The Danger of Playing Favorites With Your Kids.
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
During my childhood, it was no biggie that my youngest sister – the baby – was clearly the “favorite,” the kid everyone in the family liked most. This never bothered me; I liked her best too. Not surprisingly, she gets along with everyone. Strangers meet her once and rave about her. The rest of us kids have our strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone likes us. Enough said.
But I never felt my mother favored one of us to the detriment of her other children. We competed and often fought outright for her favor. She praised and criticized us for different attributes. When she died this past spring, I wasn’t surprised that she had divided up her small pile of assets equally four ways. We all had equal rights when it came to her love.
Interestingly, a new study from research powerhouse Cornell University uncovers evidence that moms' favoritism can cause depression in her kids – not just in childhood, but in adulthood long after the nuclear family has dissolved. And it’s not the rejected kids who feel it worst – all kids in the family suffer.
“Whether mom's golden child or her black sheep, siblings who sense that their mother consistently favors or rejects one child over others are more likely to show depressive symptoms as middle-aged adults,” explains Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development and associate dean for extension and outreach in the College of Human Ecology. His Cornell survey, co-directed by Purdue sociologist Jill Suitor, appears in the Journal of Marriage and Family April 2010 issue. The study drew on interviews with 275 mothers in their 60s and 70s with at least two living adult children and also surveyed 671 offspring of the women.
"It doesn't matter whether you are the chosen child or not, the perception of unequal treatment has damaging effects for all siblings," Pillemer explains. "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."