So the full details of my involvement and actual relationship with my 'friend' and her child are a bit too complicated and distracting to go into right now. For now lets say that I love kids and have been welcomed to visit and be part of my friend's child's life and that there are good reasons why this child is important to me...

Anyways I visit her daughter regularly, and most of the time my friend's niece is also there, as my friend babysits the niece regularly. However, I've seen a consistent pattern of her giving her own daughter preferential treatment over the niece. For example if her daughter screams about the niece having a toy she will tell the niece that it's her daughter's toy and to give it back, even if the niece clearly had it first and daughter is only wanting it because the niece had it. Considering everything in the house is her daughters that amounts to her daughter always having the right to take toys away from the niece which is unfair. Similarly it's not unheard of for the niece to accidently antagonize the daughter and daughter lash out. Both are in the wrong, but it seems the niece gets more of the scolding and the daughter unfairly justified for lashing out without being called on it.

Separate from that she has made comments to me implying I could 'have' the niece or that the niece was less pleasant to have around then the daughter, but in situations where the niece could potentially overhear her. Niece is young enough that these comments mostly go over her head, but it's still not acceptable in my mind, she will eventually put it all together and feel less cared for.

I know the standard response is 'talk to the mother and explain your feelings." However I'm going to say the mother is unlikely to respond well to a direct discussion on the topic and...well lets just say I think it unlikely to help and quite likely to prove counter productive. I have been trying to more subtle point out that I feel she is being unfair to her niece, and her daughter as well since in the long run this sort of preferential treatment will hinder the daughters ability to learn to play properly with kids which will be a problem as she grows up.

In the meantime though I've constantly had the same situation when I was with the girls and was the main one watching them while their mother was in the house but preoccupied while I played with the kids. The daughter and niece will get in a disagreement where either I feel both are equally wrong and should be equally treated, or the daughter is clearly in the wrong. However, if I try to fairly handle the situation as I think is best, based off of extensive experience volunteering with many child, the mother will show up and will again favor her daughter in the situation. It's a pattern so consistent I feel afraid to even try to properly tell the daughter to be fair to the niece because there is a chance of the mother's intervention and both of us undermining the other. And yet just going along with how I know the mother would handle the situation seems unfair to both children and against what I feel is a right way to handle kids.

I don't know how to be fair and consistent without being contradicted by the mother, and I won't fight her directly in front of the children since she is the parent and the true authority figure in the situation. How can I properly tell the daughter she was in the wrong or that she needs to share a toy the other niece clearly had first and the daughter is only taking out of standard 'I want it cause you have it' kid logic.

  • 3
    How old are the two children? In particular is the niece a few years older than the daugther? In that case it can be totally appropriate to place most of the blame for a disagreement on the older child, regardless of the details.
    – quarague
    Jul 31, 2022 at 8:12
  • 1
    Great question! Ages, please. Does the mom get paid to watch the niece? Why is the mom caring for the niece so often? Do you know the niece's mom? Very young kids can feel rejection and disrespect; don't kid yourself that it might be going over her head. This is a sad situation indeed. Jul 31, 2022 at 14:36
  • They are barely 3 and I think an older three closer to four? the niece is older.
    – dsollen
    Aug 1, 2022 at 14:50

2 Answers 2


If you feel the mother is treating the children unfairly, at the very least I think you should not try to perpetuate her behavior. So don't go along with what the mother would've done just to be consistent and avoid conflict, which I read into your question that you've considered. That would vindicate the mother and risks indicate to the niece that it she is somehow worth this poorer treatment. Otherwise, I expect she'll be quite capable of telling different adults apart and recognize that it's the mother who is treating her unfairly, rather than blaming herself.

I think that in all human encounters we are morally obliged to act in a manner that we can personally own up to and defend. Children can handle different adults having different points of view, and it sounds like you'll be doing both kids a favor if you could to some extent balance that of the mother. What the mother then decides to do is not your responsibility. If she does intervene and override some decision or comment you have made, you will still have made it clear to the kids how you see it. Never mind final outcomes in the issue at hand - Who gets to play with the toy is in the long run less important to the niece than the fact that you've seen and validated her.

If you want to avoid direct confrontation with the mother, just treating the kids the way you feel is right - besides being the right thing to do - is indirect confrontation, demonstrating clearly what your view is.

The above is primarily with regards to the situations you mention where you are looking out for the children and the mother is only in the vicinity to be able to intervene. I note that you don't want to openly contradict her in front of the children since she is the authority figure. But even in those scenarios, I would suggest you consider where your own priorities are. Neglecting to interrupt unfair treatment is an active decision to allow the treatment to take place. Is it more important to respect her authority than to treat others in a respectful manner? Would you similarly say it's wrong to speak up against bullying in the workplace if it means challenging the authority of your boss? Again, most of my response is with regards to situations where you are in the lead, and I am not arguing that you should act one way or the other in these other situations where you aren't, but I think you should at least consider allying with the unfairly treated child before assuming the default position of respecting authority. Again, you must assume responsibility for your own actions or inaction.


I understand your reservations with speaking to your friend about her behavior and her having a negative reaction to the information. A postpartum therapist once told me about my in-laws that the conversation may not always go as you would like in a best case scenario but a conversation will plant the seed for change. The seed is the most important part. If you speak directly and are neutral with the information provided (with examples) it may plant a seed. Then, if another person also sees what she’s doing and also eventually says something, it may plant another seed. If you don’t say anything at all, there’s no seed and no way for growth. This is a very difficult conversation to have with a friend, but a very necessary conversation because the child/niece is at risk of emotional abuse or low self esteem/self worth in the future if the treatment continues. Don’t view the conversation with her as black and white or good or bad. It’s a seed.

Additionally, you may benefit from the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.

  • Rachel, welcome, and great first answer! I've moved your comment into your answer where it is sure to be seen. :) Aug 15, 2022 at 10:34

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