- May 14, 2021
“Mum, who’s your favourite child?” After watching a show where parents are asked to point out their preferred child, my daughter asked me. Yup, apparently, in today’s world of entertainment, no topic is off-limits.
Allow me to start with some backstory.
I have two children. My daughter (the one who posed the question). She’s 13. Going on 30. And my son. He’s 3. Going on, well, 3.
Pre-baby brother, my daughter had my undivided attention for nine plus years. The arrival of a new family member changed the dynamics, obviously. Now my attention has to be split. Except it can’t be split equally because a baby needs way more attention. This doesn’t sit well with my daughter. She loves him to bits, but sometimes she misses being the only child, which is fair enough.
Her question caught me off guard.
“Why do you ask that?” I probed.
She explained the show she had just watched, having concluded by now that every parent must have a favourite child.
“I love both my children equally”, came my reflex response.
“No mum, you must have a favourite.”
“Ok, if you believe that, who do you think is my favourite?” I asked.
“Why do you believe that?”
“I don’t know. I just feel it.”
“I don’t have a favourite; I love you both equally”, I said. Daughter dearest left it at that.
But her body language told me that she wasn’t entirely buying my answer. There was now the elephant in the room that needed to be addressed; because I believe that there are stories my children tell themselves about their worth in my eyes. And these stories matter a great deal. Favouritism, perceived or otherwise, can be incredibly damaging to a child.
According to Genevieve Von Lob, a psychologist and author of Happy Parent, Happy Child, a less favoured sibling may internalize a sense of being overlooked, of never feeling good enough and a deep sense of inadequacy. A favoured child may also suffer; they can develop a deep-rooted fear and insecurities around losing their top spot. They may also feel the pressure of living up to their parents’ expectations.
Von Lob asserts that most parents she works with are inherently drawn to one child, even if they’re not conscious of the fact.
Moreover, research shows that 1 in every 10 parents admits to having a favourite child, the operative word here being ‘admit’. The real figure could be higher because many more parents feel guilty for having a favourite child. And with good reason. The stakes are high.
I remember, as a child having a feeling about which among my siblings was my dad’s favourite and which of us was my mum’s favourite. This stuff is real.
So do I have a favourite child, or I am simply in denial? I don’t know. What I do know is the love I have for both my children is equal. It is the liking that tends to fluctuate- because loving and liking are qualitatively different.
There are times when my son is easier to parent, and there are times when my daughter is easier to parent. And that’s ok; these are two different people with different needs and different personalities.
My love for my children may not be perfect, but it remains indiscriminate. When my son is in the throes of a temper tantrum, does that make me love him less? No, but at that point, I would certainly prefer to be in the company of my daughter if she happens to be bringing her A-game on the home front. At that point, she is likely more in sync with my own temperament and perspectives. But these scenarios are in constant flux. The title of favourite then becomes a fluid thing. My favourite might change daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly. Indeed, those who agree that favouritism is a natural phenomenon also agree that it is behaviour-based rather than child based.
As I thought about how to answer my daughter’s question authentically, I went back to the basics: What is my role as a parent? 1. To love and keep my children safe. 2. To nurture and provide for them. 3. To guide, encourage and support them in their life journeys. 4. To accept them for who they are- completely. The rest are details.
We may disagree on some issues, but when all is said and done, I should never make my child feel less loved because of what they did or didn’t do. The love remains, and more importantly, they shouldn’t have to question it. It’s a tough job, but if it were easy, then it wouldn’t be parenting.
Now, to communicate all this to my daughter in a way that will not be misinterpreted…
Also read: It Is Time to Rethink the Nuclear Family
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