Favouritism, comically confessed as our children take turns being the most lovely or least naughty in our homes. Bloggers, like Canadian Buzz Bishop, who have acknowledged favourites among their children have been criticized, challenged, and even called abusive. Yet others are relating. Favouritism isn't necessarily static. It can be something that changes in a minute or a month. "Abusive" might not be the act or the word we are looking for, but if you are inflating one child and deflating another, "harmful" is definitely appropriate.
Favouritism is common in what we watch and read. We laughed at Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development with her revolving door of (least) favourites and lack of affection towards her children—”You're my third least favourite son.” We cringed at the best man's speech on the Wedding Singer, “Harold's always been the dependable one. I've always been the screwed up one, right dad? . . . best man? Better man!” We read in Shakespeare's King Lear favouritism is shown in two families with fatal consequences. There are also cautionary tales in the Bible—golden child Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. We might not relate to these extremes in our family, but as responsible parents, we must avoid the expression of favouritism and its damaging effects.
Influences Self Worth and Self Esteem
Parental favouritism affects how your children view themselves and directly impacts their psychological well being. Rick Ackerley, author of The Genius in Every Child, suggests that generalizations, comparisons, and labels are often common and naively said, and favouritism is the dangerous extreme. Parents who practice this are “insensitive to the mindsets they implant in their children,” compromising optimal development.
Causes Sibling Rivalry
Another problem with comparisons is that the children often resent their siblings for the lack of fairness in the family. With comparison, children are not loved for who they are, they are resented for who they are not.
Has Long-Lasting Effects
Genevieve Simperingham (The Way of the Peaceful Parent) wrote about comparisons in families on her website, which lead to numerous comments from readers about the damaging effects that have continued into adulthood. The consequences vary—unhealthy sibling relationships, favouritism among their children, adults still trying to get recognition from a parent, and low self-esteem are some examples. In a study by Cornell gerontologist Karl Piellemer, depression was shown to be higher in siblings who experienced their mother's unequal treatment, whether rejected or preferred.
Watch What You Say
Differences are okay, worth laden comparisons are not—stay clear! Simperingham says that although we might notice differences between our children, we must be “mindful and diplomatic when expressing anything that comes across as a comparison.”
Talk Openly About Differences
Ariadne Brill of positive parenting connection says that as a mom of three children, she knows that “equal isn't fair and fair isn't always equal.” Having family meetings where the children can share about what feels unfair can be helpful.
Embrace the Differences
There are differences between children. For example, you might have a child that needs an earlier bedtime than what their sibling had at their age, so you enforce it. In an article in Psychology Today, "The Narcissus in All of Us," authors Joshua D. Foster and Ilan Shrira state, “It's important to keep in mind that parental favouritism is only problematic when there are consistent and arbitrary differences in treatment. In cases where favouritism is unavoidable (e.g., with newborns, needier children), parents who explain its necessity to the other children can usually offset any negative consequences.”
Affirm the Family Unit and the Person
Work on encouraging the collective with times of togetherness and opportunities for cooperation, not competition. Additionally, recognize the individual. Affirm and celebrate the uniqueness that is your child.
Every child needs their parents' love. It's up to us to consciously create a loving environment where children feel unique and valued. A place where they can thrive, equipped to extend this to the families they create.
Has parental favouritism affected you? I would love to hear from you. Comment below or visit me on my facebook page.