Delusions of the “Favorite” One

A Time magazine article, entitled “Playing Favorites,” hit the stands last October. In it, author Jeffrey Kluger claimed that parents of multiple children actually DO have a favorite, but – for a complicated variety of reasons – cannot or will not admit it.

When the piece came out, I brought it with me to my brother’s home where the family gathered for Rosh Hashanah. There, in my typical firstborn fashion, I tossed the magazine on the table in the direction of my mother, and challenged her with “Well, what do you have to say? Now that we’re adults, you can tell the truth. Who’s your favorite?” She, as steadfast and unfaltering as always, replied with a smirk, “We don’t have a favorite. We love you equally, but differently.” Horse manure! I fumed, and rolled my eyes. Why can’t she just admit that my brother has always been the favorite?  After all, Mom only referred to “the anointed one” as “Precious” when we were young. And, to this day, we three sisters enjoy mocking and taunting him – in whiny, high-pitched, and nasal voices – with scrunched up faces as we squeal, “Preeeehhhhhh shissssss.” We’ve all accepted that, as the only son and as the nachas-generating rabbi, he’s the shining star of the family. So, why won’t she just come clean? Well, I could care less…I know that I’m my father’s favorite…

I put the article and the family encounter out of my mind until this past weekend when it all came full-circle and smacked ME in the face. While having brunch in a lovely Las Vegas restaurant, my son and daughter – sitting side-by-side across from me – randomly asked, “So, Mom, which one of us is your favorite?” Gulp!!!!

The article and life-lessons teach that a parent’s admission of overt favoritism can only be hurtful to the child/children who is/are not the favorite. It can promote serious sibling rivalries, lower self-esteem, manufacture numerous negative feelings (i.e. guilt, unworthiness, anger, resentment, etc.), and inflict wounds that can produce lifelong scars. Favoritism can change based on phases of life or other circumstances, but typically stand the test of time. Despite these realities, siblings regularly try to compete for their parents’ affections; each wanting to be seen as the smartest, the funniest, the most musical, the most athletic, the most artistic, the best looking, or the most loved.

Knowing and understanding all this, I wanted my answer to be more open, honest, and direct than my mother’s. But my answer had to be worded carefully, as to not undo the wonderful relationships I’ve built with each of my children. So how did I answer them? I truthfully explained that I’ve been blessed with one son and one daughter, each with radically different personalities, priorities, skills, and abilities – from each other and from me. As such, I don’t suffer from “reproductive narcissism” where I favor one child over the other because he or she is most like me. Instead, I favor, admire, and love them because they are totally unlike me.

Before I finished writing this blog entry, however, I spoke to both of my kids. I asked each of them why the topic of favoritism was even brought up. They both agreed it simply was spontaneous, with no ulterior motive. Then I asked them how they felt about the response and explanation I offered. Their individual answers made me smile…

In the conversation with my daughter:
“Honey, remember the conversation we had last week when your brother asked which one of you is my favorite?”
“Well, now that you’ve had some time to think about it, how’d my response make you feel?”
“Fine. Nothing negative. I feel loved.”
“Good. So are you my favorite?”
“So, that means ‘yes’?”
“Yes. In my own way, I’m your favorite.”

In the conversation with my son:
“Honey, remember the conversation we had last week when you asked which one of you is my favorite?”
“Well, now that you’ve had some time to think about it, how’d my response make you feel?”
“What do you mean? I’ve always known that I am the favorite.”
“Did I say anything specific that lead you to this conclusion?”
“No. Your words and explanations did not actually affirm or refute what I’ve known all along.”

Ahhh…the confidence and delusions of grandeur of a firstborn.  Maybe he’s like me after all…

6 thoughts on “Delusions of the “Favorite” One

  1. Some issues there. You clearly handled it well with your children. Let them both think that.
    I think it’s hard not to wonder who is your parents favorite and therefore many of us do. I am one of four. I was convinced my mother had 2 favorites and my father had 2 – each of us being the favorite of one of our parents.
    With my own children, I don’t want to answer the question. I see there are various ways that I prefer one and various ways I prefer the other. Maybe a copout – but it is true.


  2. Cheri,
    I admire you for your willingness to go there. Perhaps children sometimes become the fulfillment of the parents’ dream–either of the person the parent/s wanted to bring into the world, or of the person the parent/s always wanted to be. Maybe each of your children represents aspects of that idea. I think it is an angle worth exploring.


  3. OMG- so now the jig is up— Maggie was the favorite- I mean she really really was. However my sisters both knew this and we used it to get what we wanted. We would send Marilyn (now Maggie) to ask. It worked! xoxoxox


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