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Parents Playing Favorites

Turns out, it’s totally normal. Just not totally fair.

This weekend I was reading Time and came across the cover story about how parents play favorites with their kids (cue the gasp -- c’mon, we all knew it was true). The article says that however well parents may hide it -- and they really do try to bury those thoughts deep down -- their preference for one child over the other(s) is still quite obvious.

Researchers brought together nearly 400 sibling pairs and their parents and visited them each three times over three years. The findings showed that the elder of the children would most likely be favored, with the theory that you favor what you invest more time and energy into. So if this child was an only child for, say, four years, those four years were spent devoting absolute attention toward that one kid. Enter second child. All of a sudden, there’s not enough time or energy to spend on the second child and equally watch over child number one too. Child number one will always be better off -- that is, until kid number three arrives on the scene. In cases where there are two boys and one girl, the girl is favored because of her “unique gender.” I guess I get that -- I mean, mom won’t be able to go shopping or to the salon with most teenage boys. And I know that’s always a mom’s dream (heck, I wanna take my to-be daughter shopping too!). The same goes for families with two girls and one boy. Even if the sole girl or boy is the middle child, they’ll likely beat out the others for the parents’ affection.

What peaked my interest even more was in certain cases where children with disabilities or ailments were favored despite being a middle or second child, boy or girl. Parents will devote more energy toward this kid to compensate for their less-than-average performance (I don’t mean for that to sound as bad as it does!). I can understand that -- one of my brothers was born premature, and to avoid divulging too much information, I’ll just say he was about in the middle of us kids (which is where the favoritism isn’t expected), and for all intents and purposes in my book, I’d say he’s my dad’s fave. This isn’t to say that he didn’t grow up to be perfectly normal (actually, well above average, attending a top school and landing a job before he even graduated, ugh). There’s no jealousy there....

I could go on for hours about this article because it absolutely fascinates me (mostly because I always knew my brother was the fave of the fam). But also because all of this leads back to how kids grow up. Often, there are two scenarios that can play out for a child who’s shown favoritism: They grow up to be super-successful and confident, or they grow up to be stuck-up and not as motivated because things were always handed to them. Then there’s dealing with your siblings. Not exactly a walk in the park when they inevitably pick up on their parents’ (however well-masked the favoritism is) signals and pester and pick on their rivals. But then again, this other article mentioned that kids with sisters were happier.

So what about you guys? Did you grow up with siblings, and can you pick out the favorite (you may even be it!)?

-- Holly

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