Saturday, May 12, 2012

True or False: You have a favourite amongst your children...

Mother-in-law, who has been a veracious book reader since the depression last century has recently taken up reading magazines. I don't know why she is doing this - maybe she feels like she's read every story there ever was to write (that would not surprise me at all, she reads hundreds a year, literally). What I do know is that she has passed on some of the mags she's finished with to me.

I used to love reading magazines, I used to buy several every week when I was in my twenties. Then a combination of needing to put my money other places and simply not having time to read magazines put a stop to all of that. Over the years as I matured (ha!) I began to see magazine stories for the 'mostly-trash' they are. Basically, sensationalist stories and glamourous photos to get people to part with their money. Yep, we all know that.

Today I found myself flicking through one of the magazines where I came across an article with the title. 'All Parents Have A Favourite Child' written by Jordan Baker.

The article reported on research that had shown that most parents report having a favourite amongst their children, and when observed will, quite openly, exhibit favouritist behaviours; clapping louder for one child over others, laughing longer at their jokes and so on. The theory goes that parents favour the child who is most like them, and even more so if that child is the opposite sex to them - basically because humans are all narcissists.

Now, I've never been a believer in 'treat all my children exactly the same.' as one women I used to know rather defensively argued with me that she did. I just don't think it is possible. But as I reflected on this article I found it very difficult to identify one child amongst my four who was my overall favourite.

The article said children, particularly less favoured children, can easily identify the favoured child, and that in large groups of siblings there was often a unanimous response amongst the siblings as to the identity of the favoured child.

I decided to ask my older three (assuming I wouldn't get much sense out of the three year old) separately - and privately - if they thought their father and I had favourites and who those favourites were...

I asked Lukas (our second child, aged 10) first. He told me he though Erik (the eldest, aged 12) was my favourite and Bryn (the third child, aged 6) was his dad's favourite. Interestingly, out of our four, I'd said Erik is most like me, and Bryn is most like the Grumpy Old Man. Lukas said Erik and I had a special bond, and that he was 'just average' in the favourite stakes.

Next I asked Erik. He was adamant neither the GOM or I had favourites (favourite children often don't self-identify as favourites and he was asked by the parent most like him). I have to admit, I wonder if he isn't just savvy enough to know when he might be being set up... Good one, mate, remember that when you partner asks 'do these jeans make my bum look big?'

Finally, I asked Bryn. His answer was interesting, in that he identified Lukas as the GOM's favourite and himself as my favourite.

Apparently, none of the boys thought Ari (the three year old) was anyone's favourite. I wonder why not?

So, who would I say is my favourite? As I said, that was a very hard question to answer because for me it's just not as simple as that. They really all are my favourite, it just depends on the day and the circumstance.

Yes, I can't deny that Erik and I have a special bond. He is very much like me. He's highly strung, sensitive, somewhat socially inept (though as time passes, less so than I ever have been). We like similar things; we started our love-affair with Minecraft together. And, he is my oldest, for almost two years we spent long days together, he taught me all my first lessons in parenting.

On the other hand, Erik has also been my biggest source of concern. He was the child who was most uncontrollable and unpredictable, the one who would fall apart loudly in shopping centres, the one who stole from every place we visited, the one who lied to me the most. He was the child I smacked more than I care to recall. I didn't co-sleep with him at all. I barely wore him at all. He was the baby who had the most medicalised birth and the who I felt no deep bond with for the first nine months of his life. The baby I felt I was babysitting for someone else all that time. He is the one I have had to work the hardest to feel that deep abiding empathy with that other mothers seem to evoke so effortlessly.

Lukas, on the other hand was my golden haired boy. He was so easy going as a child - okay, other than the whole not sleeping at all until he was three bit. He was socially very confident and wouldn't cling to me at every event we showed up to. He was as straight as a ruler, he didn't steal, he didn't lie. He smiled and smiled and smiled and it only took me about 9 weeks to bond with him despite post-natal depression. I often worried that I was much closer to Luey as a child than to Erik. He was so even tempered, although feisty and stubborn, too. We co-slept and I carried him around on my back until he was almost three. He was, and still is, the most beautiful of my children with his golden hair and flawless skin (yes, I did just say that, he has classic looks - lots of people have pointed this out to me, though they needn't have bothered). He is my favourite to go out with because he appreciates just being without talking, and when he talks, he is interesting because he sees the world so differently to me and I sense a depth of thought in him which is not reflected in his social butterfly exterior. Lukas is as smart as a whip - secretly, he's my hope for post-tertiary success (either that or he'll be a loveable beach bum).

Lukas reminds me of my brother the most. Easy to talk to, but still waters run deep.

Of all my children I've probably said that Brynjar in my favourite the most. He's probably heard me say this, which might be why he believes this to be the case. He is my little buddha and I refer to him as 'my heart' because he is so gentle. As a baby, he was just joy, and light, and peace rolled into one chubby little bundle. Confident like Luey, but with all the soulfulness on Erik. People were easily beguiled by him. These days I worry that he is the least squeaky wheel and often goes unnoticed and feels it deeply. Luey felt this way when Bryn was born, but was very vocal about how we all didn't love him anymore. Bryn, on the other hand is the child who comes and leans against the Grumpy Old Man and I silently, just wanting to draw some warmth from us - I often feel because he feels he doesn't quite get enough throughout the day. I have to make an effort to give him my full attention because he doesn't demand it the way the others do. Bryn was the child who taught me that I wasn't the reason my first two children were full on fireballs of investigation and destruction (seriously, I think their motto was, 'seek and destroy'!). Bryn was calm and centred and reasonable. I could actually ask him not to do something, explain why I didn't want him to do it, and he would listen and co-operate! It was because of Bryn we even considered having Ari.

Ari is my bonus child. He was the children I hadn't considered having. I knew I would have three, I'd dreamt about them and even their age gaps, but I had never dreamt about Ari. It wasn't until after Bryn was born that I realised there was a fourth child I had to have. Ari was that child. Ari was the first child I actually enjoyed co-sleeping with. He was the child I didn't swaddle and place an arms length away in bed. He was the child born at home. The baby I bonded with immediately - the way I had heard other mothers did. He was tiny, and precious and incredibly alert. I remember being worried when he was little that he might be my favourite and that the other three might feel it (apparently not!). Like Erik, Ari gets a lot of time alone with the Grumpy Old Man and I because the other three are at school all day long during the week. His little personality is still developing so having conversations with him about stuff he's interested in still not really happening. Persoanlity wise, he is very like Luey, but perhaps even more feisty, but he also has some of Bryn's ability to be reasoned with - well, sometimes. He is able to make us laugh with no effort at all.

It is incredibly hard to choose a favourite, which is why I find this article difficult to agree with. Children are highly complex creatures. Some are more like their parents in personality, some more so in looks, some share a sense of humour or a common interest. A narcissist would be spinning in circles in they had enough children because sooner or later each one of their children is going to be a reflection of them. I suspect 'favouritism theories' are written by people who grew up not feeling that they were a favourite.

Oddly enough, speaking for myself as one of two children. I always felt that my brother was my mum's favourite - I've told her this, in case anyone thinks I'm having a go - and I felt that perhaps I was my dad's favourite, but only as a poor substitute for the son he had who wasn't enough like himself (dad was into all things manly (you know, cars, guns, living by your wits in the bush), my brother loved to draw and dance).

Ironically, mum and I are very close now that I'm an adult, and in many ways we are very alike. Whereas my brother and father, who never spent much time together when my brother was growing up are like different aged twins in personality and traits (and dad is still interested in all things manly and my brother is still interested in art, though philosophy has replaced dancing in adulthood).

I think perhaps these theories of favouritism tend towards oversimplification.

What do you think?


EssentiallyJess said...

I don't think I have a favourite. My eldest is from a previous relationship, and sometimes that makes it harder to bond with her than the others, but she is also the most easy going and will talk about anything, so that's a saving grace.
I definitely prefer some children on certain days, depending on their behaviour, compliance, temperament, or humour, but overall, I really feel like I love them equal amounts, but differently because they are different.

I've always been 'the fabourite' of my parents according to my sisters, but I don't think this is necessarily true. I think I just make more of an effort.

Interestingly, my mum was visiting my sister in Melbourne a few weeks ago, and Mandy was reading a magazine with this article (possibly the same one.) She brought it up and everyone said, 'well we know who your favourite child is.' out of my nephew and neice she quite obviously prefers my nephew, and even her daughter knows it. I find that quite sad.

Sif Dal said...

It is quite sad. I get having an easier child or a more familiar child but being a parent means making a greater effort to bridge any gaps between yourself and your children. Children can't (and shouldn't) have to work harder or be different to feel equal in their parents eyes.

Good Job!