Mommy Loves You Best. Not You, the Other One.

While I’m all about “putting it out there”, there are some truths in life it’s best to keep to ones self. Such as…
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  • That reason I always wear my good bra and lipgloss to the pediatrician’s office.
  • My shameful undergraduate GPA.
  • Acknowledging that I may have read every Kresley Cole book in print.
  • That I have a favorite child.

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The cover story of Time this week is Why Mom Loved You Best by Jeffrey Kluger. The full article is only available to Time subscribers but here is a short video summary:

In a multi-year study of “384 sibling pairs and their parents the researcher concluded that 65% of mothers and 70% of fathers exhibited a preference for one child, usually the older one. And these numbers are almost certainly lowballs, since parents try especially hard to mask their preferences when a researcher is watching.”

It then explains what can make one child favorite: we have the most resources invested in the oldest, we like the ones most like ourselves, we feel compassion and want to protect the youngest, etc. That regardless of how hard parents work to hide favoritism it exists and every kid knows exactly where they sit in the sibling hierarchy.

Sadly I know nothing about siblings as neither I nor my husband ever had one. All I know is what I read about in Siblings Without Rivalry and from what our beloved pediatrician has told me as I pepper him with questions like “Should we be concerned that they intentionally pee on each other in the bath tub?”

If you’re like me your first reaction is to jump up and say, “That’s HORRIBLE! Those stupid scientists must be from CRAZYtown.” It’s really painful to consider that one of your precious pearls might be less loved. But when you consider it, the idea of sibling favoritism is a common fixture in our culture. In fact I DARE you to make a case that Marsha Brady wasn’t the favorite (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!!!).

Cover art for Tikki Tikki TemboI recently stumbled across the Teachers 100 Best Books for Children and Tikki Tikki Tembo was ranked 53rd. This is a family favorite because it’s fun to read out loud. First sons are given great LONG names (Tiki Tiki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo) because they are so honored and beloved. The second son? Chang. If the parental love was distributed in an amount equal to letters in the name Tiki Tiki Tembo would receive 90% of Mom’s affection. Which, if you’ve read the book, he pretty much does.

One blogger openly discussed her parental preference and then got viciously blasted for what science tells us is a pretty universal thing. In fact what she is really saying is not so much that she LOVES one child more but that her son is easier for her to parent while her daughter is more challenging. And while I would question the wisdom of putting this information on the INTERNET, doesn’t every parent of 2+ kids feel that way?

I would happily take a bullet for either of my children but one is definitely more challenging than the other and frankly it’s EXHAUSTING. Ironically the challenging kid is the one who is clearly most like me: feisty and determined. So I find myself getting frustrated by him for exactly the same reasons that I probably frustrate those around me. Ouch.

It’s a really unsettling article. It forces you to consider the deeply hidden and surprisingly painful kernel of truth that yes, sibling favoritism exists. If you aren’t willing to face your own truth, consider the your friends who are parents of siblings. Which of their kids is the favorite? I mentally went through a list of friends and had no trouble figuring out who was the favorite. I did, however, hold off on asking them who was their favorite. Mostly because I don’t like to get hit.

The advice is to not worry about favoritism because we’re hard-wired to do it and it’s simply unavoidable. In fact really all you CAN do about it is to pretend that you DON’T have a favorite. “Of course I love you both equally!” Which isn’t easy to do.
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Siblings are devilishly clever, much smarter than psychologists. They are constantly trying to fine-tune their niche to squeeze the maximum benefits out of their parents.
– Frank Sulloway – Family Expert of University of California, Berkeley
[/pullquote]Luckily my boys aren’t yet old enough to start peppering me with the inevitable Sophie’s Choice questions that I know will come. “If our house was on fire, which one of us would you rescue first?”

“Both. I would lift you up simultaneously and carry you both out of the fire at the same time. In fact that is why I’ve been exercising this summer. You’re getting bigger and Mommy needs to be really strong to carry you both of you out of the fire. So quit complaining when I drag you to the crappy gym play area. Your lives will probably depend on it someday.”

Statue of two red figures with a heartIn a way I wish I had never read it. Because it forced me to secretly acknowledge that I have a favorite. And I’ve been feeling really guilty about it ever since.

I guess all I can do is to, in my silent heart, tell my less-favored child is that I love him completely and desperately. That my love for him fills me so full that sometimes I’m sure I it will burst out and run free because it is too big to be contained in my small body. And that I promise to be ever vigilant so that he never really knows.

{Photo Credit: Nancy Regan}

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