TIME magazine’s cover story from this past week was a selection from Jeffrey Kluger’s new book, The Sibling Effect. The article, titled “Playing Favorites,” documents the phenomenon that is well-known to everyone with siblings: Mom and Dad have favorites. The basic premise of this article is that if your parents tell you they don’t have favorites, they’re lying. We’ve always protested this was true in our family, but now we have psychology and science on our side.
The general consensus of psychologists quoted in this research is that moms tend to favor the first-born son and dads tend to favor the last-born daughter.
In our family, this theory works out. Sam is a flawless demigod in my mother’s eyes; he is incapable of wrongdoing. Grace, on the other hand, has been the beloved of my father since she arrived as the beautiful, sassy blond angel. It’s not that Kelsey and I were unloved or ignored. Far from it. Kelsey became my father’s prize thoroughbred, the champion athlete, and I was my mother’s ongoing project. Since I was little, I always felt that she disciplined me the most because she saw herself the most in me. (And besides, even if I’m not my mother’s favorite child, I’m definitely my grandmother’s favorite grandchild.)
We are lucky in that our parents’ favoritism tends to shift around from season to season, though. We commonly joke about our standing on the parental totem pole. Dad even once made a list of his favorite children and he likes to remind us where we rank (Dublin is almost always #1, followed closely by whomever is spending the most time at home). This shifting around in ranking does make it difficult to pinpoint who is the favorite, and in that way, I think we avoided the insecurity complexes that might have come from having parents who were obvious about their favorites.
I never believed Mom when she told us that she didn’t have a favorite, because I felt like it was impossible. You have four kids, four very distinct humans. How could you not like one just a little bit more than the others? I remember finally getting her to yield slightly on this issue. “I don’t have a favorite,” she once told me, “but I love all of you in different ways.” “Aha!” I said, triumphant. “But then you do have to love some of us a little more than others! If you love us all in different ways, then it is impossible to love us all equally.” She rolled her eyes and went out to putter around in her garden. We constantly bug our parents about this, because all we want is for them to admit it, so we can each justify all of the perceived, minute injustices we suffered for the sake of parental favoritism.
The only thing I’m worried about when/if I have children is this: What if I’m not very skillful at hiding my favoritism? What if it’s evident that I love one kid more than the other? At the end of the article, Kluger gives some practical advice: Just lie about it. Tell the kids that you love them all the same. And then maybe they’ll believe you.
What about you? Are you the golden child? Do your parents still deny that they have a favorite?
(P.S. I think these photos I’ve shared are deeply revealing and provide strong proof for my long-suspected hypothesis.)