As a parent, which of your children will you say is your favorite? Your response without thinking is probably “none of them.” What kind of parent would choose one child as his or her favorite? The truth is: many parents.
Years of research support what many have suspected—most parents have a favorite child. Studies have explored factors from birth order to gender and shared interests. Yet even with years of research that supports this idea, parents are still plagued by guilt and live in denial of having a favorite child. Even if there is no discernible parental favorite amongst siblings, studies have shown that children often perceive preferential treatment of their sibling by their parents. Unsurprisingly, family conflicts and feelings of sadness and depression can result from favoritism, whether it’s real or perceived.
The question isn’t whether or not you have a favorite child, since it’s pretty clear that many parents do. Typically, favoritism has little to do with loving one child more. It is more about how your personality resonates with one child’s personality more than the other’s. Essentially, it’s a question of like.
Still, why is it so hard for us to admit that one of our children might be our favorite? Some parents might worry about harming his or her child emotionally or psychologically. Some parents confuse liking one child’s personality with the love he or she shows to each child. Parents also worry about discriminatory parenting practices that favor one child over the other. However, in recognizing that you might hold preferential feelings towards one child, you are taking an important step into creating a better parenting relationship with all of your children. Becoming connected to subconscious motivations and drives can improve your parenting relationship and lead towards a healthier family environment.
Instead of succumbing to guilt or resorting to denial, you can (and should) reflect on how you relate to each of your children, and make an effort to understand how your feelings towards each child can impact your parenting practices and the parent-child relationship. Examining your feelings towards each of your children can provide greater insight into your own personality and how you function in relationships—and in fact, how you feel about your children might reveal more about your thoughts and feelings about yourself than them. Increased awareness about your internal world can help you build and sustain healthier relationships.
Here are a few lenses from which to view this issue:
1. Our relationships with our children have deep roots.
There are reasons that you connect with your children in different ways. Some of those reasons stem from your past experiences. Your childhood relationships with your parents and other important figures in your life have a significant impact on your current relationships.
A child may remind you of a favorite grandparent, and your interactions with this child might invoke similar feelings of affection. Another child might display behaviors similar to a parent that you had conflicts with. That child’s behaviors might trigger a negative response that has old, deep roots.
Recognizing how old relationships might impact your relationships with your children increases awareness. This increased awareness allows you to examine whether your feelings are specific to your child or carry greater significance. If need be, you can make changes in how you interact with your child that are appropriate to who he or she is as an individual without the weight of your past.
2. Your children can reflect your personality back to you.
Sometimes, we respond to characteristics in our children that we also see in ourselves. Characteristics in ourselves that we embrace are often celebrated when mirrored in our children. When the mirror reveals a flaw, we often respond negatively. We can respond in anger or avoidance out of discomfort with our own shortcomings.
3. Your feelings towards your children may be seasonal.
Remember that our relationships with our children are not fixed. They are dynamic, growing and developing as we go through life’s joys and challenges. While one year, you might feel more connected to your oldest child, a year later, that affinity might switch to your middle child. Recognizing these changes and taking time to examine the factors that contribute to the changes can increase your understanding of your relationships with all of your children.
Looking for Areas of Growth
At the end of the day, your relationship with your child is just that—a relationship. As with all relationships, there will be ups and downs with plenty of opportunity for growth in between. Being proactive in understanding the nature of these relationships and what factors are at play in a given time will help the relationships flourish. While you might like your children differently it is important that all children receive equal love and nurture from their parents.
So, relax and acknowledge that at this moment, you might have a favorite. Then go a step further to examine how that simple fact can lead you to a better relationship with all of your children creating a stronger, healthier family.