On Playing Favorites, Opportunistic Grandmas, and Why You Shouldn’t Punish a Boy for Masturbation

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We just moved back to the East Coast, where we live near my husband’s relatives. Until recently, my husband didn’t know them well. Now my mother-in-law comes over a couple times a week, and whenever she speaks to my 17-month-old son she says something like, “Who’s your favorite grandma?” or “Oh, come see your favorite grandma,” or, “Who’s your favorite? I am!” It bothers me. Not because it’s my mother-in-law rather than my blood mother, but just because don’t want my child having favorites when it comes to relatives. How do I put a stop to this without causing a big family problem?


You do need to put a stop to it. And the best way to avoid making this situation into a big family problem involves your husband.

Discuss this issue with him immediately. If he shares your concerns about his mother’s conduct, ask him to talk to the woman and tell her not to play favorites. Such words will wound less coming from a son than from a daughter-in-law.

If your husband does not see his mother’s conduct as a problem at first, keep trying to explain your point to him. Perhaps he never thought about the issue before now. But you certainly don’t want your child growing up thinking that one grandmother is better than the other. Many (if not most) kids will over time pick favorites on their own, and you can deal with that problem if it occurs.

If your husband refuses to get involved, then you may have to talk to your mother-in-law on your own. You still need to take action, but realize that without the man’s support, you face a more difficult battle.

Regardless of whether you address the issue in concert with your husband or on your own, do it with class, and as much courtesy as you can muster. Don’t make snide comments and don’t become combative. If you get angry over your mother-in-law’s conduct, she could interpret it as anything from jealousy to an open dislike of her, and at that point both of you come out losers in this game. Speak to the woman calmly and logically and ask her not to play favorites. Tell her that you appreciate her interest in her grandson and that you enjoy her visits, but let her know that since the boy has two grandmothers, you would rather she not refer to herself as the “favorite.”


Was I wrong to punish my son for masturbating? He is only 15, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to be doing that in my house. Especially while people are home. His little sister was the one who walked in on him. Now his father is saying it’s wrong because he has needs and blah blah he did it when he was 15, too.


The answer to your question probably lies somewhere in that “blah blah” you so cavalierly dismissed.

Yes, your son should have taken pains to ensure his little sister did not catch him in the act. Doors to bedrooms and bathrooms close for a reason, and you must remind your son of that fact. But when your husband says the boy has needs, he is correct.

Does a 15-year-old absolutely need to masturbate? Perhaps not. Some boys never do it. However, all boys that age feel a rush of hormones, and sexual release is a simple and natural way to ease the tension. Most teen-age boys have masturbated, a trend that is unlikely to change in the future. And given a choice between masturbation and sneaking out to have sex with a 15-year-old girl, option one looks pretty good.

Punish the boy for his lack of discretion if you like. But don’t punish him for masturbating.

Thank you for reading today’s Q&A. Check back here tomorrow for another installment of the Ask The Dad advice column. If you’d like to submit an Ask The Dad question, send it to [email protected]