Image Source: Flickr user Donnie Ray Jones
Ask my husband or me which of our two sons is our favorite, and we're likely to answer whichever is actually cooperating with us that day. It's an inside joke — and not one that we act upon — but one that probably rings true for most families. Or so I thought until I read an article in The New York Times about child favoritism.
In it, Dr. Barbara Howard, a developmental behavioral pediatrician, said that it's natural and common for families to have a favorite child. "It's impossible not to have favorites," she said. "We do know that the perception of favoritism is one of the biggest factors in sibling rivalry."
Wait, it's natural to have a favorite child? That goes against everything I've ever learned and the way my husband and I were each raised.
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Like most parents, my first child was my world when he arrived. I couldn't imagine loving anyone more or having enough room in my heart for another child. I obviously knew there must be room — parents have had multiple children since the beginning of time — but I assumed that no one loved their child as much as I did (foolish thinking, but as a first-time mom of an only child it was all I could imagine) and it would be impossible to love child number two as much.
So when I was pregnant with our second son, I panicked. I just couldn't fathom loving him as much. That's when our pediatrician gave me a copy of Nancy Samalin's Loving Each One Best. And while I'll admit that I never followed all of the advice (who does with a parenting book?), I did absorb that you can love all your kids equally and love them in different ways. Because it is true, your heart doesn't make room for another child, it actually expands to hold both. Ten years in, I can't imagine loving one of them any more than the other.
Each child comes with their own challenges, and each comes with their own traits. That's what makes them unique. But that's no reason to show favoritism. Researchers who've been studying favoritism thought they'd find proof that older siblings felt that younger siblings were receiving preferential treatment due to the fact that they were older and could see the differences more clearly. But instead, they found that firstborns tended to feel preferred. And when they turned the questions on the parents, they were surprised to learn, "Even if moms and dads didn't admit to kids that they liked one child over another, 70 percent of fathers and 74 percent of mothers confessed to researchers that they definitely showered one child with preferential treatment over others."
Well I can fully admit that I do not have a favorite child. I don't think we treat one of our sons any better than the other and we don't let one get away with more. But it after reading the research, it seems it doesn't matter what we think, it matters what they think. When it comes down to it, all that really matters is the perception of favoritism.
Last night my kids walked in while I was typing up this post. They asked what I was writing about and I told them, a post about whether parents have a favorite child. My oldest laughed and said that was crazy — then suspiciously asked me if I did. I told him I didn't but asked if he thought I did. He sat for a minute, smiled, and said, "Me, of course it is me!" I looked at my 6-year-old and asked him if he thought I had a favorite kid and without hesitation he said it was him. And to me that's perfect. No one thinks I'm favoring one child over the other. Everyone thinks they're the favorite. And I know that I'm doing my job right.