Hell hath no fury like a parent whose child has been treated unfairly by others. Or whose close relative favors one of their children over another. A wave of inchoate anger rises even when the children are adults and making their way in the world.
A Social Qs column churned up this barrel of hurt. A reader wrote Philip Galanes that her sister, who had been relatively estranged from the reader's family, "made a large cash gift to my eldest daughter, who is a doctor, and gave nothing to my younger children, who earn less." The reader, who noted that she and her sister had been raised in a home filled with "unhealthy competition," asked Galanes if she could speak to her sister about this painful show of favoritism or should she let it go.
Galanes advised the reader not to raise the issue with her sister "unless you're prepared to rehash the dynamics of your childhood."
Check in with your kids instead. Ask them how they feel about this. You may be surprised to learn that the care you took in treating them equally will pay off now when others don't.
I have my own deeply buried experience with a situation similar to that of the reader's. My brother played a negligible role in my children's lives--he never called or sent a card on a birthday or attended any events that marked passages of their childhood. . Then suddenly he decided to show up for my daughter's graduation from an Ivy League school. He showered her with a large cash gift and took her and her roommates out to dinner. The next year, when my son graduated from a lower-profile college, my brother was a no-show and a non-acknowledger (no congratulatory phone call or note to say nothing of a gift) of the important passage in his nephew's life.
I like to think it was all about my brother's ego: He was dazzled by the Ivy League; it wasn't a personal statement about my son. Nonetheless, it stung.
So, lo these many years later, I took Galanes advice and asked my children about my brother and his track record with their college graduations. (I couldn't talk to my brother about it; he died several years ago.) My daughter, well past her graduation days, remembered the discomfort of an uncle with whom she was not close paying so much attention to her and her friends and treating them so lavishly. She reminded me that neither she nor her brother "had a relationship with him and that's kind of sad. But I remember how mad you were."
My son brushed it off. He barely remembers any role my brother did or didn't have in his graduation.
So I guess the pain is all on me--and that's as it should be. Galanes is right on this count: Like the reader, much of my anger was not just at the way my brother treated my children but related back to the dynamics of my childhood.
Hell's fury might be when those dynamics are visited on your children, but the upside is that my children don't have the emotional overlay to be scarred by it.
painting: Paul Klee, View from Red