I have 3 kids. Boys ages 9 and 7, and a daughter age 4. Early in her life she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that has been causing varied complications in her life. Her mental capabilities are more or less on par with where they should be, and she can run around the house and such and play just like a 4 year old would. What issues she does have are mitigated with medications, but she gets ovarian cysts on regular basis and likely has Fibrous Dysplasia. So falls and other risky ventures are closely monitored. The nature and exact symptoms are not necessarily important but I wanted to paint a small picture of her needs.

My wife and I are always worried about her well being. The first thing my daughter does when I get home is come to greet me and I give her a big hug that lasts sometimes a couple minutes. When I'm around, she always asks me to do things with her and I usually comply.

Her older brothers are getting to an age that I am trying to get them to be more independent. If they are eating and watching TV and one of them asks for a glass of water, I'll suggest that they go and get it themselves. Which they usually do. I feel this is a correct course of action given their age, that if it's something they are perfectly capable of doing, then I should encourage them to do it themselves and only help if needed.

I can feel a rift between my sons and I, since in some cases I can't spend as much time with them as I do with my daughter. I work, so that's a lot of time during the week lost. My sons have friends to interact with and want to do things by themselves. I took them out for a walk yesterday and it felt like forever since it was just us.

We have talked to them plenty about their sister as far as explaining the hospital visits, safety concerns, etc. They are young enough that the gravity of it might be lost on them. I have seen them stop her from falling in some cases, so I know they are retaining something.

This "rift" is exacerbated by their grandmother that lives with us because of our need to be away from home for hospital trips and such and so I can still maintain a job. She will dote on all of them for the simplest things. I have watched her feed my 9 year old sandwiches while he just sits there. He is perfectly capable of feeding himself but she wants to "help". When she does have to leave, even for the simplest things like going to the store, I have seen one or both of them cry at the concept of them being apart for that short period of time.

Basically I worry about the relationship between me and my sons. I spend more time with my daughter partially because she needs it and because I worry about her. Her brothers are older and should, and in some cases, want to, be independent. Perhaps, given their age, this is just the natural progression of things, and I'm worried for nothing.

I could talk to them but I don't know if they will really get what I'm asking and expect to get "I get it, Dad".

  • 4
    This feels more ranty than it should. I just don't know if I can reduce it more in order to really paint the right picture. We just got more news today about my daughters condition and it made me think about this again.
    – Matt
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:52
  • Spending some more time with your sons and showing them affection is very important, of course still keeping an eye on your daughter. I recently learned boys take a little longer to develop in certain areas of their brain (reading facial emotions is one), and it may be that boys actually need more care in this regard. It is not uncommon for them to need more attention at their age from parents than girls, so independence may not be healthy right now. (source: Origins of War in Child Abuse). Definitely talk to your mother about your concerns of coddling.
    – Craig
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:36

3 Answers 3


I think that children in general begin to understand that the expectations are different depending on who they are with. I wouldn't worry too much about them lacking independence because their grandmother overindulges them--as long as others are consistent in allowing/insisting they do things for themselves, they will quickly learn that it is something that they shouldn't expect from others. At least that is the experience I had with both of my sons.

As for worrying about your relationship with your sons suffering because you spend more time with your daughter-I think it might help you to focus more on quality vs. quantity. Make sure you set aside time to spend one on one with each of your children--maybe an hour every week that is spent doing exactly what that child wants to do with you. Protect that time--make sure someone else is with your daughter and other child during that time, and let them see you protecting your time together. I found that it was much easier for my children to be generous about sharing my time when they knew that they were assured that I really meant it when I said I was setting aside other time for them only.

During your one-on-one time, you can remind them that you have to spend more time with their sister, but that you are always there for them as well. You can actually ask them about whether they feel sad/bad/angry about you having to spend so much more time with their sister. Let them express things in whatever way they want to or need to, and respect whatever it is they say and talk about how you and they can work together to resolve whatever it is they express. For example, if they feel left out, you might be able to agree that they can come to you and ask for a hug when they need it, and that you will always stop and give them a hug (unless you are dealing with a safety issue--and even then you will give them a hug as soon as you can do so).

To get past the "I get it, Dad" thing, talk them through a concrete example--let's say they want to tell you about something they did that day at school, and you are really focused on your daughter--what should they do to ensure that you stop and listen to their story? Then make sure you can follow through by actually paying attention to them when they do what you agreed upon. I did that with my sons--and even though they were rolling their eyes during the discussion, I later found them doing exactly what I had suggested later on, so it got through anyway.

My sons are now 21 and 19, and I found myself having a very similar conversation (actually an argument) with my older son last week. In his perception I was being harder on him than on his brother. But I pointed out times when I had asked for the exact same behavior from his brother--just in a different context and using different words. A few minutes after that argument, he came to me and said (begrudgingly) "thanks for trying to make me and Spenser be better people, Mom."

I can't promise this will work for everyone, but after I got divorced (my kids were 3 and 5) trying to ensure that each child got some time where my focus was on them alone, however short that time was, got me through single parenthood, and the differing household expectations after my ex-husband remarried.


From what you have here, it sounds like you have more problems than the relationship with your sons (in fact, I suspect your relationship is just fine, in and of itself, it's the other relationships that are the problem).

Your mother is babying the kids, plain and simple. It's not like she doesn't know any better. She raised at least one kid of her own. The behavior you're seeing when she leaves for any length of time is not "closeness," it's the result of babying. Her leaving means they don't have anyone to wait on them hand and foot, and now they have to do work like (gasp!) feed themselves!

You need to put your foot down with her and tell her to stop babying them. She lives with you guys, so the idea that parents' rules go out the window at grandma's doesn't apply. The three of you have to be a unified parenting front, because you are parenting your kids. She's as much a parent in this situation as you are.

Also, don't compare their relationship with her to their relationship with you. That's an unfair comparison in my opinion. Even without the babying, a child's relationship with their grandparent(s) is going to be different than their relationship with their parent(s).

As for your daughter, it seems you might be babying her. You see her as fragile (and rightfully so, in some ways she is), so you are handling her about like you would a porcelain doll. I can guarantee you this is not lost on your boys and is probably causing a certain amount of resentment.

While it makes sense to teach her to be careful about the things that could actually hurt her, you can't baby her. Much as you probably want to, you can't wrap her in bubble wrap for her life and you can't be her bubble wrap. You have to teach her to be careful about the things she needs to be careful about, but you also have to treat her like any other kid in the aspects where that's possible.

For example, if she asks for a glass of water, instead of getting it for her, accommodate her safety needs and teach her to get it herself. Have a lower cupboard with dishes for the kids, so that she can get her own cup. Get a stool and teach her to use it to get water from either the kitchen sink, the fridge, or the bathroom sink, depending on what is in feasible reach for her right now without risking her safety too much.

I also think you're underestimating your sons' capability to understand the situation with their little sister. Their actions have clearly shown that they understand, and the frequent hospital visits are not lost on them. They may not understand all the medical details, but they do understand what it means in a day-to-day sense, as evidenced by their helping her.

I think your relationship with them is partially natural progression, partially an unfair comparison with another adult, and partially some of your own actions. The onus is on you to identify which is which, accept the ones you can't change, and address the ones you can.

Keep in mind, too, that "bonding" activities don't have to be specific interaction with them. It could be taking them camping (or somewhere else they enjoy) with their friends. Yeah, they're spending their time with their friends, but they will always and forever credit you as the enabler of that experience. Stuff like that makes you "cool" in their eyes and they love you for it. (Or, to put it another way, consider your relationship with your own parent(s) and the various specific memories you have from childhood. It's likely that many/most of them aren't direct interactions, but rather experiences that they introduced you to or enabled you to have.)


I have kids in very similar ages. 10yr old boy, 7yr old boy, 3yr old girl. My daughter has some minor issues, nothing that would likely lead to hospital stays, but her early life was really intense & full of tests & Drs.

At these ages, I would anticipate they all still need you very much. The ability to feed one's self isn't the same as distancing one's self. My 10yr old regularly still snuggles up next to me to watch a movie. He's a kid. He needs my presence & attention & focus, not my kitchen skills. He is quite capable of making a sandwich, getting a drink & even doing laundry & loading the dishwasher.

When you are not home, fine. You can't very well interact with kids when not there. When you are there, there is no need to exclude them when spending time with your daughter. There are a ton of fun games all of them can play. A favorite of my kids is called "Doggie Doo" and it's gross & silly and has very simple rules even 4yr olds can follow. You can also set up things like family movie night. They are plenty young to enjoy a blanket fort in the house made super cool with help from dad.

I take very seriously that one of my jobs as a parent is to forge strong, loving bonds between my children. Your siblings are (hopefully, when all goes well) the longest lasting relationships of your life. Longer than your parents even. They are supposed to be (again, ideally) learning to have each other's backs, lift each other up & be a team. As an adult, I talk to my siblings way more than my parents. I have a sister that is 8yrs older that I talk to at least every day, sometimes more than once. I love my parents, but my daily contact is siblings. This is also true for my parents. They are in their 70s & they have coffee every single morning, with my dad's siblings at a coffee shop.

I would talk to gramma - but I would start with thanking her for being there for your children. While her approach might not be what you hope for, she is doing your family a great service being available to help you raise your kids while managing your daughter's medical needs. It is okay to ask her to alter her approach, just make sure your thanks come before the request to keep things smooth.

And for sure, on drinks, other than the 3yr old I can't tell you the last time I got anyone a drink. That said, you may want to try squeezing in "The Five Love Languages of Children". The book very simply explains the various things that people need in order to feel loved & appreciated. Some people need to be told, others respond most to gifts, quality time is one, some respond most to physical affection and others to acts of service. If the child asking you to get them a drink, has a primary love language of "acts of service" it likely has nothing to do with independence or capabilities & everything to do with asking you if you love him, literally. If you do not understand what a given person needs to know you love them, then it is likely they are feeling less love than you intend. So it's such a worthwhile read. It will help you very much in understanding how to more easily meet the love needs of those you care most about & ease frustrations at times because a person who feels loved by you is more inclined to cooperate with you, show kindness, reciprocate showing you loving responses. I know in my kids it is quality time for my oldest, gifts for my next one & my little seems to be all about physical affection. It can change over time, even for adults, but especially with children. I think if you read it though, you would find it useful. Many children who love to have things done for them have a love language of "acts of service". It is easier then to work on getting them to do more for themselves while meeting their needs if you understand that is what is driving the request.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .