Are you haunted by the guilt of having a favourite child?
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I was speaking on Sky News today about parents who leave different amounts of money to their favourite child in their Wills!
Do you favour one child in your family over another?
Sometimes, it’s the child who is generally the easier to get along with, or manage, or perhaps they are more similar to you temperamentally or in their interests and attitude. Sometimes, it’s the child whose birth was easier. It’s often not the child who is going through a year of colic, reflux or who keeps jumping into your bed at 3 am kicking off the covers and kicking your partner unintentionally as they toss and turn, or the sullen or angry teenager who has suddenly turned into a grunting and monosyllabic ‘Kevin’ the Harry Enfield character!
Some ages and stages are just simply more fun and easier, and that differs for every child and every parent. And, let’s face it, lots of parents prefers a child who is fun to be with, compliant and does what you say the first time you say it 🙂
If you learn to accept the emotional up and down roller coaster adventure that raising children really is, then you may well find you don’t have an actual favourite. You just have good days and bad days, and times when you are getting on better with one child than another. One makes you laugh, another may enjoy spending time with you sharing a similar interest, another makes you a cup of tea or another is simply a bundle of cuddly love.
Who can really quantify what is magical, special, glorious and wonderful about raising a child?
But if you really do have a favourite child:
- Don’t tell the children. Ever.
- Admit it to yourself and explore why you feel that way – if you live in denial, you won’t tackle the issue, and it could be damaging your long term relationship with your child as well as their self esteem.
- Find ways of parenting your different children equally and fairly. This is easier said than done and it doesn’t mean treating each of your children in exactly the same way as each other (contrary to what the children may say ) all the time. A sick toddler may need your attention more for a few days than your healthy 10 year old, your child doing GCSEs may need more of your time than your 13 year old for a few weeks in April. Use common sense and be mindful of what you’re doing and don’t beat yourself up if you feel it all feels a bit uneven for a little while.
- Find ways of spending quality time with the child you find more difficult, doing things you both enjoy. It’s easy to get stuck into a spin cycle of negativity with a child who is being especially challenging. It then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy where you get tense, they get tense and it prevents you from enjoying each other. Make a day at the weekend or on a social day or during the holidays when just the two of you can be together and then carry on making some one-to-one time after that. Go for a hot chocolate when your other child is at football training or swimming practice.
- If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative child, be a more understanding, empathetic, consistently loving parent. Work and invest in the relationship you want to forge with your child and work at showing love.
- There are 5 languages of love – discover which one your child likes best and show them love in the way they like to receive love. It will,transform your relationship.
Here are the five languages of love
- receiving gifts – small things like a shell or a flower
- quality time – chatting and laughing together
- words of affirmation – reaffirming and noticing what they do well & telling them
- acts of service – doing things for them
- and physical touch
Wait and see what happens and take the long term view. Remember, some relationships blossom and bloom later than others. Your challenging, independent strong willed toddler may blossom into a thoughtfully spirited, innovative leader or campaigner.
Be careful that you don’t inadvertently overcompensate so wildly that your other children end up thinking the child you find more difficult is your favourite.
If you’re really struggling with your feelings and/or you think they may be a result of your own experiences growing up, consider whether some kind of counselling or coaching might help.
The bottom line is that displaying favouritism hurts everybody. It damages relationships, damages confidence and self esteem, and the long-term effects of feeling like the less-loved child can be profound.
There are children who you may have fewer problems with. But that is not really the same as having a favourite, because love is equal, profound, and unconditional isn’t it?
When I chat to parents lots of people admit to treating their children differently at different times, according to their needs (and how annoying they’re being). But not one of them felt this reflected any fundamental preference, they just felt it was all simply part of the ebb and flow of family life.
So do you have a favourite child?