Can a Parent Really Love One Child Less Than Another?

A father gets vulnerable on Reddit, asking if it's normal to not feel the same love for a second child as the first—and other parents gave some great advice.

Mother and daughter are spending quality time together

Mother and daughter are spending quality time together

I've made my rounds in parenting groups and seen so many of them worried about having a second child. After having a first baby, they—understandably—wonder how you could love anyone else so much. They're also concerned whether it'll affect their bond with their first. They don't want the child that made them a parent to feel replaced.

The well-meaning—and often true, at least to an extent—clichés start rolling in as soon as the anonymous post goes live. It's usually some variation of, "Your heart just doubles in size!"

But what if it…doesn't?

One Dad got real and vulnerable on Reddit about his big feelings—or lack thereof—toward his second child.

"I love my second child less," starts the user, who posted as u/InToddYouTrust in the Parenting subreddit.

Oh boy. Dad says he and his wife always wanted two kids. It was love at first sight with his first, a girl who is almost 2. "It felt like the one thing I was missing finally clicked into place. I love her so much it hurts sometimes, and nothing brings me more joy than being this little goober's dad," he writes.

But he's had a completely different experience with his second, a boy, and it's throwing him for a serious loop. "I love him, but that love feels significantly weaker," he says. "The best way I can describe it is that it felt like my capacity for love grew when my daughter was born, but with my son, it feels like my capacity is the same, and I'm just trying to find some space for him in it."

Few things can prepare a parent for the newborn phase. Even if you've done it before, adding another child to the mix while your first is still a baby can be challenging. There are big feelings all around from adults and little ones, and they're only exacerbated when you're short on sleep.

Honestly, kudos to him for being so raw and honest instead of leaning into cliches. He asked fellow Redditors if they felt the same way. The more than 450 comments are refreshingly genuine.

"Your first child was a significant worldview change. You had to learn a lot of self-sacrifice, and that immediately bound your heart and emotions to the object of that sacrifice. Child #2 doesn't engender that same emotion and perspective shift because you're already in self-sacrifice mode, and so it feels like you aren't bonding with them. Give it time and fight for unique relationships with both your kids and it'll mostly take care of itself," writes one parent, who also says they were in a similar spot.

"I felt this too and had a lot of anxiety about it," says another empathetic Reddit parent. "I've noticed those feelings have almost disappeared now that #2 is a little over a year. I think it just takes time to develop your own special bond with someone else. I would always frame it like this…I've known my first for two whole years. I just met #2."

"Keep in mind, you also don't really know his personality yet. It takes a while for that to emerge. Once he starts responding to you (like smiling) and his personality comes out, things will change," someone else notes.

Sometimes, in the parenting space, it can feel like it's a never-ending competition over who has it harder. Some swear going from zero to one kid is challenging, and they're only met with "just waits" from parents who went from one to two. Then they're only met with "just waits" from parents of three or more. It's actually annoying. The truth of the matter is there are so many factors that go into "hard," namely the temperament of the parent and baby.

Going from one to two was more challenging for me, personally—and I stress the word personally. Many factors were in play, including that my first was born in the early days of the pandemic when my husband was home to help my tag team as the world deteriorated.

"Going from one to two can be hard, especially when the oldest is still a toddler," says Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with South County Psychiatry. "That can play into these types of feelings, especially as you find yourself exhausted from the demands of parenting at that age."

Your kids also won't be a carbon copy of one another, and there's no official blueprint for how to love a child. My first was easygoing. My second definitely had a shorter fuse—neither is abnormal nor "wrong." But over the last 15 months, I've found I bond with my kids differently. One loves to cuddle. The other wants to be chased around endlessly. Schiff says this is not only normal—it's laying the foundation to see your kids as separate but equally great little humans.

"It almost makes you a better parent because it allows you to see your children as individuals and see each of the relationships as unique and special in their own ways," Dr. Schiff says. "There is room in a parent's heart for both children, and you love them both, each in their own special way."

Holly Schiff, Psy.D.

There is room in a parent's heart for both children, and you love them both, each in their own special way.

— Holly Schiff, Psy.D.

This idea could be a silver lining for the Reddit Dad. At the same time, there's something pretty heartbreaking about his post. And what's the line? Children deserve to be loved, not cast aside or considered second-rate. Dr. Schiff suggests any parent feeling this way should give themselves grace while also remembering they are the adults in the room. We, as parents, have to manage our own feelings.

"It is great that dad is able to reflect on these difficult emotions and be so in tune with what he is feeling and wanting to better understand it," Schiff says. "If he finds that his feelings are significantly interfering with his ability to care for and connect with the child, that is the point at which I would say they need to be addressed for the sake of the child. Dad should also be sure to not keep these thoughts or feelings to himself, and he should be able to speak with his [partner] about what he is feeling. It helps to have that emotional support."

A therapist can also help him sort out his emotions and cope with this major life change. Don't shame yourself for your feelings, but be sure to express them in a healthy way that gives your children the love and grace they deserve, too.

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