Is it OK to have a favorite child?
Anonymous, in Not Telling, USA
When you ask yourself this question I want you to keep in mind the big truth:
What you do is much more important than how you feel.
This is a well-known idea that has somehow gotten a little lost in the past generation or two. Most people in our lives care far more about what we do than how we feel. Boss, teacher, colleagues, neighbors, and our kids are more interested in how we treat them, what words we use and actions we take, than about our innermost emotions.
From the perspective of 24 combined years so far of child-raising, I can tell you that there are definitely times that one of your children settles most comfortably into his or her space in your heart. Don’t be discouraged by this feeling. First of all, this best-fit will change over years, days, even minutes. Second of all, it is human nature to feel most warmly towards whomever is treating you the best and is easiest to handle at that moment.
Everything about childhood goes in phases. Your cuddly, easy-going preschooler may seem like your favorite compared to your frustrated, emotional pre-teen, or vice versa. In this case, it is likely an age that is your favorite more than a child.
What matters is what you do and don’t do. For this topic, a list of don’ts.
1. Don’t spend significantly more fun time with one child than another except as you have to in the circumstances. A preschool child may get more face time with a parent, make sure you spend some alone time with a school age child to balance.
2. Don’t have different rules for different kids about behavior. Certain kids need particular structure that another doesn’t, that is fine. But don’t tolerate behavior from one child that you wouldn’t from another. They will notice this RIGHT AWAY and never let it go.
3. Don’t talk to your children about this. They may, may (but probably not) have the emotional maturity to handle this idea as an adult, they cannot handle this burden (of being favorite or less favored) as children.
4. Don’t talk about this issue in your child’s hearing. On the phone, to your partner, at a party – your kids will hear you. Even if they are three rooms away and watching a movie, if you say anything about them that you wouldn’t want your mom or dad to say about you they will know.
5. Don’t worry about this too much! If you do the right things, how you feel will shift and change within you.
Treat your kids the way you would want to be treated by a parent. All of them. Then let the magic of time and development show you new sides of each of your kids.
P. S. Don’t be angry when your child favors another adult over you. This is natural (and also changes with time), and they haven’t yet learned to experience emotions without having to give them voice.