Favoritism or Equality?
It really is impossible to treat siblings equally. Each child will have different feelings and difficulties at different times in their life. Good and sensitive parenting means giving each child what he needs. To do so, a parent must evaluate each situation for each child.
Treating each child differently can be difficult for many parents. Most of us have been brought up to believe that if we don’t hit identically, we are playing favourites. Think of the lengths to which one mother went: “My two sons used to watch Sesame Street together. Naturally, they both wanted to sit on the same side of the couch. My solution for the seating arrangement was to set a timer for them to switch.” positions every five minutes.” Now, this mom recalls, “I thought they would become best friends because I was treating them the same, but they actually became more involved in who gets what. The division of the sofa becomes a symbol of their relationship. They started fighting over everything. To this day, I also get headaches when I hear the kitchen timer go off.”
Parents often tell me that the concepts of equality and favoritism are even more complicated because in their hearts they don’t feed the same way from every child. A father explains his preferences for his eldest son: “We are much more alike. He is diplomatic and well-liked. On the other hand, my youngest son does all kinds of things that I am afraid to do. He is more fun and creative than ME.”
It often helps to look ahead. No matter how much we want to erase our own histories and past preferences, we can’t. Why are our feelings for one child stronger than our feelings for the other? Were you, the firstborn, always jealous of the second son? Were you labeled the impossible brat or the brilliant saint who could do no wrong? Were you the sheltered baby?
How do you know if you are favoring one child over another? Take a step back and you’ll probably find yourself feeling passionate sympathy for your favorite son in a sibling fight. One father explains how he was reliving old battles from his childhood: “He identified me so much with my younger son that in the midst of their fight he called my older son by the name of my brother, who constantly fought with me.”
Parents often overreact by helping the child with whom they most identify. For example, if you’re the firstborn and you’re still fighting your younger brother, you might be overprotective of the older son. One mother reports that she often sided with her eldest daughter because as a child her mother had always stood up for the baby, not her. “I was having these intense emotions, out of proportion to the situations, feeling old, unresolved anger. My youngest daughter’s feelings were badly hurt; she felt abandoned. I couldn’t understand why she was always jumping to her sister’s defense.” .
It can help to remember, especially when you’ve fed a child a lot more, that your feelings toward each of your children will constantly change and grow. The child you identify with the most today will not necessarily be the child you feel the most for tomorrow.