My in-laws only involve my eldest

Dear Suzie, I have a dilemma which involves my in-laws and don’t know what to do next. I have 2 sons, ages 5 1/2 and 2. I understand that siblings need time and space alone as well as together, however, my in-laws seem to organise trips/visits which only involve my eldest son. Last time, the little one was really upset as they were leaving with his brother. They’ve now bought all the equipment for a camping trip and have told my eldest that he’s going without his brother on the 1st trip, telling me that it’s because the youngest is still in a cot. (He’s just now moved into a bed) My husband,(who’s an only child) seems to think I’m over-sensitive and that it’s not a problem. I feel they’re making excuses and that they’re almost trying to relive the times they had with my husband as a child. My parents organise visits which involve both boys, as they enjoy spending time with them equally. Please help me resolve this. Many thanks.

I can see how upsetting you find this. And why your husband may not! As you say, as an only child he probably identifies with your eldest child – who, after all, was ‘an only’ for 3½ years. I wonder if your experiences as a child make you sensitive to sibling rivalry – something that’s simply off his radar.

Before you look at what your in-laws are doing, it may be useful for you and your husband to sit down and have an in-depth chat about what this situation is throwing up for both of you and why, and come to some sort of agreement on how you want to proceed. Once you both understand where each of you are coming from you can agree to disagree on some aspects while standing side by side on others.

You’re seeing the situation from your younger child’s point of view, and for a small child being left out of a sibling’s good fortune is a total, crushing tragedy. But it isn’t, really. It’s a hard lesson for young ones to learn – and one they should learn sometime – that sometimes they can’t have what another sibling has, whether that’s in treats and trips or actual presents. Just because a child is upset is not always a reason to change things; it may be a good opportunity for you to talk over with them what is and is not age appropriate, what is and is not their turn.

Let’s then consider it from your in-laws point of view. They may be being entirely truthful about their reasons for concentrating on the eldest for now. After all, there is a gap between what a 2 year old and a 5½ can manage. Your in laws might be being insensitive in rushing into trying out camping with their grandson as soon as the eldest can manage it rather than waiting a few short years until both could do it – but I can see that a camping trip may be fine for a 5 year old and not for a 2 year old. And perhaps they do want to get on and share fun that fits an older child while your parents are content to go at the pace of the youngest; your older son may not be as keen on that as you and your parents are!

But you may have hit the nail on the head about their reasons for concentring on your eldest. There are often also great disparities between what different adults can manage. Your in-laws have had experience of being with a single child – and only children are often far more adult than their years. They had him as a small one for 2 or 3 years – you have more than 5 years experience now of dealing with little ones. It could be that they actually feel overwhelmed and inadequate at looking after a very young child, unlike your own parents who may have more competence and confidence.

I think you could sit down and talk with your in-laws. But do it in the spirit of sharing impressions rather than as an attack or a complaint. If they can reflect and discuss what it is about seeing one of your sons and not both ‘fits’ with them, perhaps they can manage to change. Say your younger son would like to have some time with them too but say you can understand if, at present, they don’t feel confident with both children. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. It really isn’t uncommon for grandparents to suddenly come into their own when kids get to whatever age they feel most comfortable dealing with.

In the end, you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do. If his parents can’t cope and your husband can’t help them see they should, your only recourse is to make sure your younger son has something that makes up for the loss. It’s their loss, in the end.

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