Do You Have a Favorite Child? (2)

In our earlier article this topic, we looked at the case of Ellie and Dawn, two sisters in their late 80s where Dawn still suffers from a childhood sense of not being as good as her sister Ellie. This experience has tainted Dawn’s entire life. Her mother, through small but consistent actions during the girl’s childhood, gave Dawn impression that she was “not good enough”.

Sibling rivalry is one phenomenon. It is normal and part of the developmental process. But overt parental favoritism is not normal and can damage a child well into adulthood to the point where they may need to seek therapy because it is interfering with relationships even outside of the birth family environment.

Yet, it is not humanly possible to love all our children the same, although we do have a choice as to how and whether we express these natural feelings. Favoritism occurs for many reasons, not all of which are sinister on the part of the parent. A UK study of 14,000 families by researchers at University College London concluded that first-born children of either gender tended to be favored over their younger siblings.

In many ways, this makes sense. As individuals, we often have fond memories of our first car or our first love, even when we now drive or love much better models. There is something in the newness of the experience that creates a special bond and this may well occur with the birth of our first child.

Other studies suggest alternate reasons for favoring one child over another. It can be a natural phenomenon to enjoy the company of the child who is more like you in temperament, or has similar interests to you. In terms of the latter, this may change over time, and the terrible teen that you struggled with for years may develop a love of golf in later years that brings you together such that there are many opportunities for a special closeness to develop.

This of course does not have to develop into outright favoritism, it simply means that your children are individuals and you may “click” with one more than another. Children are humans too and we do not like all humans the same, and therefore it is not humanly possible to love our children the same. But we are capable of loving them and accepting them as they are and fostering respect and caring, both between yourself and your children and between each offspring themselves.

The alternative, favoring one child over another, so that gifts, birthdays, possessions, time and money are directed towards one child in favor of all others is, in effect, child abuse.

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