Saturday, November 12, 2005

I am the mother of three boys. My husband’s sister has two boys and one girl. This girl is treated as a princess. She sits at the “adult table” for gatherings while all the boys sit in the kitchen even though all of my boys are older than she is. She also always gets the first serving of dessert, always gets to open her presents first and always is the center of attention.

The child doesn’t even speak to me or my children. I am about at my wits’ end. I have to restrain myself from spanking this child for her rude behavior. I realize, however, that it is her parents who need the discipline.

How do I deal with this so my boys don’t end up feeling like second-class citizens when they’re with their cousins?

A: Seriously, I think you’re making more of this than it merits. In the first place, I think it’s important that boys learn that girls do and should get served first, that they should have doors opened for them, and so on.

In the second place, I would wager that there isn’t room at the table for all six grandchildren. Because boys tend to be rowdier and because they probably would rather sit together anyway, it makes perfectly good, even impeccable, common sense for the sole female grandchild to be seated at the adult table.

Sitting the one girl with four of the boys wouldn’t make much sense, would it? She probably wouldn’t want to be there, and the boys wouldn’t want her to be there. Why should any of them have to endure that indignity?

I also agree that the girl cousin should get the first piece of dessert and open the first present. After dinner, I offer my wife, Willie, her choice of the dessert plates, and I give her a present on Christmas morning before she gives me one. She wouldn’t be upset if either of these situations happened otherwise, but my parents taught me at an early age to do things that way.

Likewise, you should be teaching your boys to practice their male courtesies with their female cousin. Instead, you are teaching them to resent her. Shame on you. Go to your room.

Having said all that, I must add that no child should be allowed to lord it over other children or be rude to adults. If this is the case, and I take your word for it, this child is being misguided. I don’t think, however, that you are going to get the parents’ attention — not unless you jerk the girl up and, as we say in North Carolina, begin whalin’ the tar out of her, which I’m by no means recommending. (Calm down, all you anti-spanking zealots out there.)

Even then, I doubt the parents would get it. You probably would end up being sentenced to a year of counseling and community service.

So restrain yourself and be comforted. Your boys will not suffer permanent psychological harm because of this. The worst thing that will happen is they won’t like their cousin, which is unfortunate for all concerned. When they begin to realize what’s going on and express some frustration over it, I would gently remind them that it’s their job to love her no matter what and be polite and gentlemanly toward her no matter what. Let that be the beginning and the end of it.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (

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