Dear Savvy Auntie,

I am a long-distance auntie to my sister's two tween girls. How do I deal with my sister who favors one of my nieces over the other?

For years I've noticed that my sister doesn't treat my nieces equally or punish them equally. Our parents - my nieces' grandparents - see it too. It hurts me to watch my eldest niece get punished while her sister gets away with the same transgressions. What do I say to my niece when she thinks her mother is being unfair (and I agree!) without undermining my sister?

Picking Favorites

Dear Picking Favorites,

I assume from your question that the subject of favorites has not been brought up, as yet. If this is so, I also assume that it is a relatively new issue as your nieces are tweens.
Being long distance , you might not be aware of the daily situation and how covertly provocative one niece is or how ‘tatttling’ and good-goody the other one  is.
Tweens can be very challenging for a mother, so I suggest you start your conversation with your sister with this understanding and some  compassion. A compliment on her mothering is next on your  “menu of discussion”...nobody likes to be reprimanded and told they are doing something wrong. The “main course” is to gently tell your sister that it is disturbing to you and the less favored niece and could be guilt provoking for the favorite in reaction to her attitude.
How can you help? if she is not responsive you can show some understanding and favoritism to the less favored, enlist the support of their dad, and as they get older initiate a conversation with both of them that is supportive and asks how they feel with this inequality and what you can do to help the situation.
The “desert” (my favorite) is a chapter on siblings and favoritism in my book  and I would be glad to send (send an email to or you can look at my website and see if the concept fits. If so, it would be an easy way to introduce your sister to considering her role and not which of the girls is “good" or “bad”.
Best of Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield

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