Monday, December 27, 2010

Playing favorites

Recently the subject of favorite children came up while we were Mr. Dog's parents' house for Christmas.  See, Mr. Dog wanted to light a fire in the fireplace, his mother said no.  He joked that if his brother was visiting she'd allow it for the "Golden Child." It was all in good fun, but it made me wonder, how impartial are we as parents.  I mean really.  I started to think about my two boys and our past run ins with hurt feelings and the flawed belief that I love one more than the other. And I really don't. At least I don't think I do. Sure there may be brief turns where one seems to have captured a special space in my heart as they navigate a phase or pick up some new trait, but these are more like bumps in the peanut butter of my otherwise evenly spread love than a long lasting favorite. They are both so uniquely their own boys that I can't even compare them.  I may be more challenged by one than the other at any given point, I may see more of myself in one than the other at some time, but I never find myself loving one more than the other.  And honestly, they both have the ability to annoy me in equal intensity as well so it all balances out in the end.
That said, I know as a child I definitely struggled with the idea of not being the favorite.  My sister was a much more cooperative, less conflict-causing child and I know at times I felt that she was by far the favorite.  Then there were times when I felt like I was the clear favorite of one parent or the other.  I think there is something about being more similar either in personality or interests that builds bonds that can appear to be favoritism.
I'm also sure that in some families there are favorites.  I have seen one child being given an easier path than the other, or one child heaped with praise while the other is shoveling out from under non-stop criticism.  Instead of finding the uniqueness of each child charming (even while being challenging) some parents seem to want to crush it out of them.
I wonder if as the boys grow older my need for them to conform to some standards I have in my mind will cause me to push one harder or feel more closely bound to one than the other.  I know that similarities in personality make it easier to understand what motivates one child than the other and that there is a special sense of pride when one of the boys expresses an interest in something I am passionate about.  I don't know if this will turn into a preference for one boy over the other as they grow older.  I hope not, but it is interesting to ponder.  Think about it, as we meet people, we form individual opinions of them and some become more favored over others.  Why wouldn't these same inclinations develop when thinking about our own children.  And yet as I consider it, I can't imagine a time when both boys don't make my heart burst with love and pride not in spite of, but due to their own individual merits.
In the long run, I strive to raise the boys without playing favorites, to give them both what they need when they need it, to nurture and support them in the way they each that matches with their own development.  And just thinking about this makes me worry a little.  It sounds like a hell of a lot of work. I guess what I really hope is that neither of them will think of the other as the "Golden Child" who can do no wrong or believes, no matter how mildly, that they received anything less than my full love and attention.
How about you?  Do you think you have a favorite?  Do you even worry about this, or is it just me?


@jencull (jen) said...

Interesting post and something that has crossed my mind, especially as we have a 3 year old with autism and it could seem, at times, that he gets more time and attention than the other children do. For me it is a constant battle to try and spread myself out to meet each childs needs, but I also realise that a special needs child changes things up a bit so I can only do my best. Food for thought though :) Jen

followthatdog said...

Jen, that adds a whole other level of play I hadn't considered. It must be exhausting to try to keep everything in balance. And I agree, we can only do our best, and hope to hell they get it.

Kirsten said...

I think instead of trying to make things equal between the kids, that we need to find out what they need at that point in their life. I try very hard (failing at times, I'm sure) to allow my girls the freedom to have alone time or together time. Or making time to spend with one of them when they are having a rough patch when they may be more needy than another.

In relation to stuff. It boils down to whether it is appropriate for that child. Does my oldest who is very much aware of *everything* that is handed out in our house get her nose bent out of joint because she feels slighted? Most definitely. But will I do her any favors later in life by dropping everything and giving into her whims? No.

Bottom line. Each kid needs are something different and as long as we do our best to fill that need, I think the end result will be one of our kids knowing we love them.

followthatdog said...

I agree, equal is never what they need. Their needs are as individual as they are. Trying to apply a one size fits all parenting approach will only add more pain. I try to make sure they each get what they need, when they need it. And honestly that's about the best anyone can do.

Sybil Runs Things said...

Too funny. In our family my sister and I call our oldest brother the Golden Child. All in fun, but, you know, it is true.
My older daughter will accuse me of loving her little sister more. That is usually because she is being sent to her room. Again. For hitting her sister. Again. It's tricky.

Green said...

I don't have kids, but once was one (which makes me qualified to comment, right?), and my brother and I definitely dealt with favoritism issues with our mom.

I jokingly call my brother Golden Boy. He is the one who is more pleasant to be around, and the one our mom can brag about. I am the one who will tell you the truth. You will never wonder where you stand with me.

I think instead of insisting you don't have a favorite, it might better serve your children to accept that at times you will favor one over the other, or one in a way you don't favor the other, and just be open to hearing their complaints and open to considering that you do in fact, wake one kid up yelling at them to empty the dishwasher while when it's the other kid's job you just empty it for them. Or whatever their particular issue is.

Both my brother and I are driven crazy by our mom's denial in such things, and even my brother, who luxuriates in being her favorite, has had to tell her, "Mom, you are being OUTRAGEOUSLY unfair to Green."

Just be open about it. That dishwasher example is from our life, in high school, and when my brother pointed it out to my dad, it was win-win, because he stopped yelling at my brother to get up and empty the dishwasher, and instead woke him up nicely, and stopped letting me sleep the entire morning away.

geekymummy said...

Its so hard. Mine are very different personalities, and one is more instantly loveable than the other, gives hugs and affection more willingly (you know who!).

A rule I try to follow is never compare "can't you pick up your clothes like your sister/eat your veggies like your brother?"

With one of each sex I can resort to "your my favouite girl/favourite boy".

I also try to address it directly "I think that you were feeling jealous that I had your brother on my lap", to give words to the feelings. They both now tell me when they feel jealous, and role play it with their toys!

Its hard though, sometimes I feel like I'm being torn in too.

I'm sure your two both know how loved they are. Its the nature of siblings to fight for as much as possible of that precious resource, their mothers attention. Its a basic survival strategy, and however even and fair you are each one will always want more. Seems that way in my house, anyway.

~lifedramatic~ said...

I tend to agree with Green. I grew up in a family with four of us kids and my two sisters are twins. All my life my dad called me his best friend, and I still don't know if the other kids know about it. My dad and I have a tenuous relationship now because of his alcoholism, and he especially reminds me that I am his best friend when he's been an idiot or some other thing that I won't mention on this family blog. So there's me and then my brother.. he's the only boy... then my twin sisters who are constantly compared to each other, even now. It's a terrible thing to be compared to a sibling, it's a terrible feeling to feel like you are a favorite over another sibling, and it's a terrible thing to think that your parent has a favorite. This is such an emotional subject for me, that I'm starting to feel like I'm babbling now, so I will stop. BUT I definitely think favoritism exists (I am not a parent but I have parents) and I hope that when I am a parent I will be able to kind of do what Green suggests here" I think instead of insisting you don't have a favorite, it might better serve your children to accept that at times you will favor one over the other, or one in a way you don't favor the other, and just be open to hearing their complaints and open to considering that you do in fact, wake one kid up yelling at them to empty the dishwasher while when it's the other kid's job you just empty it for them. Or whatever their particular issue is."

Playing favorites is a lose lose situation for all involved, and I think this is the first time I've ever actually written about it. I'm feeling a little sick now :(


followthatdog said...

Maybe it gets harder as they are older, but at this stage they are both so different and so dear that I don't really have a favorite. It isn't just false insistance. I may have short term favorites (especially when one is being more beligerant than the other) but nothing that lasts very long. I wonder if that will change as they get older.

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