Dear Amy: My mother-in-law's older son, "Adam" was a "wanted" child. A few years later, my husband, "Bill," came along.
In the more than 20 years my husband and I have been together, she has told Bill that he only exists because his father was too chicken to get a vasectomy.
The sun rises and sets on Adam, despite failure after failure. Mom is constantly bailing him out. Adam's kids fail equally, and she bails them out, too.
She cannot pass 90 seconds with our family without telling us what Adam has been up to and what she has given him and his latest spouse and kids. She cites dollar figures, which are astounding.
She has pretty much ignored us for nearly 22 years. When she gets bored, she expects us to fill the gap. When we give in to this, against all sanity, she regales our children with how much she has done for their cousins.
She barely remembers our kids at their birthdays, and does nothing for them at Christmas.
Bill lets this roll off his back. He's an amazing person, he's worked hard, put himself through school, and is a great husband and awesome father.
I know she won't change. I want to learn how not to care. If not for Bill's sake, for our kids', because they are equally amazing. But unlike their dad, they feel the imbalance and are hurt.
Can you teach me?
Amy says: You seem to have already mastered the first step in not caring, which is acceptance. Yes, she won't change.
You also seem to acknowledge that her toxic enabling has actually damaged "Adam" and his family members.
Now you need to understand that you and your wonderful family have won the family sweepstakes. Imagine how different things would be if your mother-in-law turned her fire hose of bad parenting and enabling in your direction.
Your husband tolerates this because she is his mother. His tolerance is a testament to his character.
You could try to behave differently when she is with you. You don't seem to have expressed how you feel about her behavior.
"Marge, it has always been clear that you prefer Adam. But I find it hurtful, and I really don't want to hear about it. Let's find something else to discuss."
And to your children, you need only say, "Your grandmother doesn't seem to know how to love everyone equally. Her real gift to you is a lesson in how not to behave."
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