Friday, March 9, 2012

Playing favorites with your kids (or, preferably, not)

Chloe was talking about this blog the other day and asked, "Why is it that you post something really nice about Elissa, but the only thing people who read the blog will think about me is that I'm crazy and loud?"

My first thought was, "You ARE crazy and loud." Which is in no way a bad thing. "Crazy" and "loud" are two of her greatest strengths. They're the main reasons why she will one day rule the world. I'm not kidding. Chloe is an absolutely remarkable person who, if we know what's good for us, we will place into a position of global leadership soon after she graduates from college.

But her question raised the larger issue of how we as parents try to treat our kids absolutely equally from the moment they're born. The last thing you want is for them to grow up and for one to say to another, "Mom always liked you best."

At the same time, any honest parent will tell you there are days when you simply like one of your kids more or less than the other(s). If a child is cranky and just plain getting on your nerves, it's perfectly natural that you would want to throw that child from the top of a large building. Don't feel bad about it (but you also don't want to actually follow through on this desire...the namby-pamby liberals have apparently made this ILLEGAL somewhere along the way).

Over the long term, though, most parents are looking to be as fair and equitable as possible in the way they deal with their offspring. This starts from a very early age. Say you have a couple of toddlers/preschoolers sitting around the lunch table. Their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches must be exactly the same size. If a child thinks their sibling's sandwich is even the smallest bit larger than theirs, they suddenly become tiny civil engineers with an innate ability to eyeball size differentials down to the 32nd of an inch.

And Christmas presents? Oy. Every December, as Terry heroically works her way through the process of buying gifts for five children, she will invariably say to me (at least 10 times), "I'm really worried about <INSERT CHILD'S NAME>. I don't feel like I bought <HIM/HER> enough." This genuinely eats at her. Then Christmas morning comes and you realize that each of your children has opened the retail equivalent of a small county's gross domestic product, and everything is good.

As hard as we try to be fair in our approach to parenting, there's no denying that firstborn kids are inevitably treated differently from the baby of the family. Especially if you have, say, three or more children. With the first one, you do everything the baby books say, you photograph everything they do, and you put every piece of parenting advice you've ever received into practice.

But the last one? I always say Jack is essentially raising himself. Not that we ignore him. Not at all. It's just that I think we're probably a little more lax with #5 than we were with #1, and we realize we could have been that way all along and everything would have been fine.

With the first one, you're just learning to be a parent. I tell Elissa she's the guinea pig for all things new. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's bad. I have to believe she has turned out pretty well.

The kids always probe and prod to figure out which of them are our "favorites." And when we tell them we don't have favorites, they refuse to believe us. Mostly, I suspect, because they've never been parents themselves. They don't yet understand how your love will multiply with every child, and that each of them holds an impossibly large and permanent place in your heart.

Not that I don't consider throwing them off a building from time to time, mind you. But in the end, I still love 'em all the same.



  1. I have been known around my house to tell each of my three children that "they" are my favorite loud enough for the two others to hear. The truth being that I want each of them to feel that way. But it breaks my heart when one, my middle child, really doesn't believe it.

  2. He'll get over it, Donna. His mom thinks he's awesome and deep down he knows it!

  3. Parents who love all their children the same are in denial...we simply aren't wired that way as a species...the deadly thing is that children sense this and are constantly moving into postures of manipulation...
    We must, however, keep telling the social lie that 'we love you all equally' if we are to survive as parents...
    signed -

  4. That's terrible and hilarious at the same time, Mark. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry... ;)