I Have a Favorite Child and I’m Feeling Guilty about it

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One of your kids is super easy to deal with. She gets you, you get her, and you operate on the same wavelength. Your other child is the complete opposite; you are constantly clashing and half the time you can’t even believe she was brought up in the same household as her sister. One day, in one of your bi-weekly fights, she tells you, “I don’t care! I know you like Sister more than me anyway!” If you are honest with yourself, she is right on the money with that one. But you’d never tell this to anyone, would you? And the guilt is killing you!

So what can you do? Is there even anything you can do? Is it okay for a parent to have a favorite child? If it’s a normal thing, why do you feel so guilty about it? If you are dealing with all these conflicting sensations in your head, you have come to the right place. This guide will outline everything you need to know about the why of having a favorite child and what you can do about it.

Why do you have a favorite child?

First of all, having a favorite child is a completely human thing. Every human parent has a secret, guilty preference for one child. 

Broadly, here are the different types of kids that different parents will have a preference for

📌1. The one everyone prefers

Let’s say you have two kids. One is sweet, easygoing, and laid back, and makes your life as a parent very easy. The other is rude, snotty, ungrateful, has an attitude, and is downright difficult. Who do you like more? The one that’s more easily likable, probably. 

According to experts, your child may be difficult if she has one or more of the following qualities:

  • Intensity: Reacts deeply to things; instead of crying, she wails, or she easily gets frustrated about the simplest things. 
  • Perceptiveness: She notices things that most people miss, notices things that you try to hide from them, and points out things that others are insecure about.
  • Regularity: Has irregular sleeping times or eating times, difficult to tell how much sleep she needs
  • Energy: Is always on the move, always busy with things, moves all over the bed when sleeping, and gets wild sometimes
  • Initial withdrawal/the first reaction: She rejects most activities at first, holds back when participating in new things, protests a lot by clinging or crying
  • Distractibility: Tunes you out, forgets directions multiple times, daydreams often
  • Adaptability: Takes a long time to adapt to changes in her schedule or routine, gets upset by surprises
  • Sensitivity: Picky eaters, kids who gag easily from certain smells, kids who get affects by scratchy textures, kids who need complete quiet to sleep, and kids who quickly pick up on your stress all fall into this category. 
  • Persistence: Does not give up on ideas easily. Whines a lot, or has long tantrums. Is stubborn and demanding. 
  • Mood: Does not show pleasure openly, is serious and analytical about everything
  • Imagine a child with multiple of these qualities. Or worse, ALL of them! Sure, you love her to bits, and you do your best with her, but if you have an easier child right next to her, it’s just easier to gravitate towards the child that makes your life a lot simpler.

📌2. The one no one prefers

For some parents, it is the complete opposite: they identify more with the child that no one likes. The child might process some of the qualities outlined above, for instance. Which might get you thinking, “Poor child. No one understands you as I do. Everyone understands your sister completely, so she does not need me to be her advocate. But you need me more, so I am going to love you harder.”

This is usually common among moms who love to nurture and identify more with the underdog of the family, perhaps because they themselves were the underdogs growing up. This draws them more to the child that needs extra help to thrive.

📌3. The one most like you

We’ve touched on this a little bit in the previous point, but it goes a little deeper. As humans, we are wired to associate more with other people who are similar to us. If your child is wired just like you are, it is just so easy to understand her.

When you think the same, you will find that whenever you have conversations, you can instantly get her point of view without trying too hard. You can predict how she will react when you do certain things. You get her, and she gets you. She likes the same things that you do, and you can look at her and smile at each other, or perhaps almost telepathically tell each other a joke and burst out laughing at the same time. 

She is an extension of yourself and your personality. You have your very own best friend in her, a person who embodies every part of who you are that you like. How could you not like her more? When your other child is nothing like you at all, this rift can be massive. 

📌4. The one least like you

If you have certain qualities that you do not like about yourself, having a child that embodies none of those things can make you like her more. For example, if you are shy but she is confident; if you are conscious about your looks but she is effortlessly pretty; or if she has none of your allergies, it is easy to start viewing you as a better version of yourself. 

If her sister, on the other hand, got your sensitive skin, allergies, and inability to do well in school, she becomes a constant reminder of the things you do not like about yourself. The things you would rather forget. And that can make you pull away from them.

What can you do about these feelings?

As you can see, you are not alone in feeling this way. But what can you do about it? Well, here is exactly what you need to do: 

  • Be honest with yourself. It is impossible to deal with this issue if you are constantly in denial and always repressing these feelings. 
  • Understand your children. Set yourself up to succeed with them in situations that could be problematic. For example, if you know that your child starts throwing tantrums after two hours, attend that birthday party for an hour. If she does not like reading, bond over ice cream instead. Try to have one activity every week that makes you feel good about your relationship. 
  • Don’t try to change any of your kids. You may not like certain parts of who they are, but those parts are pieces of the whole. Take them out and you do not have the same person anymore. So if she is overly sensitive, embrace it; it could be her superpower that will turn her into a great artist one day.
  • Get therapy. If you start showing that you like one child more than the other, it is time to seek therapy. Has your child told you that they think you prefer their sibling? Getting therapy might make you a better parent to them. 
  • Understand that a lot of times, these preferences are fluid. They’ll change over time, and you might like one child more now but less later. Sometimes, you might find that you like whichever one is not currently screaming at you.
  • Understand that liking is not the same as loving. It is possible to love all your kids the same and like one more.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Stop looking for reasons to convince yourself that you are not a good parent. The fact that you feel all this guilt only shows that you are a great parent! 

Doing these things will help you avoid falling into the trap of openly showing favoritism to one child. There is nothing wrong with having a favorite child. But the real danger is favoritism. This is what causes lasting damage to children.

Favoritism, if not kept in check, can result in a golden child who can do no wrong in your eyes at the expense of their sibling. This can build up resentment in the sibling who is not treated fairly, leading to issues that will take years of therapy to resolve.

How to be a good parent when you have a favorite child

As mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with having a favorite child. You just have to make sure that you never show it. Here are some of the things you can do: 

  • Spend one on one time with each child. Create more time to spend with the child whose interests are different from yours. Plan special dates each month with each child where they have full control over the activities you’ll get to do together. Then ensure that you spend a few minutes every day with each child. Showing positive attention and genuine interest in the things they like is the key to making all your kids feel loved and valued. 
  • Make all your rules and consequences fair. Do not make exceptions for your favorite child. Do not offer extra privileges for one child over the other. Make your rules and consequences fair and age-appropriate.
  • Praise good behavior from everyone. Do not praise your favorite child more. Draw attention to good behavior from everyone equally.
  • Do not single any child out. Do not say things like, “If you acted more like your sister, we’d go out more.” Avoid comparing your kids as well. Simply show positive attention to the child who is showing good behavior and the others will follow suit.
  • Address any concerns that your kids may have about being or not being the favorite head-on.
  • If there is favoritism happening from other adults, call it out. If you can notice it, the kids can too, so nip it in the bud.

Finally, if you are struggling to avoid showing favoritism, or if you are often accused of it, get professional help. Therapy for you or your partner will go a long way in helping you become better parents to your kids.

Final Thoughts

Most parents will publicly deny even liking one child more than the other. But the truth is, deep down, every parent has a favorite child. It just makes sense to develop a deeper connection with one child, usually because they are similar to you, different from you, easier to care for, or not liked by everyone. You do this because you are human.

However, just because it is a common thing does not mean that showing it is OK to do. Favoritism can cause permanent damage to your child that will take years of therapy to undo. Having a favorite child does not make you a bad parent as long as you do not show favoritism. Also, liking one child is different from loving them. It does not mean that you love your other child any less. So don’t beat yourself up if you have a favorite. Just keep any favoritism in check and you will be able to maintain a healthy, fair relationship with all your kids.


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