Living

The surprising reason why parents may prefer one child to the other…

I come from a family of four children, two girls and two boys. My parents, who have been married for nearly four decades, are loving, attentive and hyper-involved in all our lives. I’ve never doubted their affection for me—it borders on obsession, frankly—or their authentic investment in my happiness.

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I come from a family of four children, two girls and two boys. My parents, who have been married for nearly four decades, are loving, attentive and hyper-involved in all our lives. I’ve never doubted their affection for me—it borders on obsession, frankly—or their authentic investment in my happiness. 

One thing I do suspect about these two crafty nurturers, however, is that among my siblings they have a favourite (don’t even try to deny it, mother). I won’t ‘out’ the sibling in question for fear of reprisals, but I can assure you that over the course of his or her lifetime this individual has received more money, more unconditional emotional support (even when he’s being a jerk), and over-the-top birthday and Christmas surprises than I or my other siblings. 

The reason I can tell you this with a strong degree of certainty is because like most children in larger families I’ve been keeping score.  

I’ll admit that this individual is a pretty special person—I’m pretty fond of this sibling too—but I won’t say that over the years his or her status as ‘golden child’ hasn’t made me a little green with envy. Occasionally, it has caused me to wonder what exactly this kid’s got on my siblings and I in the competition for parental adoration that goes on in every household on the planet. 

Fortunately, Time magazine has been wondering the same thing. 

A new article (see a web excerpt here) in the newsweekly takes on the phenomenon of favouritism and offers a few interesting observations on the subject as well as explanations for why parents may slightly prefer one child to the other.   

For example, one study into the mysteries of parental affection revealed that fathers often prefer the youngest girl in a family (Cool. That’s me!) while mothers take a shine to the oldest boy (yes, the news is grim: your mother really is a sexist). 

The Time piece—you have to purchase it or subscribe to read the whole thing online—also implies that those preferences are “hardwired into our species”. Basically, your mother is so sweet on your brother because he’s probably the family’s best bet for being reproductively successful (ouch). 

So next time you feel threatened by a sibling’s beloved status don’t blame your mother or the sibling, blame evolution.