Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
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.Add a Comment