Monday, September 26, 2011

Who Do You Love More?

Photo-Illustration by Andrew Eccles for TIME
I've written previously about my difficulty bonding with my daughter when our twins were first born and at the time I struggled with feeling as though this meant I loved my son more than my daughter. Those of us who are raising siblings, or who are siblings ourselves, often fear that one day we will hear our children say the dreaded words: "mom always liked you best". 

The cover story on this week's Time Magazine is titled "Why Mom Liked You Best: The Science of Favoritism". In it, the author, Jeffrey Kluger declares that ALL parents have favorites. He goes on to declare that it's biologically wired in us to feel this way.

Lisa Belkin from the NY Times took exception to Mr. Kluger's article writing the following in today's post:
"It’s easy to take sides and announce “I love my children equally” or confess “I think I love one more.” What’s hard is accepting that relationships are fluid, determined by the ever-changing variables that make a child (and a parent) who they are at any given moment. Those ups and downs, imbalances and inequities, are not something to overcome, but rather realities to be accepted. We treat them differently because they ARE different. Navigating that reality is the key to being a parent." 
I couldn't agree more. All relationships are fluid, they change as we learn about ourselves and the people we are in relationship with. As my children have gotten older and I have gotten to know each of them better, I know that I have great love for both of them. I also know that at times I connect more easily to one over the other. To me this is the crux of the matter. It has nothing to do with loving one more than the other, or one being my favorite, it's just that children (like anyone you meet) have distinct personalities and sometimes that personality meshes easily with yours and other times it doesn't. 

There seems to me to be nothing
as complicated as the sibling relationship
Even though I don't have the same disconnect from my daughter as I did when she was first born, I do have many more difficulties with her than with my son all of which I worry about and write about often. She pushes my buttons in a way that causes me to lose my temper with her often. Our son, on the other hand has a way of speaking or looking at me that makes me want to rush to take care of him. It drives me insane that I have these disparate reactions to both of them. But never did it hit home as hard how much my reactions affect them than one morning when my daughter was making me particularly crazy in the car and as I got them out of their car seats she wailed at me, "Why do you talk nicer to him than to me?"

I just about died of shame. 

I do believe there are parents who absolutely have favorites and don't do much to hide it. I do believe that there are parents who unconsciously prefer one child over another or think their preference isn't apparent to anyone but them. I believe these scenarios do happen in families with a certain degree of dysfunction or in families where the parents are less conscious of their own psychological motivation for playing favorites. I do think that most parents have moments (sometimes long moments) where they get along better with one child than the other, but they are aware that it's happening and do their best to balance their affection. But even in the worst case scenarios, I think most of our behavior is psychologically motivated and can thus be changed.

5 Ways To Avoid Playing Favorites:
  • Be Aware. Being aware of your own feelings and family history is the first step to stopping any imbalance in affection. Consciously consider why you react to one child differently. Is it that one is so similar to you that you just understand him better? Does one remind you of your mother-in-law who you despise? Tune in to your own emotions and triggers - what memories does your child bring up when you're with her? Give some serious thought to your own childhood; were you the favorite? Were you not? How did that feel to you and are you repeating it or trying to fix it?
  • Don't Compare, Don't Label. It is human nature to do these two things. We naturally look at two similar things, compare and contrast them and then label them: "My son listens to me while my daughter is always throwing a tantrum; he is such a cooperative boy. She is so difficult". It is amazing how this brief thought pattern actually changes the way we respond to our children. Instead, try looking at "the difficult one" and say "my daughter is having a really hard time right now, she needs my help". That simple shift creates an entirely different reaction to a child you had previously labeled "difficult". Strangely enough, it is equally bad to be labeled with what we would consider a positive attribute. It's just as hard to live up to being "the helpful one" as it is to live down being "the moody one". Resist comparing your siblings. Avoid labeling them. No one is helpful all the time. Nor is anyone difficult all the time. 
  • Build The Bond. Even with best intentions, children may occasionally feel that you prefer one over the other. Encouraging a strong bond between siblings can set them up with a deep, underlying love for each other that will allow them to work through any feelings of favoritism. I've written about bond building more extensively in a post called Best Friends, Or Just Brother And Sister? 
  • One On One Time. Spending time alone with each of your children, even if it's only short intervals on a consistent basis, will go a long way to making each of them feel they have a special connection with you. It's also your best chance to get to know each of your children in a deep and intimate way. 
  • Find Common Ground. If you are aware that you find it easier to be with one child than they other, this should be your signal that it is the one you feel the disconnect from who needs more time with you. Take the time to learn about the things that child is really into. It doesn't matter if you ever really develop a love for those interests, it's the effort spent trying to get to know your child and showing that he is worth the time, that will mean so much. With persistence, your relationship with that child will begin to show signs of ease.
I am not suggesting that we love our children all the same. But I do not believe it's inevitable that we love one more than another. What is key to this distinction is to love and accept that which makes each of our children so unique. "To be loved equally is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely - for one's own special self - is to be loved as much as we need to be loved." - Siblings Without Rivalry

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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