Favouritism or Equality?
It really is impossible to treat siblings equally. Every child will have different feelings and difficulties at different points in his life. Good, sensitive parenting means giving each child what he needs. To do so a parent must assess each situation for each child.
Treating each child differently can be hard for many parents. Most of us have been brought up to believe that if we don’t give identically we are playing favourites. Consider the lengths to which one mother went: “My two boys used to watch Sesame Street together. Naturally they both wanted to sit on the same side of the couch. My solution to their seating arrangement was to put on a timer so that they switched positions every five minutes.” Now this mother recollects: “I thought they would become better friends because I was treating them the same, but they actually became more involved in who got what. The dividing of the couch becomes symbolic of their relationship. They began to fight over everything. To this day I also get a headache when I hear a kitchen timer go off.”
Parents often tell me that the concepts of equality and favouritism are even more complicated because in their heart of hearts they don’t fed the same about each child. One father explains his preferences for his older son: “We are much more alike. He is diplomatic and well liked. On the other hand, my younger son does all kinds of things I’m afraid to do. He’s funnier and more creative than I.”
Often it helps to look inward. No matter how much we might wish to erase our own past histories and preferences, we can’t. Why are our feelings stronger for one child stronger than those for the other? Were you, the firstborn, always jealous of the second child? Were you labelled the impossible brat or the brilliant saint who could do no wrong? Were you the protected baby?
How do you know if you are favouring one child over another? Take a step back and you’ll probably see that you feel passionately sympathetic for your favoured child in a sibling fight. One father explains how he was reliving the old battles of his childhood: “I so much identified with my youngest son that in the midst of their fight I would call my older son by the name of my brother, who fought with me constantly.”
Parents often overreact in helping the child they identify with the most. For instance, if you are a firstborn still fighting the fight against your younger sibling, you might be too protective of the older child. One mother reports that she was often on the side of her oldest daughter because as a child her mother had always defended the baby, not her. “I was having these intense emotions, disproportionate to the situations, feeling old., unresolved angers. My younger child’s feelings were badly hurt; she felt abandoned. She couldn’t understand why I always jumped to her sister’s defence.”
It can be helpful to remember, especially when you fed much more connected to one child, that your feelings about each of your children will constantly change and grow. The child you identify with the most today will not necessarily be the child you feel most strongly about tomorrow.