Many parents may believe that this is an unfair question. How can any parent admit to having a favourite child? The answer “I do not have a favourite child!” may turn out to be a little white lie common to many parents. Research has put this controversial question to the test.
Father of two and author of the book “The Sibling Effect: What Bonds among Brothers and Sisters Reveal about Us”, insists that all parents have a favourite child, even though they try and deny it. He admitted to having one himself.
“Ninety-five percent of parents in the world have a favourite child – and the other five per cent are lying,” claims Jeffrey Kluger.
Although this claim may seem highly exaggerated and might be offensive to some parents, it proves its point. Most parents have a favourite child. A 2011 study reveals that most parents in the study possessed favouritism towards a particular child. Experts consolidate the guilt that some parents may experience when answering this question.
The study was conducted by the University of California over a period of three-years. To conduct the study, 384 sibling pairs were followed along with their parents to find out whether or not parents really do have a favourite child. The findings of this study indicate that 70 percent of fathers and 65 percent of mothers explicitly displayed a preference for one child.
Favouritism common among parents
Nevertheless, leaders of the study believe that participants of this study may have adjusted their behaviour because of the cameras watching. Study leaders presume that the figures would be higher without the cameras. Some parents were more able to admit favouritism than others.
“I went through a very bitter divorce from my older children’s father when Will was six and Sophie was three,” a respondent explains. I don’t know if it’s because Will seems to have inherited a lot of my first husband’s personality traits or because I feel he blames me for the divorce turmoil—but I have always found him really difficult to get on with.”
“To be honest, it’s a horrible feeling. We clash over absolutely everything. Of course, there are times when we all get along beautifully, and please understand, I love my son passionately—but do feel I’m treading on eggshells with him much of the time. It’s an awkward relationship,” admits the respondant.
“Sophie, on the other hand, is really an easy-going girl. She’s always happy to help around the house and is lovely to her siblings. She’s very popular with her friends – and very responsible. I can’t help favouring her — even though I know it’s wrong.”
In another study, siblings were asked if they believed that their parents had a favourite child. In this study, it was found that mothers were more likely to favour their first born son, while fathers preferred their youngest daughters.
This study also concluded that parents were more likely to favour the child that shared their interests or personality traits. Although this subject matter may be taboo to most parents, parenting expert Naomi Richards urges parents not to lie to themselves. Acknowlegdging the favouritism is the first step in making sure that the siblings do not feel excluded.
Dr. Ellen Weber Libby is a psychologist and author of “The Favourite Child“. According to Dr. Libby, the unfavoured children will live their lives seeking validation. They engage in interactions with others that they hope they would have been able to achieve with their parents. Dr. Libby says that these children may develop insecurities and may find it difficult to establish intimacy with others without the fear of being disappointed.
Effects of favouritism on the unfavoured child
She writes that being an unfavoured child may have an effect not only on personal relationships but also work ethic. Some unfavoured children may believe that no matter how hard they try to please others, it is not enough. She says that these children may become angry with the parent who does not show them the same amount of attention as the favoured child.
Richards urges parents to try to spend time with all of their children, rather than just the “favourite” child. Integrate the time that you spend with them according to their interests.
“Accentuating each child’s positives will really help to balance your family dynamic. It just takes practice,” explained Richards.
As the studies prove, there is more to take into account when it comes to favouritism. These include personality traits and interests. Parents may feel guilty about this and hence, would prefer to deny the favouritism. Nevertheless, parents can ease the neglect that the other siblings may feel by spending more time with them. This will help improve the overall family dynamics within your home and will allow your children to feel acknowledged and equally loved.