|Is It Okay To Have A Favourite Child?
by SARA AHMAD
It's a taboo, but sometimes it's just easier to love one child more than another
According to an internet survey on favouritism, one in six mothers admitted to having a favourite child. Favouritism is never called by its name. Parents will never admit to it outright. But there may be certain parts of one child that you really enjoy, which may not be as present in the other child. And that one child, you feel, is easier to love.
Where It Comes From
Feelings of favouritism often rear up at different stages of mothering. Mostly they are based on unavoidable things, such as the child's position in the family or gender, or simply temperament (yours, firstly, then your children's).
One child may have qualities that are so different from your own that you see them as strengths or weaknesses. Parents often talk about 'seeing themselves' in a child, and this can result in differential treatment of the child – a parent will either be harder on that child, or easier, depending on how they felt society treated those traits in them.
Reading The Signs
Depending on their temperament, a favoured child can flourish, or turn into an overly responsible coper. Favourite children can buckle under the weight of responsibility, or have trouble affirming themselves and always rely on outsiders for attention – a similar thing goes for those children who are overlooked. They can be more vulnerable to peer pressure since their friends become the primary sources of affirmation when they don't get the love they require from their parents.
Overcompensating for favouritism doesn't work either. Striving to treat children the same, results in neither of them feeling appropriately acknowledged. Your attention is split, and in this way, can never be enough. Plus, you'll wear yourself out, and probably crumble.
Favouritism is a splitting mechanism. It splits the world into good and bad, achiever and non-achiever. Therefore, a more integrated, individual approach is needed where you can show children that there are aspects of good and bad in everything, and this leads to a more accepting attitude in children – of themselves, of others, and the world. Favouritism is also the root of sibling rivalry. It causes envy between children, since it functions on comparisons. This can result in bad behaviour and conflict.
First, A Look At You
Parents really need to understand children as separate from themselves, as individuals in their own right. It's really about coming to a better consciousness of oneself, and being able to respond to each child from an adult place.
If you can't handle facing all that stuff alone, get someone to do it with you. A therapist or social worker comes highly recommended.
When you understand and accept yourself, its easier to understand and accept your child.
Pay Attention To Character
Children don't come as a blank slate. They have temperament and it's either a good fit with yours or a bad fit, and as parents, you need to shift and adapt to that. You can't love children equally but you can love them differently, and well, according to their temperament and their love language. A child's love language may be different from your own and it may require a little more effort on your part, but it's very important that you key in.
When praising a child praise him for the task at hand, not in general, for example says, 'I really enjoyed that song you played on the piano', rather than 'you're the musician in the family'. Otherwise you invite comparison and the other child starts to think. 'But what am I good at?' there's too much pressure on both.
Most importantly, try to acknowledge that the connection you have with one child is different from the other and that each situation demands a different type of management with each child. You've really got to lean into your relationship with each one, and use a different language with each.
Handling your different love for each child can be tricky when they're fighting. When there's conflict, you need to shift the control down. You need to become a mediator. It may be hard to do, especially if one child has hurt the other. It is about the relationship between the two of them. You really aren't allowed to dictate it.
Saying things like "you can't have it because she's only little/he asked nicely" only entrenches resentment. Instead, use key questions to direct the conflict (What are you doing? What do you want out of this? What is the best way of getting it?).
Take away the unspoken competitiveness between siblings, and allow them to resolve it themselves. If they still don't, go back – and keep mediating.
If both parents are at the scene of conflict, don't take sides. This can be damaging to all your relationships and lead to complicated game-playing between children.
It Ain't Easy
Parenting is not instinctive. It's not straight-forward either. But acknowledging how you feel about each child is the first step to looking into what issues are at play in your family life. Most importantly, treading each child as his/her nature demands is an integral part of growing each individual.
It's really up to you to know your child – and take it from there. If children feel that they are valued for who they are, and understood, and affirmed, that there's a strong connection with their caregiver(s), then they are much more resilient later in life.