Learning to find an attention balance between children

Hax responds to a mother’s concern about her attention between two daughters.

Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hello, Carolyn!

I am newly retired from a long corporate career, and committing the next year of my life to travel and family. I have a daughter, married to a nice man, with two beautiful children, on the other side of the country. I have another daughter, married to a rather grumpy and unpleasant man, here in my home state. They have no children.

I am finding it difficult to avoid hurting Daughter 2’s feelings when I visit Daughter 1. Yes, it is partly about my grandkids, who change so much in between visits. This alone hurts Daughter 2’s feelings; she thinks I care more about her sister because of the babies, which isn’t true.

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But it is also very much about the general atmosphere at each of their homes. At Daughter 1’s, home, I feel welcomed and embraced, and can make myself useful by helping with the kids. At Daughter 2’s home, I feel like a guest who is getting in my son-in-law’s way, and they are very strictly routinized so I can’t make myself meaningfully helpful.

Should I split these visits down the middle anyway? I don’t love this idea, but neither do I like the idea of perpetually hurting Daughter 2’s feelings.

— Southern California

DEAR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Make more, shorter visits to 2, and fewer, longer visits to 1. This is reasonable given the distances, and has the benefit of being harder to bean-count.

Plus it neatly disperses that icky “guest” feeling you have in 2’s house, giving you more hours where you’ve just arrived, which I imagine are more pleasant than those toward the end.

It’s also time for you to be blunt about the baby thing. No, it doesn’t mean you care more about Daughter 1, but the babies are two more fully realized people to care about and whose childhoods you don’t…

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