Playing Favorites?

Growing up (and, frankly, to this day), I always thought that my brother was my mother’s favorite. It wasn’t overt, it’s not like she gave him better desserts, or let him off the hook in terms of chores because he was a boy. Ultimately, even suspecting that Dr. Bro was her favorite didn’t hurt me or our relationship.

I never felt that my father had a favorite, although I think he enjoyed his two “daddy’s girls”. He liked to play the protector, the knight. He wanted to give Dr. Sis and I a healthy male role model to look up to — someone who was a breadwinner, who loved and respected our mother, a man who prioritized his marriage, and who pulled his weight around the house. He was tougher on my brother in terms of discipline because he wanted him to grow up to be a good man. (Well, done, Dad. I think it worked.)

I think maybe I was at times resentful of being the oldest child; I found certain things unfair. For example, I was the one testing the boundaries, and when I busted them — and boy howdy, did I know how to bust a boundary, especially as a teenager — I got well and appropriately punished. But I didn’t see the Dr. Bro get the same consequences. Which isn’t to say that he didn’t. I just didn’t see it.

And never mind Dr. Sis. Raising three children now, I get the baby-syndrome thing. When it comes to parenting Michael, I understand. I’m tired. Whatever works to get him to a) stop whining and b) go to sleep. I’m in.

I’m sure Dr. Bro and Dr. Sis have their own feelings about all of this, and I suspect that one of them is totally assured that he is the favorite child, forever and ever, amen. *ahem*

Author, Dr. Bro, Dr. Sis
I think we are 7, 5, and 3 in this picture.


On the way to school Monday morning, this story came on NPR, and the girls and I listened to it. (I am not sure how *closely* they listened to it.)

And yes, my first instinct was to stab the button to change the channel, but I overrode that instinct. I like riding in the car and talking about stuff with my children. It’s probably a captive audience type thing.

When the story was over, I asked Kate and Flora if they thought I had a favorite. They said no, they didn’t think I did. I asked if they felt I treated them differently. In the car, they said no. However, I know that Flora often feels the burden of being the oldest, and knowing that her father and I have higher expectations of her, than we do for her siblings (at this point). And I know that she struggles with that (as did I). And I also know that both girls think I spoil Michael rotten. Or at least let him get his way more often than they get their way.

They may not be wrong. (I’m tired, I said it.)


The mother of four adult children passed away. She had been a good wife and mother, and active in her church, at her job, and in her community. She was well-loved and well-regarded, and her funeral was very well attended.

Of course, all four of her children were there, all with their spouses and children. They celebrated her life. Over the course of the wake after the funeral, her oldest child finally couldn’t stand it anymore. At dinner that evening, he called all his siblings together, and said, “Now that mom’s gone, I just can’t hold it in anymore. I have to tell you all: She always told me I was her favorite.”

His brother and two sisters were shocked. “I don’t know why she would tell you that,” the older sister said. “She told me all the time that I was her favorite.”

“Yeah, well,” said the younger brother, and baby of the family. “She told me that all the time, too.”

The younger sister was nodding. “Yup. All the time. ‘Don’t tell the others,’ Mom would whisper while putting me to bed. ‘But you’re my absolute favorite.'”


Do I have a favorite? While I love all my children equally, I do sometimes think I have a favorite. Of course it varies from day to day and hour to hour. And the reason varies too. Michael has a special place in my heart for being the boy I get to raise; I love Kate’s complete enthusiasm — she may have been my favorite for a while Sunday while roller skating. She was utterly fearless, not afraid to look silly or fall down. She got out on that rink, and didn’t stop skating until we told her it was time to go. (Yesterday morning, Kate groaned, “I’m really sore.” I didn’t see her make it once around the rink without taking a spill. But that didn’t stop her.) I love Flora’s curiosity and growing sense of responsibility.

When we put the children to bed, we usually say to them, “You’re my favorite Flora.” And Kate, “You’re my favorite Kate.” Or I’ll tell Michael, “You’re my favorite little boy.” And it’s true.

They are my favorite.

M, Kate, Flora
How could I choose just one?

Who’s your favorite? I promise not to tell.

10 thoughts on “Playing Favorites?

  1. My grandfather would call his children his “favorite oldest daughter” and “favorite youngest son”. The granddaughters got it, too: I was his “favorite oldest granddaughter” and that’s how I introduced myself when I spoke at his funeral. I think that it’s entirely justifiable for parents to have preferred children, or children they feel closer to for whatever reason. That is human nature. But as long as you don’t let the kids know, and definitely don’t treat them preferentially, it’s ok. Worse: when parents play their children off of each other in a competition to be ‘the favorite’. This can continue well into adulthood. I have seen it first hand. NOT OK.

    I second Jess: I saw the picture and first thought it was Kate. But I can see the resemblance to your sister, too.

  2. With me it really iis an “in the moment” thing, while I don’t have a “favorite” I do admit to loving some children more at other times. Usually, when they are being themselves, letting their true nature out and not squabling with each other.

  3. As the youngest child in a family so blended we could have used a food processor, I know that we all had different families, not just favorites. I didn’t realize it until a few years ago, when my brother said that I got a lot of things the rest of the family didn’t get. When my older sibs were in their teens, their parents were going through nasty divorces and there were 6 kids to feed on a limited income. I was too young to care.
    When I was a teen, I was the only one at home, the only one who had gotten good grades or didn’t run away from home, for that matter. My sibs resented that I got the quiet house, the vacations that the parents could now afford, and it never occurred to me that their memories of our childhood could be so different.
    I’m not sure that was the favorite, but I was the one who got the benefits of older, financially more stable parents with more time to spend. That felt like favorites, even if it wasnt (Though to be honest, I was the perfect child. Compared to my sibs, Miley Cyrus was a lightweight )

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