Ask the Moms, part 16 – Playing favorites

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Categories Ask the Moms, Mommy Issues

“Ah, clearly a Mama’s boy.”

“Which one is the better baby?”

“Which one is the evil twin?”

Yes, the HDYDI moms have heard them all. OK, so maybe the last one is sort of a joke, but you stop finding it funny after a while. Fair or not, we’ve probably all had people suggest that we have a “favorite” child. Some people say it in an accusatory way, as though they have just seen us mistreat one child while lavishing attention on the other. Some say it as though it’s a totally normal thing, that you would prefer one over the other. And some of us have heard the nagging voice in our own heads. Am I treating them equally? Did A get more kisses than B today? As if it wasn’t bad enough for family, friends, and strangers on the street to question our love for our kids, we question our own parenting sometimes, too.

Equal does not mean the same

Whether your kids are identical down to the very last freckle, or boy/girl twins who look like night and day, they are still two different people. While we sometimes marvel at their similarities, they have different personalities, different styles, and different needs at different times. How many of us were filled with maternal angst when our babies were seven weeks old, and one was colicky? Am I a bad mom for being frustrated with the fussy baby? Will the non-fussy baby feel neglected because the other is taking so much of my energy?

Remember that you’re human, and while you love your kids, that doesn’t mean your relationship is going to be easy. I remember worrying, around the 2-4 month time, that my husband didn’t especially like our son, or that he favored our daughter. He definitely had a dreamy “daddy’s little girl” thing going on from before we were even pregnant, and at the time, our daughter was definitely the “easier” baby. Daniel was fussy, difficult to soothe, spitting up constantly… in truth, not always the most fun to be around. I can’t lie. I was worried. Worried about being frustrated with him, worried that he wouldn’t be as well loved. You know what? He was a newborn. He got through the super fussy stage, and became the smiley-est boy you’ve ever seen. And Rebecca also goes through her screamy times, and has a gift for becoming positively inarticulate with rage (which is sometimes funny to see in a little 16-pound 10-month-old).

I realized that my kids can do complete switches on me, and have continued to do so. As soon as I start to generalize, “oh, he’s the fussier one,” or “she’s the better sleeper,” they go and swap on me just to prove me wrong. What is probably most important to realize is something that several of us have been told and believe completely: your kids will need different things at different times, and if you respect that, it will all even out at the end. LauraC put it well: you aren’t going to make the happy child any happier. Meaning, if one is totally content to play independently while the other is feeling clingy, go with it. That day’s independent child is already happy, you don’t need to further intervene. Take care of the one that needs you, and don’t worry.

On matters other than attention, it can be hard to avoid the tit-for-tat equality. I know that, when I post pictures of my kids on my blog, I do make an effort to post an equal number of each child when I can. Is that entirely necessary? No, probably not. Maybe on one day I’ll write about something Rebecca is doing, and another day Daniel will do something blog-worthy, so it’s not a big deal. But is it that much effort to post another picture? No, and it satisfies my anal-retentive need for symmetry, so I just do it, no harm, no foul. It’s a slightly more slippery slope when it comes to… stuff. And everyone comes down on different sides of the issue. Some always make sure to buy a toy for each child if that’s what they’re shopping for. Some feel it’s important to teach the lesson that, just because your brother has something, doesn’t mean you automatically get something, too. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a clear right or wrong way to do things here. Either one can be taken to extremes. Just because one has a blue ball doesn’t mean the other must also have a blue ball. If your toddlers have completely different interests, you don’t have to buy a truck for both, when really only one likes trucks. If you’re just crazy about baby girl clothing, you don’t have to buy a new outfit for your son every time you get a dress for your daughter. Your nine-month-old is not going to notice, or care, that his sister’s dresser is more full than his. They aren’t going to know or care that you spent $30 on something for one, but only $10 on the other. Are they happy, loved, clothed, and fed? Great.

Perception vs. Reality

Try though you will, you will not be able to satisfy the public in your treatment of your children. If one is feeling clingy while the other is feeling bold and independent, people will suggest that you love the clingy one more and ignore the independent one. (Which will then switch the following day, but they don’t know that.) If you dress them exactly the same, feed them the same snack, and give them the same blanket, you’ll be criticized for not treating them like individuals. You can’t win in the eyes of people who don’t know you, but are quick to judge you. You can’t change other people, you can only change your confidence and perception. (Yes, we’re getting a little Oprah-esque here, forgive me.) Trite? Perhaps. True? Absolutely.

The most important thing is to have the confidence that you love both/all of your kids more than anything else, even if you might “like” their behaviors to greater or lesser degrees on a given day. If you’re truly concerned that you, consciously or unconsciously, are giving preferential treatment to one, or are quicker to anger with another, then it’s worth becoming aware of and working on. As I said, your kids are different, so your relationship with each of them is going to be different. Some children require more patience, some require more energy. As a parent, you strive to meet each of your child’s needs, and that’s the best that you can do.

Once you know you’re doing your best, then you have the question of how to deal with others. As with anything, I say “pick your battles.” If you notice your family and close friends perpetuating preferential treatment, it’s probably worth confronting the issue directly and nipping it in the bud. Sit down and have a heart-to-heart if you want, or whatever method is going to work best with your family dynamics. Among the people with whom your kids spend a lot of time, you want to make things right.

With the acquaintances or strangers on the street, it’s up to you and how you prefer to deal with those things. If you want to take on the world, go for it. Have some good responses in your back pocket for when people say stupid things. Heck, print handouts if you want. But know that there will always be someone else who will come up and ask you which twin is the “better” one. And fighting that battle every day can be exhausting. Most of the time, I prefer to deal with strangers using vague responses and humor. As for the “better” question, I usually just give a half-chuckle, say “depends on the hour,” and keep walking. Could I stop and tell the person that’s a totally crappy question to ask, and lecture her about how my children are different individuals? Sure. But then I’d spend a large portion of my day being angry, and I only have so much energy. After all, I have these two delightful individuals to take care of.

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4 thoughts on “Ask the Moms, part 16 – Playing favorites”

  1. Such a well written post! My husband is a twin and his parents didn’t tell them who was older until they were 18 years old. They wanted to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy of who was “oldest” and who would end up being the “middle child.”

    I honestly think it was a great idea! Once they did find out who was older, it didn’t even matter. They were already shaped as individuals & the younger one didn’t have to hear about “middle child syndrome” from relatives their whole life. It was a great solution. :)


  2. What a thoughtful post. I agree with so many of the things you expressed. I think about this a lot too. When S&J were younger, I was always in fairness mode — if I did something with/for/to one, I had to do the same with the other. Now that still happens to some extent, but I also recognize that I need to respond to their personalities, just as I would any siblings, any people.

    A couple of months ago someone started posting comments on my blog about how I favored one of my kids. It hurt me a lot because I’m so sensitive to this issue. But I avoided confronting them and they eventually went away. I haven’t had strangers ask about the “better” one (maybe it helps to have b/g twins so people immediately see their differences?), but people do ask a lot about personality differences or try to pigeon hole them.

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