I grew up with a father who wasn’t all that interested in spending time with my brothers and me after he and my mom got divorced. We saw him, but it wasn’t on a very regular basis, even though he lived not too far away. I’m not sure my one brother would remember it the same way though, because he got invited over to my dad’s house more frequently than my other brother and me. And he got what we thought was special attention at family gatherings, not only from my dad, but also from my grandparents. He is the oldest grandchild on that side of the family, so I guess that makes sense. His birthday never got forgotten, but I don’t think my dad knew the correct date of my birthday until several years ago.
Because I grew up feeling like my dad favored one child over the others, I think I am more conscious of trying to treat my kids equally. Having said that, I will also say that it is challenging to do so because they are all different. And sometimes they get treated differently because they behave differently or make different choices, which is difficult to get them to understand. They do also need to learn that life is not always fair, so I am OK with everything not being perfectly equal and fair. Some things are easier than others to be fair about, like consequences and at what age they should be allowed to have a cell phone, an email address, and a Facebook account. Other things are not so easy.
My kids are pretty quick to point out when they think I have not been completely fair about something, as most kids would be. They don’t want to feel like they got the short end of the stick in any given situation, whether it concerns where they get to sit in the car, their bedtime, a particular consequence they or one of their siblings earned, and so on. I get that. No one wants to feel slighted. But a red flag has gone up a couple times when one of them has pointed out that he or she thinks I love them less or treat them differently in general. I take that very seriously and do my best to reassure that child how special they are to me and that I love him or her just as much as anyone else. And it makes me more conscious of how I do treat all of the kids. I also find myself explaining to whichever child that I may be treating them differently because they are behaving differently or are making different choices, and that’s something that needs to be made clear when that is actually the case.
I definitely don’t want any of my children to feel what I felt growing up, that I was somehow less worthy of a parent’s love and attention. Significantly favoring one child over another can have some pretty deep and long-lasting consequences relative to the child’s self esteem as well as his or her relationships among siblings and with the parents. It is something all parents need to keep in mind. The child who gets favored may grow up to think they can do and have anything, regardless of how they treat people or whether they have earned their privileges. Siblings can end up resenting each other as well. We need to treat our children differently enough so they feel special and unique but not different enough that one or more of them thinks they are less worthy than their sibling(s). Life is quite the balancing act in so many ways, isn’t it?
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