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 | By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

My Daughter Thinks I Play Favorites

I love my children equally, but my daughter thinks I play favorites. How can I assure her I love her as much as her sister?

When we lived in a three-bedroom house our oldest daughter, Erin, shared a room with our youngest child, Shannon. The two middle kids, Kaiti and Ryan shared a room, too. When we bought a four-bedroom home it seemed obvious that Ryan, as the only boy, would get a room of his own. But which girls should double up and which girl should have her own room? Several friends suggested that Erin should be on her own since she was the oldest. But we decided that Kaiti would have her own room. Were we playing favorites? No, we were taking temperament and personality into account. Kaiti was independent and renewed by solitude. The other three were renewed by interactions with others. Parents make decisions based on their perceptions of what is best for each child; this means that children aren’t treated the same even when they are loved equally.  

Reciprocal socialization. Parenting isn’t a one-way street. Instead, your child’s interests and behaviors act to socialize the decisions you make as a parent. For example, if a child shows an early interest in music, then parents are likely to respond by enriching the child’s life with exposure to musical instruments and varying genres. If a sibling is drawn to the outdoors, then parents may respond by encouraging hiking, starting rock collections and exposing the child to other healthy outdoor activities. Using a cookie-cutter approach could lead to boredom, whereas a match between interests and activities leads to confidence and healthy hobbies. In fact, a childhood interest could turn into a rewarding hobby throughout a lifetime.

Keep communication open. When you make different parenting choices, explain why. Often it is a matter of a child’s developmental level. A grade-schooler cannot be allowed the same freedom as her middle-school sister when it comes to particular activities. Encourage your daughter to use “I-messages” to share her feelings when a situation occurs rather than saying, “You like her better!” If an older child says, “I feel left out when you spend so much time reading her stories,” then you can develop a specific plan for creating age-appropriate interactions with her. Listen carefully with an open mind. Perhaps the family system is a bit out of balance in regard to time and activities that focus on one child. Helping your children learn to communicate in a healthy way is a skill that will be valuable to them in future relationships, at home and on the job!

Invite the Holy Spirit to breathe wisdom into your parenting challenges. Be open to inspiration regarding your own reactions to each child. Remember to make personal choices that reflect your desire to love as Jesus taught us.