This post was originally posted last year, but I’m taking some much needed repose with family so I’ve spruced it up with new links and info for your encouragement!
Before you start feeling that mommy guilt and anxiety that you’re doing it all wrong, know this… you would have to consistently treat your children different before one believes themselves to be a favorite. You’d have to ignore your gut speaking to you and your children who will likely point out the favoritism. So please know this post isn’t to make you feel any guilt or shame.
Picture a classroom with 45 students. Everyone is excited to get into the material on how we can learn to counsel others with hurts and disappointments from the past. The teacher stands up and asks this question.
“How many of you knew that you were not the favorite child?”
I almost laughed out loud – sensitive person that I am – because that idea was so ridiculous to me that I didn’t expect to see a single hand. And yet over half of the class raised their hand. Half! Neither my husband nor his sister raised theirs (great job, maw-in-law) but many other friends did. Whether they were indeed not the favorite or that was simply their perception, the hurts ran to the deepest part of them.
No mother even wants to think she may have a favorite child. Or, even if she doesn’t, that any of her children might perceive she does.
This article won’t affect my mother much because I was clearly the favorite. I am – according to the Birth Order Book – a lonely only. Not only am I an only child, but I was the first grandchild on both sides of my family for 5 whole years. Talk about feeling a little too special… That is perhaps why I was so shocked that the “favorite child” was such an epidemic. Or at least it was there.
1. Serious damage is done to a child’s identity if they perceive they are not the favorite
Whether or not it is true, there will be extensive and lasting damage done. Well into adulthood they will have self-worth problems, anger issues, depression, and a general feeling of never “measuring up” or being “good enough.” Living in another sibling’s shadow will take its toll on a child and is no laughing matter. If there is even light teasing in your home that someone is the favorite, this should receive attention.
Frequent teasing or comments like “you always let her do what she wants, but never me” can be indicators that your child believes you love them less. Make it a goal to regularly and consistently be sure that no child in your household is under this impression.
2. Admit some relationships are easier than others
That must be said. You may have a child who is easy to be around and one who is very challenging. If you find some relationships with your children easier than others, that in itself does not mean they are not your favorite. You may have to work extra hard with some of your children to prove to them that you don’t love them any less than their siblings. Perhaps you’re super sporty and your daughter hates sports, this may make her feel sensitive or nervous because she isn’t like you.
This is when you have to venture out of your comfort zone to find common ground. Make time to be with your kids alone doing what they like to do. Never compare them verbally or expect them to be clones of each other. It may be difficult at first, but you know what, so was childbirth! And you made it through that :)
3. Individual love, not equal love, is the goal
If your kids can tell you they are loved individually and tell you why they are loved, you’re doing great. I personally don’t believe that treating every child equally will translate into them feeling equally loved. People are unique and receive love uniquely. The entire family will have consistent time together and do various things as a group. Going on vacations, going out to eat, or to parks and playgrounds are examples of this.
Not only do children need to feel included in the family, but they need to feel special as an individual, separate from their siblings. If one child loves baseball games, it is okay to take them to a game alone, particularly if their siblings couldn’t care less. As long as each child has their own special time with you, then they are being treated both equally, specially, and individually. Sit back and think. As individuals, do you feel that you “know” your children?
People act differently in a group than they do one-on-one.
Dominant personalities in siblings can overshadow quieter ones and the more reserved children can begin to feel lost in the crowd as though no one notices them. Without creating this individual bond, you may find maintaining a relationship with your children into their adulthood to be a challenge.
4. Finding out how they receive love will be a huge key in developing a lasting strong relationship through adulthood
The 5 Love Languages for Children book is a great read. It is simply an easy and effective way to maintain harmony and bring joy and love to your children. If they feel (feel in their heart, not just know in their head) that you truly love them, they will blossom and flower. Oh, of course you’ll have the normal tantrums, slamming of doors and emo stages that come and go. But if they know they are loved and feel it in their hearts, they will respond to your discipline and instruction with trust.
If a child feels they are never good enough then they can’t wait to get out of the house. If girls don’t feel loved and cherished, do you know what they do? They wear too short, too tight skirts and go on the hunt for men to tell them they ARE lovely, they ARE special and they ARE important. If your child is acting out to get attention, that is a sure sign that they need some unique and individual time with you. Parents have the pleasure of being the ones who pour these good things into their children, so don’t make them have to leave home for it. Ultimately, what we don’t give children at home, they go out in search of. And, emotionally, they may never come back.
It is important to be sure that none of your children feel less loved than their siblings. If you need to ask your children what they think, then just be the grown up and ask it! If you are too nervous to ask, then that is also telling.
Whether or not you actually do have a favorite is not nearly as important as whether your children think you do.
The good news is, this can be corrected with time and attention. Because children need to know they are unconditionally loved, they’ll be waiting to soak it up.
Did your parents have a favorite?
My children aren’t yet old enough to do this study, but I cannot wait until they are. It’s called My Brother’s Keeper and it’s a study for your kids to take together to learn how to manage emotions and treat one another from God’s perspective. I really think this devotion would tie well into the favoritism idea and how it relates.