Yes, Parents Have A Favorite Child

The Taboo Carnival
Welcome to the Taboo Carnival. Our topic this summer is PLAYING FAVORITES! This post was written for inclusion in the quarterly Taboo Carnival hosted by Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama. This month our participants reflect on favoritism in relationships with children, parents, siblings, and more. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



Yes, Parents Have a Favorite Child:

The Taboo Carnival topic this month had me in a bit of a quandary. You see, I am an only child who is the mother of an only child. I truly did not have a favorite parent growing up. I gravitated towards one over the other at times but that was more of a stage of life thing. As a family we were close. There was no need for me to have a favorite parent.

Tiny is still a wee one…only 3 years old. While she certainly sees her daddy as the “fun” parent, I wouldn’t say she has a favorite parent. We each fill up her cup in different ways.

So I was kind of at a loss as to what to write about…

I really am not qualified to speak about a parent of multiple children having a “favorite” child. But since I am feeling brazen today, I’m going to go ahead and make a bold statement about it anyway.

Parents Have A Favorite Child.

Guess what? That’s totally natural. Nothing to be ashamed of or worried over. In fact, more power to you.

We all have favorites in this world. These may change throughout different stages in our lives but the fact of the matter is, human beings do tend to favor certain people, places, and things. It is human nature.

It is a shame that parents feel the need to deny that they have a favorite child. Without fail, there will be a child you connect with differently than others. Perhaps it is the child most like you. Maybe opposites attract and that is why you prefer your child who is least like you. It does not mean you love your other children less. You just connect better with one particular child. And that favorite child could very well change over time.

Having a favorite child is not the issue. It is how you treat that favorite child that becomes a potential issue.

In her article Favoritism Does Exist, Ellen Weber Libby, Ph.D. makes some rather bold assertions. Her entire article is worth reading but I wanted to provide a short except that I felt was important.

Admitting to having a favorite kid isn’t one of the biggest taboos in parenting. NOT admitting to having a favorite is! Denying what is true can be disturbing to everyone in the family, making everyone feel a little crazy and eroding healthy family relationships.

Two recently published studies, independent from one another, agree that favoritism:

• is common to families;
• can contribute to depression in both the favored and unfavored child;
• impacts all family members for life.

Why depression…
Children growing up as the golden child or the unfavored child are equally vulnerable to suffering from symptoms of depression. Longing to be the favorite child or working to maintain that status creates complicated issues for both the unfavored and favorite child. The personalities of each are likely to be marred by symptoms of depression: each child may struggle with loneliness or emotional isolation; achieving psychological independence; or having addictions that undermine the quality of their lives.

Interesting isn’t it?

The whole idea of depression stemming from favoritism baffles me a bit. Most of the population has a sibling and as such would either be the favored or unfavored child. Therefore, every last one of us with a sibling should be running around depressed. Right? Um, no.

So I am curious to hear from all of you. What are your thoughts on this topic, especially after reading the article from Ellen Webber Libby?

After I wrote the above portion of this post, I stumbled on this little nugget in the post Parents: Its Ok To Have A Favorite Child and thought it was also worth sharing as it basically reiterates something I touched on earlier:

Favoritism vs. Love
Love is a tender feeling and strong affection that is usually accompanied by loyalty and devotion. Healthy love is unconditional and lasts a lifetime, evolving as people grow and change. For instance, parents express love for their newborns by holding the baby close to their chest — an inappropriate expression of love as children enter adolescence. Loving parents embrace all of their children and are devoted to their growth, safety, health and wellbeing. In return, they only expect love.

Favoritism, however, is conditioned on children filling a need or void in their parents’ lives, or making parents feel good about themselves. The better the child makes the parent feel, the more likely the child will be favored and win the ultimate reward — confidence and power in knowing that they are the favorite child in their family.

While love lasts a lifetime, favoritism may or may not. Ideally, the status of “favorite child” rotates among children, lasting for only hours, days or months. In other families, however, one child may secure the position of favorite child for a lifetime. For instance, an only child is automatically the favorite and remains that way always.

This parent and child interaction may be unconscious or conscious. For example, when children are born with characteristics that remind a parent of loving grandparents, parents may unconsciously ascribe endearing characteristics to these children. Alternatively, many parents are conscious of preferring cooperative children to a combative sibling. Favorite child status can also be earned, as when a parent delights in a child’s achievement. Other times the status is not earned, but is an accident of birth, as when a child is favored because of sex or birth order.

Unconditional love offers children security; it does not earn them special privileges. In contrast, favoritism usually does not offer children security and commonly does earn them special privileges. In exchange for making parents feel good about themselves, favorite children are more likely to get what they want and grow up feeling entitled. Favorite children often are not held accountable for their behaviors and face minimal or inconsistent consequences. The less favoritism rotates among children in families, the more likely favorite children are to grow up feeling the benefits of confidence and the risks of believing that the rules don’t apply to them.

Here is a short list of several other insightful articles all which suggest that yes, parents play favorites and that this is normal and healthy. The issue lies in preferential treatment.

This is all very interesting to me seeing that I don’t have to worry about playing favorites as a mother. For all you parents of more than one child, do you believe that it is better to admit to having a favorite child? How do you balance having a favorite child against your other children? Do you think it does cause harm, specifically depression, in both the favored and unfavored child?

Visit Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Taboo Carnival! Enjoy the posts from this month’s Carnival participants!


  • What makes a favorite? — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders what caused her grandparents and parents to choose favorites. She also considers possible causes for her own favoritism.
  • Taking Longer to Fall in Love with My Second Baby — Dionna at Code Name: Mama fell helplessly, powerlessly in love with her first-born. Love with her second-born has not been as easy, but does that mean #1 is her favorite?
  • Mommy Dearest or Darling Daddy? — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro guest hosts about every parent having faults. Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders why she would prefer one parent over the other and whether this applies to every situation or can it vary?
  • Money and Equality: Should All Your Kids Get the Same? — At Authentic Parenting, Laura investigates whether or not we should provide exactly the same for our children financially.
  • More Than the Kid Sister — Amy of Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work always felt that she lived in the shadow of her older brother’s accomplishments, until her parents made her aware that her personality and passion have always brought them joy and pride.
  • Playing Favourites — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school looks at how her intense parenting style has created what ‘looks’ like favourites but is more causal than reality.
  • There Are No Favorites (I Hate You All The Same) — Amy at Anktangle guest hosts about it being easy to see how a cycle of conditional love can make a mother keep her children at arms reach.
  • Yes, Parents Have A Favorite Child — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her thoughts on parents having a favorite child and how this may have long term effects on both the favored and unfavored child.
  • On having two kids & not playing fair — Lauren at Hobo Mama learned from her mother that you don’t raise children based on what’s fair but on what’s right for each child.
  • My Kids Totally Play Favourites — Amber at tries hard not to play favourites with her kids – but they make no secret of which parent they prefer.
  • The Ugly Side of Favoritism — Shannon of Pineapples and Artichokes shares a guest post warning: Don’t favor one child over the other.

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  1. says

    Like you, I have one child, but I do have siblings. Still, I didn’t experience favoritism from my parents growing up, so this topic was a tough one for me, too. Thanks for sharing these resources–looks like I have some reading to do!

  2. Anonymous says

    I have 2 children. A son who is 9 and a daughter who is 4. They are almost polar opposites of each other and there are characteristics of each that I favor over the other. My son is hysterical and his sense of humor is my favorite of the two of them. My daughter is sweet and nurturing and I love her snuggles more than my sons. My son is smart and wise beyond his years while my daughter takes longer to catch on to things. Therefore I tend to favor his ability to grasp things over my daughters. They are both my favorite, but in different ways.

  3. says

    Growing up for me there was definitely favoritism in my family. My older brother was always the golden child. And I have many resentments about this to this day. When I think about my own children, at first I thought I didn’t have a favorite. But the more I think about it, my daughter was always my favorite. Being the only girl with five brothers, led tot his. Also, the fact is I never wanted a boy. I wanted a whole family of girls. I love my boys, but I always hoped for a girl. It took four tries to finally get a girl. Now I would have to say my youngest is probably my favored child. Part of it is because he is my youngest and I know there won’t be another. Another part is because he is so much younger than the others. My older children range fro 32 to 43. My little guy is only 10. In many ways he is like an only. Interesting topic. It has really got me thinking today.


  4. says

    Sorry for the previous comment, don’t know what happened. My mom has always favored my brother. It has always been more than obvious, yet she would stand high and low that she loved both her kids the same… Sad I think. If she’d acknowledged it, it would have been so much easier for everyone.
    The saddest thing is that she would like to pull this through to my relationships with my kids… she assumes I love my son more just because he’s a boy…

  5. says

    I agree that favourites rotate. Kids go through stages. Some of them are hard. When a kid is in a hard stage, it’s harder to relate to them. And so at some times I relate more easily to one child than the other – but it changes. I feel that’s normal, and reasonable. Just as sometimes I get along better with my husband than others, sometimes I get along with each of my children better than others.

  6. Angela says

    For me, I feel that my favorite child seems to rotate. All of my children are different and seek out a different type of love and approval from me and my husband. I try to meet all of their individual needs so that one does not feel loved more of less than another.
    I will say that my mom absolutely favored me. She now favors my first child and it is painfully obvious. My kids are all still young but I know that issues will arise from her blatent favoritism if things don’t change.
    Thank you for your post and all of the informative links that you provided…I think that I need to forward a few to my mama!

  7. says

    It would be easy to assume the favorite child would avoid depression, but it can definitely hit them hard. There can be a lot of guilt associated with being preferred over others, specifically if that preference isn’t actually acknowledged.

    Thank you for co-hosting this carnival with me!! 😀

  8. says

    I have 5 daughters and I can name a favorite. The name I give would change from year to year, day to day, and sometimes even minute to minute. :p

    I find that certain ages are harder… as each has passed through that pre-teen stage, I’ve had a hard time liking them terribly much some days.

    All in all, over 29 years of mothering, it blends over. I’ve had fine times and more difficult times with each of them. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I don’t think any one of them feels especially favored or disfavored.

  9. says

    I am an only child, as is my husband. We have two children 18 months apart. I don’t know that I have a favorite, because they take turns passing through a difficult stage (I call it a bad patch). At that point I want to spend more time with the “good” child. My son and I seem to have more extremes. I get angrier with him, and expect more, possibly b/c he is a bit older, perhaps I expect him to be a little more stoic because he is a boy. And we have moments where we’re the best of friends. My daughter and I have our moments both ways, but the amplitude of the waves is much smaller.

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