Biology Doesn't Matter When It Comes To Playing Favorites, Personality Does


Were you your mother’s favorite child?  Do you have a favorite child of your own?  Chances are, if you had to jockey for your mother’s affection, you’re less likely to play favorites with your kids, USA Today reports

“It could be a result of gender (favoring the same-sex or opposite-sex child), birth order (the oldest or the baby) or how easy or difficult a child’s temperament may be, but a parent’s differential treatment — real or perceived — has far-reaching effects, including fueling sibling rivalry,” experts say.

Psychologist Jacqueline Plumez, whose research focuses on whether or not being an adoptive or biological parent influences your connection to your kids, thinks “what matters most is whether your temperaments are simpatico.”  I can attest to that.  I’m not sure my mother liked me best, and I’m her only biological child.  Oh sure, we love each other very much, but we don’t always understand each other. 

Plumez says biology does not trump personality.  “Parents would say they felt closer to their adopted kid or their biological kid.”  I have three step-siblings, and I was very close to my adopted Dad.  And even though he and I didn’t share any blood, I still feel in many ways I’m more like him than my mother.  But my mother and I are alike in ways that have added tension to our relationship over the years: we’re both stubborn.  “Two people who want to be in control are always going to be butting heads,” according to Plumez.  Mom, if you’re reading this, I got you a helmet for Mother’s Day!

Susan McHale, director of the Family Relationships Project at Penn State, studied Mexican immigrant families and did not find sibling-rivalry or jockeying for parental attention to be a problem in their homes.  She thinks “sibling rivalry is very “culture bound” and more related to a culture of individualism in the USA.”

Research by Laurie Kramer, a clinical psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that “women who reported negative sibling relationships during childhood appear to have kids with more positive sibling relationships.”  I can attest to that, too, though the only person I really had to fight to get my mother’s attention was my mother.  However, I’m pleased to report that my daughter gets along famously with her imaginary siblings.  Don’t tell Brother and Sister (yes, those are their names), but I like my real daughter best.  

Author of The Favorite Child, D.C. therapist Ellen Weber Libby, says “it’s important that the position of favoring gets rotated so every child grows up having experienced favoritism” and that “one parent isn’t always with the same child.”  So the lesson here isn’t that you should love your children equally, but celebrate them evenly.