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Posted on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Dying mother's confessed favoritism causes hurt feelings

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

How do you handle parental favoritism when it's real, not just perceived? My mom is dying, and she has been making statements that leave no doubt that I am her favored daughter.

Needless to say, this is tearing my sister apart. This has always been "in the air," but my mom worked very hard to balance it out, reassure both of us of her love, etc. But as she dies, her filters are fading.

I have told my mom how hurt I would have been if she'd said "something like that" to me; I have done what I can to validate my sister's hurt feelings. I THINK my sister and I are mature enough that we won't let this come between us, but that's easy for me to say, as the favored one. I just feel so miserable about it all. How do we muddle through this mess?

-- Anonymous

It sounds as if you're doing what you can already -- with your mom and sister. With the latter, though, take care not to veer into pity; that will only underscore that you're in the dominant position, the exact message you don't want to send.

It is OK, though, to say to your sister that you're treating this as part of your mom's illness, and that as far as you're concerned the "real" mom is the one who wasn't ill, and who showed her love for you both.

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Re: Parental favoritism:

My mother-in-law obviously favors my brother-in-law over my husband. While she declares her love for both sons, she very quickly follows it up with a "but" of sorts, directed at my husband.

I try to ignore this, but she cuts my husband down literally every time we are together. It tears me up to see my husband spoken to this way. He is a wonderful person that any mother should be proud of. I don't get it; I can't change it, so how does one deal with it?

-- Anonymous 2

This is going to sound perverse, but you can deal with it by celebrating it. For kids, there's no escaping the message that you're supposed to be the apple of your parents' eyes, that no one will love you like a parent will, that your parents are your safe place and fan club and personal chocolate-chip-cookie factory all wrapped into one. Being the unfavored child is to wrestle with cognitive dissonance as the soundtrack to your life.

Some people get used to it, some people have the precocious clarity to see it as their parents' issue and not their own, and some push it ahead of them, like Sisyphus, well into adulthood.

However your husband approached it, he got wonderful by an arduous path. (In fact, the favored kids have a hard path, too: Both parties have to fight to build character, against forces pushing in different directions.) There's no other way to see it than as an accomplishment. And that's something you can say to him at strategic moments over the years.

That is, if he wants to hear it. Be sensitive to the way he receives your validation. People make peace in different ways, and he might find peace in just leaving this all alone.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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