Back in the 1960s, The Smothers Brothers were famous for Tommy’s “Mom always liked you best” lines. It’s something you hear a lot from people who have siblings: that one parent or another favored one sibling over the rest. As parents, I think most of us live in fear of “playing favorites” and do our very best not to allow it to happen (or at least not to show it.)
It’s hard, though. Your children, like everyone else you meet, will have some things in common with you, and other interests that you will never understand no matter how hard you try. I always dreamed of reading some of the books of my childhood with my girls, but so far my oldest flaked out after three of the “Little House” books, while my older son seems interested. I don’t know which, if any of them, will be interested in going to theatre productions with me. It’s quite possible I’m going to have to learn the rules of football, or hockey (yes, I am Canadian, I just don’t like hockey all that much, OKAY?) or badminton, for that matter.
And when it comes right down to it, it’s perhaps easier to spend time with someone who shares some of your interests. It doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t love people who have no interest in cross-stitching or water polo, but it’s certainly simpler when you have things in common. You may love all of your children equally, but the relationship may simply be easier with one over others.
It’s not just parents, though, who sometimes show favoritism.
One of my sons (who shall remain nameless, at least in theory) has never been the easiest child. He slept in one hour increments as a baby, and only started sleeping through the night on a regular basis within the last six months or so, and he just turned four. Although undiagnosed, I believe that he has some sensory integration issues – he’s a sensory seeker – and so he is constantly touching EVERYTHING. You can say to him, “Please don’t touch that” and he’ll say okay, and within seconds he’s touching it again. It is truly, to my way of thinking, a compulsion, but it can be extremely aggravating when you’re not accustomed to it (and even sometimes when you are). He has unlimited energy and finds it very hard to sit still, like many other boys, but to an extreme sometimes.
However, he can be the sweetest, kindest boy you could ever meet. He’s also extremely smart. Yet some people just don’t see that about him. Unfortunately, one of those people happens to be one of his grandparents. “Pat” (purposely going gender-ambiguous here) loves “Winston,” I don’t doubt that, but when it comes right down to it, Pat is awfully hard on Winston. It’s great that Pat doesn’t just want to be that permissive grandparent who lets the grandkids away with everything, but somehow it just gets taken to an extreme with Winston.
I’ve heard it from a lot of parents: the grandparent who either favors one grandchild, or seems to disfavor one in favor of all of the others. Robyn, a mom of five, tells me that her mother-in-law favors her two daughters because she always wanted a daughter and never got one. This seems to be a fairly common situation, or conversely favoring the same gender as their own children (ie if Grandma had all boys, she favors the male grandchildren because she “understands them better.”)
Another reader, Julie, says that as a child, she and her siblings would spend weekends visiting their grandparents in another town. “Our arrival was always treated with great fanfare,” she says, “which for obvious reasons didn’t go over well with the grandchildren who lived nearby.”
“Nathalie” has a different issue with grandparent favoritism: she lives near her husband’s parents, but her older daughter is not their biological grandchild, and is treated much differently because of it. They have gone overboard on birthdays, etc. for their biological granddaughter while all but ignoring Nathalie’s other daughter, and also have a habit of buying presents for “Cindy” just because, but not for “Ellen.” One of the biggest examples occurred when “Luke”’s parents wanted to take the family to an amusement park. Luke’s mother chose a date when Nathalie’s oldest daughter would be away with her biological father. Nathalie asked if they could wait to go until Ellen returned. Grandma told her that she had already bought the tickets for that date and they were non-refundable. It wasn’t until they arrived at the park, without Ellen, that Nathalie knew she had been lied to. “We got to the park and we got on line for the ticket counter. So I said ‘I thought you already bought the tickets’ and she said, ‘No, I didn’t.’ So she flat out lied to me.”
We decided that although it’s not easy, we have to stand up to Pat about Winston. As he gets older he’s going to notice the difference, and we don’t want there to be that kind of tension in their relationship. It seems to have improved, too, to Pat’s credit. It’s never easy to hear that you’re treating someone unfairly, but most reasonable people will take the advice for what it’s worth, and at least attempt to make a change in their behavior.
Have you had experience with favoritism? What did you do about it, if anything?