One reason mothers feel so guilty about favoring one child over another is that they imagine their actions having dire consequences for their children’s entire lives. Well, those moms can breathe easy, because that doesn’t seem to be the case. A study published in 2009 in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences discovered that this type of conflict between parents and siblings has little effect on a child’s future happiness. Adult respondents who claimed to have been treated less favorably than their siblings were found to be just as satisfied as those who reported that they were the favored child. Besides, being the favorite might not be all it’s cracked up to be, anyway—some psychologists think that favorite children have the potential to become spoiled or to develop a sense of entitlement, which may cause them difficulties later in life.
Interestingly, children are actually not very good at knowing exactly who the favorite child is, if there is one at all. The Cornell study found that only 41 percent of children were able to identify correctly which child in the family was their mother’s favorite, based simply on observed behavior and perception of treatment.
It all comes down to how children witness and interpret their parents’ behavior, and these impressions can make parents feel as if they can do no right. Two children growing up in the same family may have the same parents, the same resources, and the same parenting philosophy, but their experiences are bound to be widely different because the children themselves are -- they have different needs, different personalities, different strengths, and different weaknesses. And though parents try to treat each successive child the same, it’s natural for parenting to evolve and for the family dynamic to change, along with children’s perceptions. Younger children might feel marginalized because their parents had given up on taking pictures by the time they came around, while older children are usually quick to criticize parents’ lax discipline with younger siblings.
When parents discuss their “favorite” child, what they’re often saying is simply that there is one child in the family who’s easier to relate to or is more like them. Parents are people, too, and they’re naturally drawn to certain personalities and character traits. Many parents reveal that although they might like a certain child a bit more than they do the others, that has no bearing on the amount of love they show all their children. But perhaps that’s easy for me to say... since in my family, I’m the favorite