Family matters: A question of favourites

A comment from her young daughter has mother-of-two Louisa Wilkins in a parental panic. Can you favour one child over another without even realising it?

By Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius
00:00 February 1, 2012

There's nothing worse than when your child states in full confidence that you don't love them. Whoosh. It's like an Ally McBeal moment when a train rushes through your middle and you're left dumbfounded. I discovered this recently when my daughter handed me a note. ‘How cute!', I thought, until I opened it up. There, in the misspelt writing that I adore, was written: ‘You don lov me anemor.'

‘How? What? Why? When did I ever give her that idea?' I think. I bent down to her level (all my Positive Parenting training flooding back to me), looked her in the eyes, told her I loved her very, very much and asked her why she thought such a silly thing. She said, "You like him more than you like me", jutting her chin towards her three-year-old brother. Ah.

Moments before, a scuffle had broken out between them, which I'd believed was down to my daughter's incessant goading. I'd dealt with the situation and thought nothing of it. Her cute little nose was obviously out of joint.

A week later, when little brother was ill and off school and my daughter's over-dramatised cough at the breakfast table didn't quite cut the day-off-school mustard, the ‘poor unloved me' monster reared its head again. "You care about him more than you care about me."

Until now, I've felt quite certain that I don't have a favourite child. A favourite dog, I'll readily admit to. But when it comes to the kids, I truly, honestly love - and like - them both equally. But what is she picking up on then? She wouldn't make it up. Is it something I'm not even aware of myself? Do parents always know when they have a favourite?

I called Jared Alden, psychotherapist at the German Neuroscience Center ( and asked his advice. He said, "This is not a bad thing at all. Your child is trying to engage you, trying to get your attention. She's probably seeing that it works and so she's doing it again."

But is there a chance that I could be giving my son special favour without realising it? "Well, parents do seem to treat girls and boys differently," says Jared. "Boys sometimes get to do more cool stuff, have more freedom. Sometimes girls think boys have an easier life. And yes, children do often perceive there to be favouritism going on... if you want to get a group of adults going, ask them which one of them was favoured by a parent."

I think about it, and I still can't see where or how she might be seeing favouritism. They get equal love and attention, and admonishments are dished out fairly. I just don't get it. But I guess it doesn't matter what I think. It matters what she thinks. I need to work out what it is and fix it. Jared suggests that it may not be that she is picking up on something unfair in the way that I connect with them, but just on something different. This is very possible. I guess I do kind of think she is more like me and my son is more like his father. So, I may think she is made of sterner stuff. But it's not like I've got her out ploughing the fields - I just think she's more robust, physically and emotionally.

Jared says, "It's probably an accurate perception that she's more like you - and that's great. But you may subconsciously treat her the way you treat yourself. It may not be a case of changing how you relate to her, but a case of slowing down. Remember, you're a role model - if you're tough on yourself, she'll be tough on herself." Wow. I can't deny he has a point. And how interesting to think of yourself not just as a role model for how your child deals with others, but also how they deal with themselves.

But back to the favouritism thing. What do I do about that? He says, "Just say, ‘OK, tell me about it.' And listen without contradiction - like Oprah. Your daughter obviously feels loved and feels safe if she's telling you her feelings. And that's good! Nothing that you've told me concerns me at all." Un-whoosh. Phew - I can put down the self-flagellating whip I've been carrying around lately. I get it. Maybe it's not that I love her less, but that subconsciously I think she needs less from me. Although she's stronger than her brother, she may at times go through moments of self-doubt and need a little pep talk. Looking back over my conversation with Jared, it's surprising I didn't know that already - she obviously gets it from me.

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