When Parents Play Favorites

Long-Term Effects of Favoritism The impact, good and bad, may run deeper than you think.

Do you openly show favoritism to one of your children? Is your bond stronger with a certain child than another? Certainly, the less-favored child can suffer from your alliances, but you may be surprised to learn that playing favorites has a negative effect on all children in the home, including the "star" child.

It is normal for parents to sometimes display partiality for their own children over other people's children; but when parents show favoritism toward one of their own children over another of its siblings, it causes tremendous conflict between those siblings - such that it destroys their relationships even into adulthood - and often this favoritism is so strong that it is passed down throughout the family line, even to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren along with the hurt and resentment that goes with it.

This can have disastrous results and only brings about bitterness and anger. The antagonism, tension and hostility existing among brothers and sisters today is derived mainly from parents favoring one sibling over another.

Our relationships with our siblings are often the longest relationships in our lives - and often the most difficult. Sibling rivalry can be one of the most challenging sources of turmoil families face. Sibling conflicts can begin even before a sibling is born. Many parents develop expectations for their children in order to compensate for their own inadequacies, and their children often try to fulfill these unrealistic expectations because they are afraid of failing and losing their parents' love.

Parents tend to react a certain way because of who their child resembles. If one child resembles one particular parent in looks or personality, that parent may feel closer to the child. But if a child resembles other family members, the parent may instinctively treat them different. A parent may be drawn to one of their children more if the parent feels that the child brings out good qualities in them as a person. If that child encourages the parent to make positive changes in their life, the parents may also feel like they have an ally in that child.

When parents focus more love and attention on one child, all the children begin to feel that their parents' behavior is unfair and unpredictable, which creates resentment and uncertainty. It also affects sibling relationships, leading to higher levels of anger and aggressiveness. The less-favored child carries around feelings of not being good enough, wondering, "What am I doing wrong?" This leads to low self-esteem, anger and acting out for attention, even negative attention. The favored child will begin to feel his/her sibling's resentment, and may even begin to hate being treated as the special child.

Effects of parental favoritism, left unchecked, can be long lasting. A study found siblings who sensed that their mom consistently favored or rejected one child over another were more likely to exhibit depression in middle age. The study also revealed that these possible outcomes can affect both the favored and unfavored child.

It does not matter whether you are the chosen child or not, the perception of unequal treatment has damaging effects for all siblings.The less favored kids may have ill will toward their mother or preferred sibling, and being the favored child brings resentment from one's siblings and the added weight of greater parental expectations.

Long-term effects of being the favored child are not all negative. In fact, there aresome advantages – including a bolstered self-esteem.The favorite child often grows up feeling confident and powerful with an attitude of 'I can get things done'.On the flip side, in the long-term, favorite children may struggle with intimate relationships when they find that no one can possibly love them as much as the parent who favored them. They are more likely to be depressed because they spent so much of their lives trying to court parental favor that they may not have developed their own personality.

Likewise, the overlooked child, who didn't have to do the 'pleasing dance,' may have been freeto experience the things he or she wanted to experience and to be the person he or she wanted to be. On the other end of the extreme is the unfavored child, who is often on the receiving end of the parent's anger.

The unfavored child perhaps stands to suffer the most – even long after he or she has left home whether it is through depression, weakened self-esteem or a chronic need to feel special. Moreover, in many cases, sibling relationships are strained as resentment from favoritism breeds.

Studies of sibling relationships shows all too well the devastating effects that can result from sibling relationships gone wrong particularly due to parental favoritism.

When they are young, children have to live in the same household. However, when they have grown and left the house, you will see a lot of instances where siblings avoid each other to the point where they haven't talked in five years.The relationship can be that strained. And when parents get older, sibling rivalries don't necessarily end. They often rear their ugly heads again."


Firas Taleb

Edited & Translated by: Lama Al-Hassanieh