Healing From Favoritism in Families

My baby turned 3 last week. And I loved every minute of it.

Wide smiles across her face. Dimples everywhere. A mess of curly blonde hair bobbing as she played with toys. Long snuggles reading books with daddy or me. And hearing her joy as she sang songs like “Oh, my mom is beautiful, she’s so sweet, I love her soo-ooo-ooo much!” from the back of the car as she played with her dolls or legos.

Yeah, she’s got me wrapped around her pinky.

Naturally, when I saw the cover of TIME magazine recently, I felt like wadding it up and throwing it out a little defensive at the topic: parental favoritism.

After all, with two older girls with mood challenges, and another who takes my house apart as a hobby, who wouldn’t like the calm, singing, snuggly kid? Not many of us, argues TIME. In the article “Playing Favorites,” they claim,

“Fully 65% of mothers and 70% of fathers exhibit a preference for one child. Many of the others just hide it well.”*

It’s true, if we get real honest. But none of us wants to marginalize our kids! So how can we love them and help them grow well, despite our own tendencies to have favorites?

Celebrate their strengths

The article shared that even if there’s a favorite, as long as each child in a family is favored in some domain of family life. This is easy when we notice strengths developing in our kids and work to help them grow in those areas. My house-dismantler, for example, is very curious and industrious. So we celebrate that, laugh about the funnier moments it’s brought at home, and give her workstations in the house where she can take things apart (that don’t include every doorknob she sees!)

Develop sibling support

The hardest part about our natural tendency to pick favorites is the strain it puts on our kids. The favorite gets resented. The less-so stick it to the favorite. To counter this in our home, we create moments of celebration and service toward each other. We’ll sit around the table and each share something we like about a particular child. Or we take turns having one of our kids be “queen for the day” where everyone follows that child’s lead and we have fun seeing life through their unique eyes.

Schedule one-on-one time

Even if it’s only to go to the grocery store together, having time alone with each child reminds them how much we love and enjoy them even if they’re temperamentally or in other ways not easy to relate to as our “favorite.” These are my favorite times with my older girls, as I hear about their lives, friends, blooming interests and questions about the world. The memories cultivated are the glue that keep us together through the toughest mood storms they face.

Love them in their love language

Part of the reason we have a natural affinity for one or another of our kids is that they “fit” who we are. For me, the positive, easy-going style of my youngest fits my own view of the world and it makes showing love for her easy. It’s taken me more effort to discover and learn to “speak” my other girls’ love languages, but with practice, it’s become more natural. As TIME shared, any effort we make to counter the natural preferences we have with our kids “can itself be an act of love.”

“Love each other with genuine affection,* and take delight in honoring each other.” – Romans 12:10

Have you got a favorite child? Or sibling? Or parent? How do you handle it?

*TIME Magazine, “Playing Favorites,” by Jeffrey Kluger, October 3, 2011, p. 47.

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