Question:

I'm bringing my twin daughters, 2, to visit my parents, who live several states away.

My problem is that my mother seems to favor one over the other. She'll consistently focus on Twin A.

I don't know how to bring this up with her. I want to make her aware of it before the twins feel the favoritism, but she is rather famous for taking huge offense at the slightest criticism. I have a feeling that anything I say will result in her first becoming incredibly defensive and quickly devolve into "Well, I must be the worst grandmother ever." Can you please help?

Answer: Not as much as either of us would like.

The way you describe your mother, she has deep insecurities, and lacks the maturity even to recognize them, much less plumb them, confront, and repair. If I'm right about her, she needs to be the hero, to be needed, to be seen (i.e., to see herself) as lovable. Thus the spoiling and the dramatic defensiveness: She's buying love, and throwing up barriers to criticism.

By turning even mildly negative feedback into an interpretive dance of "huge offense" and tearful hyperbole, your mom stifles familial dissent. She will be indulged, or you will be punished. It's a powerful weapon she wields.

Playing favorites is another such weapon. By preferring one grandchild, she becomes a towering figure to both children. Twin A will cleave to her for reasons you'd expect.

The unfavored B will also cleave to her - almost more passionately than Twin A does, thanks to the "Where's mine?" impulse.

I suggest protecting your kids on many active fronts: Interrupt Grandma's sustained attentions to A; say openly, "Time for B to see Grandma;" recruit Grandpa or other loved ones to give extra attention to B (but be careful not to punish Twin A); supervise Grandma closely.

Limit the unhealthy exposure, too, by keeping visits short.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.