Do you get a pleasant glow every time you look at your middle child because she has your grandfather’s eyes, but not so much for your son who looks like your husband’s cousin? Do you spend hours making freshly blended organic vegetables for your first baby, but resort to grocery store purees for your next two? If you said yes to either of these questions, you might have a favorite child.
This is a perennial, popular topic. From science writer Jeffrey Kluger’s TED talk claiming that 95% of parents have a favorite (and the other 5% are lying), to the current slew of articles with titles insisting that “You really do have a favorite child,” and the scores of “favorite kid” jokes and memes online. Whether or not you have a favorite, and even if you’re 100% sure you do not, this is a topic worth exploring because of the deep effect favoritism can have on both parents and children.
What the Data Says
According to Jennifer Lansford, a research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and an affiliate of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, there are “no really good empirical studies on this issue.” She suggests that the “strong social preference not to have a favorite” may cause some parents to feel too embarrassed or guilty to admit they have a favorite, while other parents might have difficulty interpreting the question itself: Does having a “favorite” mean you actually “love” one child more than your other(s)? Or does it simply mean that you treat your children differently for any number of reasons?
In a group of 30 parents polled anonymously for this article, 13% said they had a favorite. Given the uncertainty of this question, perhaps the more interesting and relevant number is that 50% of parents polled believed their own parents had afavorite, and 40% of parents polled believed their children thought they had a favorite. What seems to matter here is perception. Parents should consider whether their own actions are leading their children to assume they have a favorite.
What Kids Say
Kids perceive favoritism, whether it’s there or not, and it can be tricky to know how well your child is reading you.
“Parents underestimate how much kids pick up,” says Meg Hill, a counselor and owner of Raleigh Parent and Child.
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