Favouritism: can you make each child feel like the favourite?
“95 per cent of parents have a favourite child – and the other five are lying,” according to the author of a new book. If it’s true, what can we do about it?
“You are my best boy,” I whisper into the ear of one of my three sons. He sighs and hugs me a little tighter. “Shhhh,” I say. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“Ok, mum,” he says and I really hope he means it. You see, the thing is, I tell each of my three sons this and cross my fingers that they don’t compare notes.
Do I really have a best boy? That would be telling... but the answer is, probably, yes.
Eenie, meanie, minie, mo...
My firstborn son was a gift, I fell instantly in love with him, but then so did the rest of the family. There were times I didn’t feel he was actually mine, there were so many other people staking a claim.
Then he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that makes him both heartbreakingly vulnerable and spectacularly annoying.
When middle son arrived he was just mine. He was beautiful and, mostly, not much bother. He’s bright and nosey and reminds me of me more than I’m comfortable with.
Then quite a bit later the toddler arrived to a mother with post natal depression. He’s a bundle of energy who whizzes round making a mess and being charming. What’s not to love?
Are fair shares really possible?
It’s taboo though, isn’t it? You can’t have a favourite – it’s against the rules to say that the vulnerable firstborn, beautiful middle one or cute little-y is the one you prefer. It’s something of a parenting absolute.
Certainly we all try to treat our kids equally where possible. That seems to be the unspoken rule. It was when I was growing up – equal value presents, equal share of whatever and, therefore, equal love.
Probably, in hindsight, dad had a very big soft spot for my brother who joined the army and lived the life dad had only dreamed of. It really didn’t bother me because when we were young dad never showed it.
Now I’ve got my own children and I realise what a mammoth task not having a favourite is. Mine seem to be impossible to treat equally – they need different things at the same time. Always.
Breaking the taboo
In recent weeks, there has been much talk about having a sibling favourite. Jeffrey Kluger started it when he published The Sibling Effect.
The taboo was broken and everywhere parents were confession to favouritism, discussing their situation, or denouncing those guilty of it.
My solution to this problem isn’t fastidious attention to fairness, it’s to try to make each child feel like the golden one. For some time every day, I try – even if it’s just our whispered secret – to make them feel like they are the only child in the world.
How do you do it?
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