Sometimes favourite children exist unconsciously, sometimes they are known but unspoken, and sometimes parents come right out and admit that they have favourites. The latter choice can seem cruel when our culture isn’t used to it, but it might be worth our time to revisit some cherished ideas.
Parents are people before they are our parents. When they were young some school acquaintances were attractive as friends, others were left only schoolmates. The same with dating. People don’t want to ask out everyone they meet in the bar. Some stand out for reasons we can’t really explain. Chemistry, we call it.
So it goes with favourite children. The parent doesn’t love them more. They’re just the ones the parent finds enjoyable as a friendship as well.
Is it really so odd that a single human might, in a group of three or four other humans, have a preference for time spent with one in particular? Or is that more what we’d all expect –in any other circumstance except parenting? Again, we’re talking about time and attention, not love.
Of course, in most cases these feelings go both ways. Most kids like one parent more than the other. Does that mean we’re rejecting the other parent? No. It just means we’re human and have preferences. If every kid baked a different kind of cake we’re not bad people because we’ve happened to like chocolate all our lives. That’s not to say it will always happen, but when it does it’s a natural reaction.
Thoughts that these attractions are unnatural can lead to crippling guilt when it shouldn’t. Society implanted the thought of it being ‘wrong’ to like one family member over another but society is nothing but a set of external lessons we all unconsciously agree to and then apply through our thinking. There’s nothing guaranteeing the rules we develop are all correct, or true, or that they will or should stay that way. Each new generation sheds some.
If we took all the expectation of out it, ‘favouritism‘ is simply people being attracted to time with people that align well with them. If a child comprehends ‘favouritism’ in such a way that they see it as merely shared perspectives or interests –and that it’s simply a personal preference and not a value judgment– then it’s much easier for a child to accept it as normal when it happens.
It’s important that it feels normal to them because in life it will both happen to them, and they will ‘perpetrate’ that judgment on others. Kids also feel terrible guilt about having a favourite parent or sibling or friend, and they also often worry that they may not be other people’s favourite children, siblings or friends.
Put in the right context those preferences are presented as entirely normal, which is in a way, offering the child a form of future freedom to simply like what and who they like without feeling a need to feel guilty about their preferences. There are enough people and experiences to go around.
Since having a favourite is natural, hiding it is difficult. We have to ask ourselves, is it better for kids to have context for the behaviour than to witness evidence that may lead them to think they are unloved despite people’s words?
The subject feels pointy and awkward at the start, but over time we cannot help but notice that it comfortably explains a lot of what troubles many others. After all, none of us was ever built to satisfy everyone.