April 10, 2015

Favoritism


Have you ever asked your parents who is the favorite in the family and get the response, you are all my favorite?

The harsh truth: Every parent with more than one child is going to have a favorite. 

Favoritism has been around since biblical times, Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21:9-15) and Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:28), are two parents that played favorites. 

There is nothing wrong with having a favorite. It's human instinct, mother nature. It's like Sophie's choice, in tough decisions, you might have to choose one over the other. No two children are the same, you are bound to become more attached to one. Your favorite child can also change as they age or as certain situations arise. 

Some factors that can lead to favoritism:
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Parent(s) had a goal they didn't achieve before baby arrived
  • Child's behavior/disposition
If a child is overactive, or irritable, this is going to affect the relationship between that child and the parents. Of course, most parents will over-invest in their efforts to have a pleasant relationship with the children. But let’s face it, the disposition of some children is just not pleasant and they are not easy to like. (source)
  • Too early in marriage 
You need at least 2 to 5 years to learn how to be married. Getting pregnant on your honeymoon is going to confront you with a specific challenge of welcoming that child as though the child was born 2 or 3 years later. When a child comes too early in the marriage it can be difficult on the marriage as well as difficult for the parents to have the loving, accepting attitude they want to have toward the child. (source)
  • Change - going from life without a baby to having a baby is a roller coaster ride
The problem with favoritism is when you openly say or show that one of your children is preferable over the other. It was obvious when my parents preferred one of us over the other. (Sorry mom and dad, you didn't hide it very well!) I'm pretty sure my sister was the favorite when we were younger, she was the baby, she got away with everything and I got that "you're older, you should know better" lecture. Then it switched when we were older due to my sister's rebellious behavior. Now that we're out of the house, it's not so easy to tell, which is the point: It should never be obvious to the children who is the favorite. 

If favoritism is obvious, it can hurt the whole family. As Cornell University professor and researcher, Karl Andrew Pillemer, says:

"Research shows that sibling relationships are much worse when parents show favoritism, so the family atmosphere is less pleasant. And there are negative effects on kids, from small children, to adolescents, to young adults. These include acting out, anxiety, depression, and a variety of other mental health outcomes." (source)
So what's the solution? Dr. Ellen Weber Libby, author of The Favorite Child, suggests being open about favoritism:
Parents can increase the likelihood that all their children benefit from favorite child status while simultaneously minimizing the potential emotional scars of the position. 
First, parents must accept that favoritism exists in all families. It is neither good nor bad. It just is. No two children are identical and no two parents are identical, and so, preference is inevitable. 
Second, all family members must feel safe to freely express their feelings about favoritism. Even as adults, siblings often carry childhood tensions stemming from feelings of who in their family was loved more, or who was favored. Family health is promoted through healthy discussion. 
Third, respectful dialogue between parents, or a parent and trusted confidante, safeguards the inevitable enactment of favoritism. The other adult serves as an observing eye, helping to bring awareness to the potential destructive nature of favorite child dynamics. (source)

Favoritism exists, you can deny it all you want, that's kind of the point, but even if you deny it, your children can often tell by your actions. My parents denied having a favorite, but it was obvious (to me) that they were playing favorites. Hiding it can be hard, so I like Dr. Ellen Libby's advice of being open about it. At least then you are being honest about it, which I think is healthier than denial and lying. 

Favoritism is one of the reasons why I lean towards only wanting one child. You can't favorite another if you only have one!

Here is a video about Favoritism on Time: