Years ago on a family vacation, my husband and I and our four children were walking back to our hotel room, and the two youngest began to fight over who would get to use the electronic key to open the hotel room door (something only little kids would care enough to fight about). As the squabble ensued, my older son turned to my older daughter and quipped, “The battle of the favorites: who will win?”
If you ask my older kids, they will insist that my younger son is my favorite while the baby of the family has her dad wrapped around her little finger. I have to admit there is some basis in reality for their opinions. For instance, I find many of my younger son’s comments hilarious even when they are insults directed at me! And we all get tired of my husband’s constant bragging about our youngest’s academic and athletic feats.
Yet I don’t think about these relationships as favoritism. The fact is, we have different relationships with each of our children because they have different personalities and needs. As an example, when my older son was little, he was extremely sensitive to loud noises and afraid of even slightly scary images on TV. So I sheltered him from all but the most innocuous books, movies, and television shows until he was well into his teens. On the other hand, my younger son is largely unaffected by fictional violence and horror, so we have been much more lax in what we allowed him to see at a younger age.
Birth order also plays a part in how we relate to our children. Our oldest has borne the brunt of our inexperience and wariness by having the most restrictive childhood of the four. For instance, she received her first cell phone in high school while the youngest went off to middle school with a new phone. And let’s face it. By the time you get to your fourth child, you are just exhausted. By her senior year in high school, no doubt, my youngest daughter will be tucking us into bed and going out to clubs with her friends.
Still, our children will always seek fairness in our treatment of each of them and cry foul when they perceive of things as unequal. Obviously, it’s not okay to lavish one child with gifts and attention while ignoring the others. But outside of glaring favoritism like that, kids will always find instances of how unfair we are. I remember as a child my siblings lining up our glasses of pop to make sure we had exactly the same amount, as well as counting the number of Oreo cookies we each received. To this day, no one knows which of the 9 girls ate the last Royal Graham!
The important thing is to let each of your children know he or she is loved completely and uniquely and that not one of your children is replaceable. My older kids find the idea of our having favorites amusing. Why? Because they know without question they are deeply loved and wanted for themselves.