Should Parents Have Favorites?

Joella Ranaivoson

August 11, 2021

It's a mysterious bond between parent and child. This bond is one of the fiercest on earth, and it is true and it is mysterious. It is a deep loving bond, yet sometimes there is also tension or even disconnection.

Unique people

Each person is a unique soul, made in secret and known by God since before the beginning of time (Psalm 139:13-16). And when you are a parent, you are given the tender and enormous gift and formidable responsibility of nurturing and helping that person come into the fullness of who God has made them to be.

You as a parent, are also a unique soul. You are equally made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), with your own purpose and path here on earth. And part of your role is parenting the children you've been given.

Recognizing each other

When you have children, sometimes your children's personalities will resonate with your own. Beyond your visceral love and unbreakable commitment to care for them, your energies match each other well. But you may find yourself sometimes at a loss for understanding your child—how they think, the way they are. It’s a mystery to you and it’s harder to connect with them.

If you have more than one child, you may resonate more with one child than another, more readily connecting with one than another. It’s not a question of love, so don’t beat yourself up about that. It’s more a matter of identification or harmonious temperament. You have an easier resonance or connection.

Parents often say they love all their children equally, though love is particular and different. Yet to children who viscerally perceive their own and their siblings’ relationships to their parents, this well-intended phrase is not that helpful. It’s usually brought up to justify differences. Parents are people, along with being parents. Our love is different towards different people, and it’s ok if that’s how it is with our children, too. You connect more readily to certain people than others, and that often does extend to your own children. It may be easier to connect with children who respect and obey us compared to those who are strong-willed or defiant. Sometimes certain relationships are just easier than others. It’s okay. It’s better to accept differences rather than resist, deny, or pretend it’s not happening.

Acknowledge to yourself

Acknowledge to yourself that you feel more connected or closer to one child than another and withhold judgment of yourself. You are not a bad parent for it. You’re just a human. Then, try to identify and recognize the ways in which you feel closer to one child than another—again, without judgment. Just noting to yourself: Is it that our personalities match? Our interests and values align more easily? Our senses of humor and outlook on life are more similar?

Interacting with your children

Now, what does that difference mean for your interaction with all your children?

Remember that children can sense and feel everything. Even if they can’t put into words what’s going on, they know you may be more connected to one child than another. Your children can feel it, particularly the one to whom you feel less connected. They feel it when they’re young and they carry it on into adulthood.

For a child, this may translate as feeling less loved, whether or not that’s the case, because children are very sensitive to their parents’ affections toward them. So, demonstrate your love in tangible ways. Be intentional about investing in each child.

Engaging your child

If you feel less connected to one child, you will need to practice more effort in connecting. How can you pour into this child who is likely very aware you are more connected to their sibling than to them?

How can you express and enact your love for them so they can be confident your easier connection to their sibling does not then translate to less love for them?

Study your child, just like you’ve been doing since they were born or came into your life. You learned their different cries, you could tell when they were happy or distressed, you can read their body language. Now, lean again into what makes this child tick.

  • What interests them? How can you facilitate that for them? Is there a way you can join in?
  • What is their emotional landscape like? How are they taking in information and stimulus, and how is that different from the way you do?
  • How can you show special attention to this child alone and apart from their siblings? How can you intentionally cultivate your connection to this child?

It is likely easier to spend time with or connect with the child you’re closer to. It will take more effort to connect or experience a similar level of closeness with the child with whom you feel less close. And that is okay. Instead of dwelling on the disconnect, explore how you can create positive connections.

[Parents], do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesian 6:4).

Each person is unique, each situation is different. You as the parent are wise to a child's ways more deeply than any other human on the planet. Commit your relationship to God and rely on the wisdom and strength God provides for restoring strained relationships. Trust your bond with your child, even if your bond feels distant or less connected. Trust the bond will hold, that it can be cultivated, and that you can grow in closeness. It does not have to look or feel the same as your connection to your other children. Let your relationship with each child be its own thing. Trust that you’ve been called to be their parent on purpose. You can help them grow in a way that they need. They have things to teach you, too, including how to enact and practice that love between you.

About the author — Joella Ranaivoson

Joella is an artist using words in writing, songs, and acting to convey truths about being human. Storytelling is the joy. Everything feeds everything, so take it all in and let it feed your creativity.

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