Any self-respecting parent would baulk at the suggestion. Parents don't discriminate. It's what we've been taught and it's what we want our children to believe. I received a lot of dirty looks and some very scathing comments when I suggested that it may not be entirely true. The smartest retort came from Nisha Kataria, a mother of two, from Mumbai: "It's like asking me whether my right arm is more important or my right leg." I didn't have an answer.
Yes, you do!
The truth—according to Jeffrey Kluger, the author of The Sibling Effect, What The Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us—is that every parent has a favourite. And more often than not, the kids know who the favourite is.
The point is: parents do, in principle, love all their kids equally; subconsciously however, most parents have a favourite child (just as most kids have a favourite parent). This could be for many reasons—you're similar to this child in personality or interests, s/he was a sick child and you're overprotective, etc.
Admits Diana Bharadwaj*, a mother of twins from Ahmedabad, "I have a better relationship with my daughter Abha*. She reminds me a lot of the younger me."
So, what's the problem?
While having a favourite child is only human, the problem is that a lot of parents give out clues about who they prefer. And this can be difficult on both, the favourite and the not.
Your favourite child can feel a lot of pressure owing to your preference. Because I knew I was dad's favourite, I felt like I simply had to excel at maths. I constantly worried that if I wasn't smart like him, I'd lose my place at the top. Similarly, my sister burnt both ends of the candle trying to master languages—I suspect it had something to do with mum being a Sanskrit topper. After years of chasing impossible dreams, I became a writer and my sister became a walking-talking calculator. We wasted some precious years, but we managed.
Can you imagine what our relationships would be like if we hadn't?
Didi and I got lucky; we had a parent each, to spoil us. Not the ideal situation, but it somewhat balanced things out in the family. But what about families where both parents take a shine to one kid?
We all know of at least one set of siblings where one child clearly outshines the other/s. It could be the prettier one, the more academically accomplished one, the more talented one, or worse, a combination of all 'virtues'. And despite the parents' best efforts, many times, the gifted child is used as a yardstick for the rest.
For the less-favoured child, particularly when the other is both parents' favourite, not feeling good enough can result in deep-seated complexes. This chip on the shoulder can lead him/her to act out rebelliously, or spend life chasing an impossible ideal. Naturally, this will not only affect the relationship between siblings, most often negatively, but also between children and parents.
Dishonesty is the best policy
The good news is that you can prevent your child from falling into the insecurity trap. How? Lie!
"It's one of the only areas of parenting where we encourage dishonesty," Varkha Chulani, a clinical psychologist, says wryly. "You can't help what you feel, but what's important is what you do with the information. Living in denial of your feelings isn't the answer, neither is brushing the subject under the carpet."
'If you favour one child, hide it as best as you can' is the universal best-practice. Admits Diana, "Every time Abha fights with her brother Abhi*, my instinct is to defend her. But I remind myself that it's my job to be fair." Diana, and other parents attempting to disguise their favouritism, must be careful not to overcompensate for the guilt of having a favourite by being too lenient with the less-favoured and too strict with the favourite.
It's ironic that dishonesty is the best solution we've been able to come up with so far. But then again, no one ever claimed parenting was going to be a cakewalk!
Have a similar story? Share it with us. Your lessons might help a guilt-tripping parent navigate this emotional minefield better.