Tag Archives: Siblings

Kids Lose When Parents Play Favorites

Favoritism exists throughout the animal kingdom.  Most species nurture the strongest of their offspring, which have the most promise of propagating their genetics into the future.  The wussy and wimpy ones, on the other hand, usually get eaten.  So when it comes to humans, it makes sense biologically that parents play favorites amongst their children.

Parents are drawn to kids who are more pleasant and affectionate, and less aggressive and deviant. For example, let’s say you have twin babies. One screams 24/7 and the other coos sweetly in your arms.  Well guess what? The screaming one is toast.

Parents also tend to feel closer to children of the same gender and personality type, and favor their biological kids over stepchildren.  In addition, parents usually have a soft spot for their first- and lastborn (at some point, the first- and lastborn have their parents all to themselves).  Generally speaking, it’s the firstborns who get all the perks due to the emotional and physical investment that goes into having the first baby.

Favoritism manifests itself in how much time, affection, privilege, or discipline you give one child compared to another.  The problem is that kids who are blatantly disfavored by their parents experience terrible outcomes across the board: more depression, greater aggressiveness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic performance.  On the opposite side of the coin, children who are favored tend to develop a sense of arrogance and entitlement, which makes them terribly disliked by their siblings and totally unprepared for the real world.

So, how can a parent avoid showing favoritism?

1. When one kid is looking for a leg up, pick up everybody’s leg.

The irony is that every kid wants to feel like they’re different and special in their own way.  Your job is to do that without making them compete with each other.  When one of your kids asks, “Am I the best swimmer in the family?,” respond by saying, “I think you’re the best swimmer, and George is the best baseball player, and Mary is the best painter,” etc.  That way, each of your children has the mentality that he or she is the best, but so are their siblings.  There’s no favoritism shown because everybody’s the best at something.  Try to divvy out your love and affection equally, but continue highlighting each child’s uniqueness.

2. It’s not personal – it’s situational.

  • If you have a new baby at home, explain to your older child, “Your brother is a newborn. He can’t roll over or even scratch his butt – he can’t do anything.  So for a while, it’s going to look like we’re paying more attention to him, but you can scratch your butt and he can’t.”  Your older child will think this is hilarious, and they’ll get the picture (and wait for the day that their brother’s hand reaches behind his back…)
  • If one of your children is physically ill or disabled, inevitably there is going to be unequal treatment.  Make it clear to your other kids that you are not choosing the disabled child over them, but that their sibling’s condition simply requires more attention.  Reassure your other kids that it’s not personal – it’s just situational.

Parents Playing Financial Favorites

“It’s not fair!”

A lot of siblings are treated differently by their parents, and the reason is simple: people are human. They say and do stupid things from time to time because they’re not perfect little computers (even perfect little computers crash and get viruses). 

Now, I’m sure when your kids ask you, “Who do you love more?,” you just look perplexed and say that you love them in different ways.  You tell them, “How can I love one more,” and then go through the litany of “I love your kindness” or “I like that you play soccer, but I also like that she plays basketball,” etc.  You try to say that love is not quantifiable and that you love them for all the unique things they each are.

But in real life, it doesn’t work out that way.  Parents often either show more attention to the kid who is easier to get along with, or they end up giving more attention to the kid who’s a pain in the butt because they’re trying to straighten them out.  That happens a lot.  At birth, some little babies are cuddly and some are colicky.  You’re going to feel a little more relaxed and bonded to the kid who is cuddly.

There are so many subtle things that influence parents, especially when giving money to their kids.  Financial favoritism causes a lot of family discord.   And if there are secrets involved, things can explode. 

There have been so many times I’ve had a competent, confident, healthy individual call into the show who is doing well in life but is really upset because time, effort, and money are being given to their loser sibling.  And I’ve had to explain time and again the sad reality: “You?  They’re just grateful you’re doing fine.  They don’t have to worry about you.  They’re worried about the other one, and that’s why they keep throwing fuel into the fire – to try and get the other one straightened out so they can be like you.” It’s really difficult to work hard your whole life to achieve a good lifestyle to find out that your irresponsible sibling is getting supported all the way along.  It seems unfair. Your parents are constantly throwing good money at the bad kid, trying to fix his or her ways, and their handouts only create dependency.  Why shouldn’t the ne’er-do-well have to go out and make it work on his or her own? 

You’ve heard me so many times (I hope) on the program saying to parents, “Let them go.  What’s going to happen?  They’ll have to figure it out.”  And then they respond back, “But they’ll hit bottom!  They’ll be miserable!  They might live on the street!  They might live in their car!  They might live with their friends!  They might shack up!  They might…” 

But do you know what?  They will work it out.  They’ll figure it out if you’re out of the equation.

Now, of course, parents can do whatever they darn well want to do with their money -they can give it away, they can spend it…whatever.  But you parents ought to remember that when you show favoritism after death with money, you’re going to leave behind you a big problem in the family.  The kidlets are not going to get along.  They’re going to be angry with each other.  So it’s good, before death, to sit down with your kids and clarify what your intentions are and why.  You need to talk it out because if there’s a sibling who is reasonably irresponsible, the good kids are really going to be ticked off that they have to share equally with somebody who they feel hasn’t earned that position.

It’s natural to want to fix things for your kids.  Nevertheless, you should carefully consider how your decisions will impact the relationship you have with each different child and the relationships they have with each other.  It can really put a bomb in the family.

My advice is this: die poor.  Do it like the pharaohs and bury it all with you.  That way nobody can fight over it because it’s all six feet under with you. 

…But even then somebody will dig it up.  You know that, right?