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?

Favouritism: can you make each child feel like the favourite?

“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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    Nicki Cawood

    29 November, 2011

    What a brilliant post!
    I have fertility issues and when Kieran (now 5yrs) was born, after a long wait and much loss, he was my miracle boy. I love the boy so much I can feel my heart swelling as I type. He is quite simply the absolute best child ever.
    When I was pregnant with Taylor I would worry sometimes. There is no way I could love him as much Kieran, my heart just couldn't be big enough. Or maybe I could love them the same but personalities are different and Kieran and I "click", so I'd probably like Kieran slightly more than Taylor but love them equally...
    Honestly? Kieran is 5yrs and Taylor is now 1yr old, they are the same and they are different at the same time and I love them (and like them) equally - to the fullest.

    It may be different for others but for me, they are both my 10 out of 10 boys.

  • Alison p


    Alison Percival

    29 November, 2011

    I think the key is what you say in the last paragraph - that you can whisper it to each of them, and make each one as if they're the golden one. It's not something that you can measure out - they each might need different amounts of time, attention or even money spent on them. I think it's one of the last taboos because when a child really does feel that the parent favourites a brother or sister over them, it can cause untold damage. I can honestly say I don't have a favourite but if I did, I would never, ever let them know.

  • Ellen


    Ellen Arnison

    29 November, 2011

    Nicki, Thanks for your comment. You're right, liking and loving your children are not the same thing.

    Alison, it's easy in theory, but incredibly difficult to get right all the time.

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    Ready for Ten admin

    29 November, 2011

    Great post, Ellen! It can be so difficult can't it?!

    For me, it's my first born, B, that reminds me too much of myself! He has loads of lovely endearing qualities, and funnily enough - the not so endearing ones, I'm afraid he may have inherited from yours truly! So when he's impatient or stubborn, I have a voice in my head which says "I wish you were more like S" (my youngest) - then I feel bad that I am comparing - especially when I am also guilty of impatience or stubbornness!

    As they each grow older, I'll probably wish from time to time that I could mould them into one child made up of all their best qualities! ;)

    Ready For Ten team

  • Small_blank

    08 December, 2011

    A fantastic post Ellen. I have three girls though and if I'd to whisper in the ear of one child, they would immediately go and tell the others that 'Mum says I'm the best girl'. I agree with you totally though that making them all feel special for their individual qualities is what's important.

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