Every week, WDET education reporter Sascha Raiyn and Metro Parent content director Julia Elliot host the Help Desk, where they offer advice on parenting during COVID-19 in WDET’s “Doing Our Best” Facebook community. Members can submit questions on Facebook or on metroparent.com.
This week’s question:
“Spending so much time with my kids over the past couple months, I’ve realized that I really prefer my oldest child to my youngest. They’re both boys, so it’s not gender. It’s just that my eldest doesn’t try my patience as much, has a better overall attitude, my youngest has always been more whiny and negative. I feel terrible about this. I want to like my children equally, but I don’t. My husband says I favor our eldest, and I probably do. I’m sure my youngest feels that way too. I feel like a terrible mom and person.”
Click on the player above to hear WDET’s Sascha Raiyn and Metro Parent’s Julia Elliot discuss preferring children, favoritism and the emotional life of parenting.
Join WDET’s “Doing Out Best: Parenting in the Age of COVID-19” for Help Desk, resources and conversation.
Sascha Raiyn, 101.9 WDET: This is an amazing question. This is actually pretty normal, isn’t it Julia?
Julia Elliot, Metro Parent: It is. She shouldn’t feel like she’s a terrible mom or terrible person. Because if that’s true, pretty much every parent is a terrible person.
No one wants to say it actively and we don’t think of it as favoritism, or preference, rather, but it’s there. You usually do have a child that… you love them equally, but you don’t necessarily relate to them in the same way. Your relationship with one is easier than the other. So, yeah you’re so right, I feel bad that she feels so much guilty over just the preference. Because it is really such a universal thing.
Think of it on the flip side, your kids probably have a favorite between you. One prefers dad or one prefers mom. Preferences are natural to some degree. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the other one. So I think it’s fine. She needs to give herself a little bit of a break.
But there was something she said that did make me a little bit concerned.
What was that?
The part where she said that her husband says that she favors. So preferences and favoritism, those are two different things. You can have a preference. But on the other hand, if you’re showing favoritism, if that preference manifests in the behavior that you have with your children, that’s a problem. I think she has to really check herself on that, and make sure if there are some differences in the way that she’s treating, that they’re appropriate differences based on the fact that they’re different ages, or they have different capabilities, but not that it’s a manifestation of her feelings. That’s the part that she has to be really careful about and check herself on.
So it’s normal to have that preference, but you have to parent around acting out favoritism?
Yeah, she’s just going to have to be a little bit more mindful right now.
She mentioned that her one child is a little more whiny and negative, so maybe what happens is she’s more likely to snap or have an impatient tone with that child. Who cannot relate to this? When she has one of those moments, maybe she goes out of her way to show a little kindness to the child afterwards. Do something sweet or say something nice or have a nice tone to counteract that.
Sometimes it’s not that you’re going to stop doing something, but add positive. There might still be more negative going on, but add positive so it balances out.
I have siblings, so I’m familiar with the idea of favoritism and preference. But I also think, as an adult, it changes over time, and it changes as circumstances change.
You’re so right, of course it does! This is who they are right now. They’re going to change, she’s going to change. At some point, she could feel differently. This other child could grow and be different, or she’ll realize a quality about this other child.
Not only can it change over time, it can change over what you’re experiencing. So it might be during COVID, some parents might be discovering that a kid that they weren’t as connected to, that they feel more close to. That’s something about this time has shown this child to be different in a way, or revealing some aspect of them. Or it’s given them a chance to understand them better.
Using my parent example, when I was a kid I definitely favored my mom, and as I got older I favored my dad. My mom is very nurturing and sweet and I was a momma’s girl a little bit. But then as I got older some of that was suffocating, and my dad was just easy going, and so I favored my dad. That’s just the evolution of people. I love them equally though — I want to make sure I say that.
When I was growing up I was kind of a tomboy (people will be shocked to know) and when my very girly mother had a very girly daughter, my younger sibling, I was happy they had each other. It actually took some of the stress off of me to be someone I’m not.
Sometimes you relate to the kid that are more like you, or sometimes you get challenged by the kids who are more like you. Parents experience that as well.
She needs to give herself a break. There’s no equal thing, don’t worry about that. That’s just not a thing, no one has that. But then just make sure that she’s being mindful of that, that she’s not being unfair in her treatment of the younger child that maybe tries her patience a little bit more.
That’s a really interesting idea, separating the emotional life of parenting from the practice of parenting.
It’s not easy.