As a child, I was accused by my older siblings of being the favorite. Yes: accused. It was a title I rebuffed over and over, even if I privately hoped it was true. It wasn’t that I thought myself more lovable, I just gave my parents less grief over the years. I was exceptionally afraid of getting in trouble and was by most measures a goody two shoes.
As we’ve grown into adults, though, the designation has been passed around repeatedly. Kelly talks to them nearly every day — so she must be the favorite. My parents laugh at everything Andy says — so he must be. And all the while, as we debate the particulars of The Favorite, my parents have denied one exists at all. Of course we don’t have a favorite, they say. That’s just silly.
It’s the tune most parents sing, as if by hospital-provided script, and I’ve always wondered: Could it really be true? Surely parents favor one child over another at certain times; they’re only human. In search of answers, I asked as many parents as I could to reach for their deep-seated truth in exchange for the cover of anonymity. Then I watched with rapt attention as the responses trickled in by way of anonymous survey.
“Some days are sunny. Some days are rainy. We want both but — let’s face it — not in equal measure. I have two children. One brings warmth and sweetness into the room, the other sometimes makes me want to run for shelter. I can relax when I’m with one, I laugh more and it’s just more pleasant. With the other, interactions are intense, not because we have conflict, but because I never know what emotions will pour forth. When I think about it in terms of liking one or the other more, I resist that characterization because the experience with each is dissimilar to the other. Sunny days can go unnoticed, but a thunderstorm makes us pay attention.”
“Fortunately, I love AND like both equally. They each have different and great qualities that I admire…but during high school, the youngest pushed us to the point where we always had one eye open on weekend nights. We’re glad he made it through high school and college without a DUI, but I don’t know how he was so lucky. You might say he was a social drinker.”
“I can say I honestly love my children equally. However, there were definite phases where I preferred one over the other. My mother however, showed extreme favoritism toward the baby of our family. We were five kids versus my two children, so that may be a factor.”
“The truth is: Yes, I have a favorite child, but it has always been ever-changing. Just like that group of friends you hang out with, sometimes one over the other seems like your BFF and then later they don’t. I’m lucky that I have kids who are lovable in their own rights and are nice human beings, but they all have their quirks. My husband says my boys are ‘mama’s boys’ and my daughter is — well, she’s a girl and we relate! Right now, she’s ‘it,’ but it’s been known to change.”
“In my honest and truthful attempt to determine which of my children I like better, I could not decipher a winner. It could be my inherent societal programming that says it is inappropriate to have a favorite, but I’m genuinely stumped. There inevitably are going to be things about each kid that annoy you or things you appreciate about each. I’ve asked myself this question in the past when one of my kids does something awesome, amazing, stupid, inconsiderate or nasty, but it’s always fleeting. A more telling question for me would be: ‘Do I ever feel sorry for one kid consistently more than another?’ I think the answer for every parent with multiple children would be yes.”
“I don’t love my kids equally. I love them differently. It’s hard to compete with the first born…unless they turn out to be truly awful kids! There is something about experiencing motherhood for the first time that creates a bond with that first born. That is why my youngest has always said I love her sister more.”
“In theory, there may not be a favorite child, but it’s possible the parents may feel closer to one or they may have a stronger, more meaningful relationship with one. When I am asked this question, I always give the five fingers example: Which one of my fingers in my hand do I prefer over the others? The answer is obvious: None! But you may measure love in different ways. Who do I like to spend more time with? Which one of my kids makes me feel better to be with? Which one is more fun? Which one is kinder, more considerate to me? Which one of my kids makes me really proud? It would be easier to answer this question when asked in these forms, and I am sure the answers might impact a parent’s love towards his or her kids.”
“I have worked really hard to show my kids that I love them equally. I even have a spreadsheet each year to make sure their birthday and Christmas gifts are equal in value. However, one time, when they were both in elementary school, my daughter said that I liked my son best and, after telling her that it wasn’t true, she wouldn’t let it go. So when we got home I said to my son, ‘Want some ice cream?’ and we sat down together to eat the ice cream. My daughter said she wanted some, and I said, ‘No, because I obviously like your brother better.’ She relented that it wasn’t really true, so we all had ice cream and she never accused me of liking him better again.”
“I love my three young adult children dearly but I absolutely have a favorite. She’s the one I want to spend time with. I feel totally relaxed around her. Our relationship is not work. If I say something that offends her or bugs her, she doesn’t sulk, she asks for clarification. We work through it. My other two I could go weeks without hearing from them and I’m okay with that, but I miss the favorite when we don’t connect. We treat them all equally as far as gifts, money, vacations, etc., but I am pretty sure that ‘the fave’ probably has figured out that she is the fave.”
“Oh my, this is a tough one. I have twins and, over the years, one has definitely been the rebel, and the other the pleaser. While I love them both so much, my pleaser stays in contact and reaches out for my advice and support, while my rebel tends to call when she needs something (usually money) and is horrible about correspondence. I must say our relationship has suffered because of her pushing me away. But I see glimpses of our relationship getting better. As a mama, I will never give up hope. So, honestly, it’s easier to like my pleaser more — because we communicate! I feel closer to her. But I do love my girls so very much.”
“I am lucky to have two children, a boy and a girl. Both are very different, yet I see commonalities. I love them both equally, and loved spending the first three years alone with my daughter and then the years alone with my son after she went to school. I have to say, it was perfect! The gift of getting older and my children becoming young adults is that they are my friends. Just like friends, they know me very well and give me different perspectives and different advice. My son and I are like-minded and he gives me the opinion I want to hear. He feels I can do anything. My daughter is more protective and gives me advice that jolts me but is good for me.”
“Whenever my kids ask which of them I loved more, I always answer that I love them both the same amount but that I love them each differently. I love a perfectly-grilled prime rib steak and I love Läderach dark chocolate. They are both so different and fulfill different tastes; how can I possibly say which one I love better? My son was Mr. Mellow growing up and my daughter was much spicier. He was easier to be around and caused less stress and worry during the tough teenage years. During those years, I loved them both the same amount, but I did ‘like’ my son better. Now that they are both young adults, I like and enjoy them both, each in their own way.”
If you’re a parent: Do you have a favorite? If you’re a child: Do you think your parents have one? It’s truth time.