We may try to tiptoe around it, but the subject of favouritism haunts many parents. This week, a survey of Mumsnet and Gransnet users suggested that nearly one quarter (23 per cent) of us have a favourite child, with 42 per cent of grandparents confessing that they favour one of their boobeles. Apparently, parents prefer the baby of the family, while grandparents stay loyal to their first grandchild.
But the survey also shows that parents are ashamed of these feelings, fearing that they will damage the less-favoured children. Does this imply that many of us are guilty of this misdemeanour, but not brave enough to admit it?
Several years ago, I learnt a lesson in equitable parenting from one of my daughter’s favourite story books, in which the second-born of two princesses was most out of sorts that she was always second best. A plan was hatched to share the Top Princess role, three days a week each, which worked perfectly. It reminded me of my father’s approach to parenting and grandparenting. As someone who always seeks peace and accord, he strives to be equal-handed in everything. Everyone gets a personalised mention in family speeches, with equal sharing of the Seder readings and equal cheques on birthdays and Chanukah.
My kids love to wind me up by suggesting that I favour one or the other. I deny it, of course. Although I notice that when my daughter flutters her eyelashes, I forgive her transgressions, my son’s schmaltzy Mother’s Day card has exactly the same effect.
Talking to friends revealed that everyone sensed a certain amount of favouritism in their family. The family favourites were conscious of it and enjoyed the privileges. But those who felt less loved found it a burden for life. “I always feel second best,” said one friend. “Although, objectively I understand that my sister and my mum just have more in common, it’s hard not to feel that there must be something wrong with me.”
The Torah is peppered with stories of infamous sibling rivalry. Bereshit kicks off with a healthy dose of sibling jealousy and perceived favouritism, resulting in drastic consequences as Cain kills his brother Abel.
Jacob and Esau began their squabbles while still in the womb. The rivalry persisted as their dad, Isaac, favoured Esau, the first-born, a talented hunter, while mum, Rebecca, preferred her quiet, upstanding son Jacob. Jacob resorted to bargaining and deception, convincing hungry Esau to give up his birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup and disguising himself as his brother to receive the blessing of the first-born from his poor-sighted father.
Jacob seemed to have learned nothing from his experiences, openly favouring his son Joseph, treating him to a fabulous multicoloured coat, driving the older brothers to sell their sibling. At least our kids will never go that far.
As parents, there’s plenty to learn from our ancestors. Don’t we all want to feel loved and appreciated for who we are?
However challenging it sometimes feels, unconditional love is the answer, and absolutely no favouritism. I’m redoubling my efforts to follow my father’s even-handed example.