Joanna knew she had a favorite child from the moment the second was born.
The mother lives in Kent, UK, and says she loves her two sons, but the youngest just “gets it” in a way her firstborn doesn’t.
When Joanna’s first baby was born, he was rushed away due to a health issue and she couldn’t see him for 24 hours.
Missing out on that valuable bonding period, she believes, was the start of a lasting preference for her second child, with whom she was able to spend time immediately after his birth.
“To sum up our relationships: I have to ask you to make an appointment to talk to my oldest son,” says Joanna, whose full name is being withheld to protect her children.
“My youngest son could call at 2:30 am and he would drive miles to meet me. He’s the nicest guy on the planet. He is affectionate, generous, courteous and friendly. He is the type of person who would help anyone,” he says.
Although she fought her feelings for years, Joanna says she’s come to terms with it.
“I could write a book on why I love one more than the other”, he assures. “It’s been tough, but I’m not to blame.”
Unlike Joanna, most parents’ favoritism is subtle and goes unnoticed.
Having a favorite child may be the biggest taboo in parenthood., but research shows that most parents do.
With plenty of evidence to suggest that being the underdog can fundamentally shape personality and lead to intense sibling rivalries, it’s no wonder parents worry about letting preferences slip.
However, research also shows that most children cannot tell who their parents’ favorite child really is. The real issue, then, is how parents deal with their children’s perception of favoritism..
Father’s and mother’s favorite
“Not every parent has a favorite child, but many do,” says Jessica Griffin, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
“The data suggest that mothers in particular show favoritism towards children who have values similar to theirs and who are more involved with the family, over qualities such as being very ambitious or motivated by their career,” he adds.
Regardless of the reason, some research shows that many parents almost certainly have favorites, whether they admit it or not. In one study it was shown that up to 74% of mothers and 70% of fathers in the UK show preferential treatment towards aor of the little boys.
However, for the majority the topic is still out of the question.
In other research, when parents were surveyed, only 10% admitted to having a favorite child, suggesting that for most mothers and fathers, feelings of favoritism remain a well-kept family secret.
Research suggests that when parents admit to having a preferred child, birth order plays a role.
According to the same YouGov survey, parents who admitted to having a favorite child showed a overwhelming preference for less: 62% of them.
The 43% of parents with 3 or more children prefer the last child, with a third selecting the middle child and only 19% lean towards the major.
Vijayeti Sinh is a clinical psychologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
The specialist says that a favoritism towards a younger child often has to do with the social and emotional skills associated with birth order: As parents become more experienced in parenting, they have a better idea of how they want to shape their children’s childhoods and what attributes are most important to pass on.
“Parents tend to favor a child who is more like them, reminds them of themselves, or represents what they see as parenting success,” she adds.
“Younger children are more likely to have been raised by a parent who, over time and experience, has more confidence and skill in parenting.”
Although parents often have a favorite, many are wracked with guilt, knowing that showing a preference will have a lasting impact on self-esteem of their children.
The concern is not entirely unfounded.
“Children who grow up in families where they feel they are being treated unfairly can experience a deep sense of not being worthy (of appreciation),” says Sinh.
“They may feel that they are not loved in some way, or that they do not possess the special traits and characteristics necessary to be loved by others. Feeling like the black sheep of the family can generate fears and insecurities: children can become self-protective and try to be too kind and nice to others”, he explains.
But for most parents, their concerns are in the wrong place.
The evidence suggests that unless the preferential treatment is very extreme, most children are not affected by being the underdog.
“Sometimes parents are blatantly obvious in their display of love and affectionSinh says.
“But when parents are aware and attentive and go to great lengths to make sure any feelings of closeness or sympathy aren’t plain and clear, children don’t feel unworthy of their parents’ love and support.”
In fact, in most cases, children may they don’t even know that their parents prefer their brother or sister.
In one study, when people who said their parents had a favorite child were surveyed, the staggering number of 4 out of 5 stated that the favorite was the brother, a seemingly unlikely statistic.
Other studies have shown that children incorrectly identify who is the favorite more than 60% of the time.
Of course, parents may be hiding their preferences much better than you might expect.
Or, as Griffin suggests, we’re just really bad at guessing who the real favorite is.
“Although you might think that children instinctively know if and who their parents have a favorite child, the data is surprising,” he says.
“Children may assume that the firstborn or ‘baby’ in the family is the favorite, or the one who stands out in the family and causes the least parenting stress. Whereas, in reality, the father or the mother may have different and varied reasons for favoritism, such as favoring the one who fights the most or the one who is most similar to them.
Griffin argues that it’s perfectly fine and even to be expected for parents to have favorites, and that they shouldn’t feel guilty if they feel closer to one child than another.
The specialist says that although children who believe they are the least favored tend to have lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression, in most cases, they have no idea which sibling their parents prefer.
Maybe who the favorite kid really is isn’t so important after all.
no less love
Griffin discovered that the conundrum of the favorite son has appeared in both his professional and personal life: his three children constantly joke about which one it will be.
Although she recommends that parents or children who find that favoritism is affecting their relationships or their mental health speak with a pediatrician or mental health specialist, she believes that most imbalances can be addressed with simple tactics that demonstrate care and attention .
Griffin says that while parents may not easily admit favoritism, they certainly won’t be alone if they feel closer to one child than another.
Most moms and dads have favorites, and that’s okay.
“There will be days when we prefer to be closer to one than the other, for different reasons,” she says. “The important thing is to remember that having a favorite child does not mean that you love your other children less.”
It may interest you:
* Mother gives tips to raise and maintain children “at low cost”
* Neither “clumsy” nor “stupid”: do not put labels on your children
* Push your children to achieve their dreams, not yours!
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