so beautiful.
Your baby is a huge incentive not to transfer this lifelong sense of frustration and inadequacy to a new generation. If these grandparents aren’t a steady source of warmth for your child, then your child doesn’t spend much time with these grandparents.
Change the middle name. Seriously. It’s aspirational, to something your history says is unhealthy.
Congratulations, good health, and good luck.
Congrats! Please don’t put so many dashed expectations on your new happiness. Let him be his own legacy of family for you.
Please keep your child away from these toxic people as much as possible. I cried when I heard my niece ask my sister why her grandmother didn’t like her as much as Cousin Andy. Kids know these things.
I would also recommend finding a good therapist. Not because you sound unhealthy, but because your parents modeled bad parenting. Have someone in your life who can help you not replicate unhealthy patterns.
Write to Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org.