Do you have a favourite child?

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A piece on the New York Times website gave me pause today, specifically this line:

It’s impossible not to have favorites, and we do know that the perception of favoritism is one of the biggest factors in sibling rivalry…

Yes – that one sentence is a direct quote from a pediatrician and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Right here, in case you missed it: “It’s impossible not to have favorites”.

That’s right. “Impossible.” Doctor. School of Medicine. Paper of record.

Is this what passes for “science” these days? Yikes.

The piece goes on to generously offer that it’s okay to have favourites, that there’s a difference between “love” and “favoritism”, that having a favourite is normal, and it’s better to be conscious of it and watch your parenting than it is to be in denial. Just make sure to rotate your favourites.

Thanks, New York Times – that was earth-shattering. So was this tip, for parents who have do have favourites: “You’ve got to find something you appreciate about each child and build on that.”

Doesn’t that sound like advice you give to a colleague? “You have to work with Bonnie, I know she’s difficult. Just find something you like and focus on it.”

Well, readers: I’m not going to tell you it’s “okay”, or that it’s “normal”. Nope. If you have a “favourite” – the kind of “favourite” who drives your other kids to see a pediatrician for their behavioural problems – you need to do some serious work on yourself.

As a small child, I always knew who my mother’s favourite was. I remember feeling so angry and sad – angry at my sister, and sad that it wasn’t me. Even now, I have to catch myself; the scars linger. I’m sure it hurt not only me, but my sister too – she is a lovely, funny person.

As an adolescent, I remember being so disappointed to see how my grandmother treated her favourite over my father.

My mother and grandmother had some very good qualities, but in their parental favouritism, they were weak and undisciplined.

My father, though? Nope – never had a favourite.

I called one of my sisters: “Do you think Dad had a favourite?”

Sister 1: “No, I’ve never felt that way. I think he’s been closer to different children at different times, but I’ve never felt he had a favourite.”

I called another, with the same question.

Sister 2: “No, never. I’ve never felt that way.”

So I called the man himself. My father has many, many flaws, but parental favouritism is not one of them: “How did you do it?”

My dad: “Really? You really want to know?”

Yes. “I saw my parents, with their favourites, and I knew I didn’t want that – I didn’t want that for my children. So I thought about love and what that means. I’m a secular kind of guy, I’m about as far from Jesus as you can get, but I read about love in the Bible, and I thought about what that meant, and I tried very hard to live that and love each of you as best I could.”

And he did. Even today, when he praises one of my siblings or extols my sisters’ career choices, or brags about my husband (and not me), while I might feel embarrassed (or think he’s laying it on a little too thick), I don’t think he favours them. I get frustrated with him, sure – and about other things, I am often angry. There are times he’s treated us differently, too. It hasn’t been all equal – he’s rescued some of us from rough patches more than others – he’s made mistakes, for sure. But in my heart, I don’t believe he has a favourite.

So, it is possible.

Love is patient and kind; it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

And, hopefully, this will be the only time where I refute a “scientist” with the Bible.