Are You Playing Favorites?

Posted on December 5th, 2011, 0 Comments

The countdown of days left for holiday shopping has begun. I, however, have typically paid more attention to another kind of count at this time of year. Not wanting to buy a lopsided number of presents, I’ve focused on the gifts per child count. And surely, some of my concern about present parity had to do with a worry about appearing to play favorites.

Jeffery Kluger, author of the new book Sibling Effect, claims that 99% of parents have favorites and that the other 1% is lying. But I have a hunch that in a good number of these cases something else might be going on.

Do you worry about playing favorites? How about your parents – did they have a favorite child?

How we were parented matters because we bring our growing-up experiences with us when we raise our own kids. If we think our parents got something wrong, we’re determined for it to be different for our kids.

My mother ran our household, and she ran a tight ship. As different as my siblings and I were, my mom believed “fair” meant treating all of us the same – the same rules, expectations, punishments, and rewards.

As you’ve undoubtedly guessed, I was determined to do it differently. I strived to take my kids’ individuality into account and to give each of them what they needed.

Both my children were equal parts bright, curious, and independent. Both had potential to be difficult. But their needs were definitely different. And although I can honestly say that I did not have a favorite, truth be told, one of my children was much easier for me to parent than the other.

My daughter’s ability and curiosity were expressed through academics, dance, and art – even at a very young age. And she seemed to have been born with more than her fair share of delayed gratification and self-regulation. Thus, before she was four, she’d convinced me that the best thing I could do for her was to stay connected to her while staying out of her way as much as possible. Although doing both those things simultaneously could have been hard to do, it wasn’t difficult for me because I had a good model for doing it: I could pretty much raise her the way I wished that I’d been raised.

My son, on the other hand, was impulsive and loved the adrenaline rush that comes from trying new things and taking risks. I used to joke that he must have been hiding when delayed gratification was handed out. Although it took me a bit longer to figure out his needs, by the time he was seven he’d convinced me that the best thing I could do for him was to stay connected to him while staying in his way as much as possible. I didn’t have a good model for doing this, and my son proved to be much more challenging for me to raise than my daughter.

In fact, in almost every family there is one child who is more challenging to raise than the rest – especially during the teen years. When this happens, it is not about favoritism. And it’s usually not about the parent or the teen. It’s about the goodness of fit: how well a particular parenting style meets the needs of a particular teen.

The next posting will explore what parents of teens need to know about goodness of fit.

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