Should parents have a favourite child?

Katy Harrington and Heidi Scrimgeour discuss the impact parents choosing a favourite child can have on a family

Katy Harrington says she was not sure when she realised that her older brother, and middle child in the family, was the favourite, but she still teases him and her parents about it

Should parents have a favourite child?

SO A NEW American study says what every kid (unless you are an only child) already knew — that your parents probably have a favourite child.

I was the last of three children to arrive into my family, which probably means I wasn’t planned. Still, I know my parents were happy to add a girl to the mix.

They had two very boisterous boys already whose main interests were ruining any good clothes my mother bought them, breaking household furniture and beating each other up. When the youngest and only girl arrived, they were thrilled — someone new to beat up.

What I remember most from my early years as a small, bald and largely toothless blob of a child is the uncompromising and unadulterated love of both my parents. My mum wiping my bloody knees and tying my hair in pigtails, the stubbley kisses from my dad when he tucked us into to our ‘birds nests’ (beds) at night. What I realise now, with hindsight, is that my parents love was so complete it gave me a huge amount of confidence to go out into the world and become a success or a failure, it didn’t matter because when boyfriends and jobs went wrong, I’d always have that to come back to.

I’m not sure when I began to believe that Anthony, my older brother, and the middle child, was the favourite. But once the idea took hold, it never really left. In fact, I still tease him, and my parents about it. Most recently when his arrival home from London prompted my dad to go foraging for his best bottle of red wine, I gave my father a look and said “It’s fine dad, give him the good stuff, I’ll have the plonk as usual.” (My dad does get his own back on occasion he remarks that I’m his favourite daughter.)

Maybe the seed was first planted when I was very little and we’d meet people out in town, or visiting other people’s houses. While my brothers were running around looking for things to hit each other with, I was cooed at. “Ooh the youngest and the only girl, you must be so spoiled,” they’d say. And I was spoiled, but not the favourite.

And so to the Golden Boy, my annoyingly smart middle brother, who really earned his tongue-in-cheek title. Anthony was the youngest of all of us to start talking, and when he did, he never stopped. Enormous words, far too advanced for his six-, seven-, or eight-year-old brain came out of his mouth, so adults got a kick out of him. And it didn’t hurt that he was literally golden, with Goldilocks-worthy sun-spun buttery blonde hair. He was cute and clever so he got attention, that’s all there was to it.

There was no malice at all on the part of my parents (who always go with “We love you all equally… but in different ways”), or any of the babysitters who openly confessed to loving the Golden Boy most. And although we both noticed, neither me nor my eldest brother James, ever really minded, because we were as taken with him as everyone else was.

There were a few occasions when at our birthday parties Anthony would have to be given a present too lest he’s have the mother of all fits at the injustice of it all, and once (although I am too young to remember this) when he felt neglected at a party he hid under a table and started singing a song about being unloved.

I understand that in some families, favouritism could be something really toxic — but in ours it was, and still is, more of a family in-joke.

Now that I think of it as an adult — it’s crazy that we should demand our parents to be completely neutral. Because, shocker, they’re human too.

Heidi Scrimgeour says it’s possible to have a greater affinity with any one of your children, but favouritism is form consumables, not kids, and children are for loving unconditionally even when it hurts

Should parents have a favourite child?

I DON’T play favourites when it comes to my kids. I never have and never will. Of course, all three of my kids have at various times claimed I do, and each has obviously insisted that they are not the favoured one. That’s just life as siblings.

But there are a number of things I won’t understand as long as I live and at the top of that list is why any parent would ever knowingly favour one child over another.

So the latest findings on the matter — that most of us have a favourite child and it’s most likely our firstborn — had me muttering over my muesli this morning.

A survey of more than 700 parents conducted by the University of California indicated that 70% of mothers and 74% of fathers admitted to having a favourite child.

It’s not the first time this nugget of nasty data has hit the headlines, either. I feel as though I am forever defending myself against the assertion that as a mother of three I must have a favourite child, even if only in secret.

Not true. In fact I think if you could distil the essence of good parenting of more than one child into a single sentence it would be this: Love them like their lives depend on it (because they do) and never, ever have favourites. Follow that simple tenet and I don’t think you can far wrong as a parent.

Of course, it’s perfectly normal to find that you have more in common with one child than another. Perhaps your personalities clash or compliment one another, and therein lies the reason why many of us inwardly feel we ‘click’ more with one child, or encounter conflict more often with another. That’s not favouritism — it’s the beautiful reality of raising individuals instead of clones.

And as the mother of children who range in age from two years old to pre-teen, I know all too well that there are times as a parent where one child hits an age or stage of development that just makes them easier to be with than the others.

Equally, I’ve learned from having both sons and a daughter that it’s natural to share a particular affinity with the child who shares your gender. But that’s still never grounds for showing favouritism to a child. In fact, it’s a damn good reason to work hard to ensure that your other children don’t feel in any way denied something on account of being different from you.

Your most important job as a parent is surely to love each of your kids unconditionally, and favouritism strikes me as the very antithesis of that. I can’t bear to think about the damage that might be done to a child by growing up in a family knowing that he or she is not the golden child, nor ever will be.

Knowing you’re the favourite can’t exactly be easy either. Imagine the pressure to maintain your spot as the apple of a parent’s eye, not to mention the inevitable backlash that must ensue from rightfully resentful siblings.

Favouritism is for consumables, not kids, and children are for loving unconditionally even when it hurts, not subjecting to the kind of character critique and comparison that favouritism is founded on.

To me playing family favourites is a sign of not having yet grown up enough to have truly earned the privilege of parenthood.

Have a favourite film or a favourite place. Just keep your favouritism for entities that won’t feel the burden of your favour — or painful lack thereof.

I can’t bear to think about the damage that might be done to a child by growing up in a family knowing that he or she is not the golden child, nor ever will be


Lifestyle

From Turkey to Vietnam, here’s where the chef and food writer has fallen in love with on her travellers.Sabrina Ghayour’s top 5 cities for foodies to visit

Dr Dympna Kavanagh, chief dental officer, Department of Health (University College Cork graduate)Working Life: Dr Dympna Kavanagh, chief dental officer, Department of Health

Like most Irish kids of our generation, chillies, spicy food, heat were never really big aspects of our formative eating experiences.Currabinny Cooks: Getting spicy in the kitchen

New Yorker Jessica Bonenfant Coogan has noticed a curious discrepancy between east and west when it comes to Cork county; arts infrastructure has tended to be better resourced in the west of Ireland’s largest county.Making an artistic mark in East Cork

More From The Irish Examiner