The “Favorite” Child Thing: It’s More Complicated Than It Seems

By now you’ve probably heard about the daddy blogger generating lots of controversy by stating, in no uncertain terms, that he has a favorite child. Many parents find this to be troubling; others might think he’s being honest. What I want to add to the mix is that the issue of favoritism is actually pretty complicated when you study families over time. Let me explain by making three points that I’ve discovered after years of observing families.

First, I do believe that some parents play favorites. That said, you can’t really define “favoritism” by getting only one person’s take – you really need to study the family as a whole and see how the family system works. Maybe a parent thinks – and articulates – that they have a favorite. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a positive thing for the “favorite.” There can be increased expectations and pressure to live up to the billing. There can be, perhaps surprisingly, an insecurity that comes with that status. Sometimes a child that is favored will feel like life at the “top” can be challenging – so that when affection or attention gets shown to another sibling, they start to wonder if they are losing their status. So if you do have a “favorite” keep in mind that it’s probably not especially healthy for any of the kids.

These observations apply to families where there is a blatant favoritism. My second point is that I don’t typically see such extreme favoritism in most families, despite the claim that 95% of parents have a favorite and the rest are lying. Rather, parents respond differently to different traits in their kids. Most typically, kids see themselves as getting the short end of the stick, one way or another! A daughter might complain that the parents are stricter with her than with her brother when it comes to social matters. A younger child might feel dumped on because they have to wear hand me downs. The list goes on and on. Most siblings are really good at figuring out what the other sibs get – but if you prompt them enough they also know what benefits they get as well. (I know, because I’ve done this in lots of studies). So, generally, this whole favoritism thing, in the vast majority of families, is a very nuanced thing. Each kid is different, each parents behaves somewhat differently with each kid, and there are positives and negatives that go along with that.

My final point is that these dynamics can change a lot over time. Parents may “like” one kid better than another at particular moments in time because they are easier to deal with. Think about having a young teen who is acting like, well, a young teen, and a sweet little 6-year-old who loves being with you. Okay, the young teen might cause you a bit more grief. But that might change seven years from now. And that’s how it goes in families and with kids over time. The whole thing is very dynamic. So labeling a “favorite” over the long haul is not as straightforward as it might seem.

So where does this leave us? Given that siblings will inevitably be different people (even identical twins, as I will illustrate in a future blog post this week), I think most healthy families work because parents respect those differences and in fact embrace them. And all the other stuff is just called a typical day.

Image of father with sons via Shutterstock.com

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  1. by buzz bishop (aka DadCAMP)

    On September 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    For those wanting to read the original post, and have more context to where I’m coming from with this piece, visit http://blogs.babble.com/kid-scoop/2012/09/19/admit-it-you-have-a-favorite-kid-i-do/

    Thanks for continuing the conversation. I hope this has many people thinking about how they balance the treatment of their kids, it has done that for me.

  2. by jenifer

    On September 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I read a Pin on Pinterest a few months ago. It was letters to your children addressing the “Am I your Favorite” question.
    This mom then wrote each of her kids a letter that stated, “Yes, you are my favorite. You are my favorite (childs name). I love the way you laugh. I love the….” and so on. Each child had their own letter with their own behaviours that their mother loved about them.

    I thought this was great. And it’ll be a keepsake for them as they all get older.
    There will always be a special something for the first born… the last born. I think favorites are inevitable but they also change regularly.

  3. by Tiffany

    On September 26, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I couldn’t pick just one. They all have unique qualitys that I love. Gavin’s humor, Alex’s singing, and Ryans big blue eyes and blond curly hair. All 3 give great hugs. :)

  4. by Valerya Baker

    On September 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I have three amazing kids. Two girls, one boy. My oldest daughter will be 4 next month, my son is 2 1/2, my baby girl is almost 9 months. I absolutely do not have a favorite. I do not choose one over the others to take while I run errands. Since our baby has been born, I’ve probably chosen her more than my other two, not because I like her more, but because she has liked me more than she likes her daddy. I love and appreciate each of my kids for who they are, at each stage they are in. Are older kids more fun? Probably. It’s nice to have conversations, to eat the same foods, to do more activities together. However, that does not make one child better than another.

    My girls love pink and girly things, just like I do. I fully admit to feeling a huge swell of pride when my husband told me our baby chose a pink shirt over a yellow one while he was getting her dressed. I love, love, love that my older daughter adores Hello Kitty just like I do. But I don’t like them more than I like my son. He’s a sweet, sweet little boy who, while crazy, is totally awesome. I love that I have the opportunity to raise each one of my children. And, regardless of whatever personality differences we may have as they grow up, I will always love and appreciate them for exactly who they are. Every one of us is a unique human being. The differences, especially the age differences, between my kids will not cause me to like one more than the other.

  5. by Krystal

    On September 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    I guess I just don’t understand the whole favoritism
    thing. They are both YOUR kids. I love mine just for being mine. Nothing can change that.