Jan Faull, MEd, on how to break one parent's tendency to favor one child over the other.
"Should I Be Concerned?"
Q. Maybe I'm hypersensitive, but I'm sure that my husband favors our very charming 6-year-old daughter, instead of our slightly spacey 9-year-old son. I've asked my husband about this several times, but he always says that it is unrealistic to think that we can treat our children equally. In some ways, I think my husband's outgoing personality matches up better with our daughter's enthusiasm, and he's more comfortable with her because of that. But still, it's not fair to my son, right? Plus, I feel like I overcompensate with our son because he doesn't get enough attention from his father. My kids seem happy and fine, but this really bugs me!
A. It's not unusual for a parent to have a favorite child. This situation occurs because, as with your husband and daughter, a child's personality simply meshes with a parent's. Being together for the parent-child pair is effortless. Sometimes, however, it works oppositely. For example, a reticent parent may give birth to an outgoing child. The reserved parent admires the child's ease and confidence in social situations and therefore showers this child with adoration because of this personality characteristic.
Secret Preference to Temperament
Parents, of course, love each child individually, but parents are people with preferences for the temperaments of others. While it would not be unusual for your husband to acknowledge to you that he's drawn toward the character of your daughter, he need never let the children know by his words or actions of his preference for the daughter over the son.
In this regard, it's just fine for you to realize that your son doesn't receive as much positive attention and effortless interaction with his father as your daughter and so then you make up for it. What you and all parents are looking for is healthy relationships between both parents and the children they've produced.
Although it's understandable that a parent have a favorite child, it's not okay to play favorites. Some parents play the game where day-by-day, because of certain behaviors or accomplishments, one child is viewed by one or both parents as "today's favorite." Playing favorites cultivates competition between siblings.
Showering one child with loving attention and privileges because he received 100 percent on a spelling test, while ignoring the other child in the family, adds to sibling rivalry and resentment. Mostly parents want to complement their children privately about appropriate behaviors displayed or accomplishments they've acquired.
Every child is an individual with unique areas in which they'll excel. You don't want a child to strive for excellence in one area because it's an accomplishment of a sibling that's brought him or her favor. As each child develops, he or she will attempt to live up to the parent's standards. When they do so, parents need to recognize individual effort or mastery of a task or skill.
Enjoying Shared Interests
It doesn't seem that your children are aware of your husband's apparent preference for his daughter over his son. Therefore, let the situation rest for now. Do, however, keep a watchful eye on the situation. Boys need positive attention and approval from their father. It would never feel right for a child to know or even sense he's less favored or less liked by dad. If your son notices his dad's preference for his sister then it would be time for you to suggest that he take your son once a week to an activity that they both enjoy. It could be bowling, fishing, to the library, or a craft or art class. By engaging in an activity that they both enjoy, dad will likely see his son with new eyes. He'll see his son's personality revealed and thereby appreciate him for the unique and interesting child that he is, separate from his sister.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, December 2006.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.