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Do Parents Have a Favorite Child? (Yours Did.)

Three happy kids, two brothers and little sister, having healthy

It is a universally acknowledged truth that parents aren’t supposed to have a favorite child. They are supposed to dole out unconditional, unwavering doses of love in identical portions and keep personal preferences out of it. It is a long-standing cultural perception that impartiality is the default setting for most parents – but is this possible? Are parents, who are mere mortals, capable of loving objectively?

The answer is complicated, steeped in generations of family dynamics, and varies wildly depending on perspective.

I interviewed dozens of parents, asking them if they had a favorite child, and I learned there are a plethora of facets to this issue. Many parents felt an affinity for the child they had the most in common with, or they enjoyed certain activities with one child more than another. Many had a preferred age, like toddlerhood or preteens, and relished time within those parameters. Some identified with the child with corresponding birth-order or took up for the underdog. Other parents said their affection was largely based on need, thus proving the squeaky wheel theory. Several said they gravitated toward the child who exhibited good behavior and respect. Some joked they liked the kid who slept most, and a handful of parents private messaged me and confessed they simply enjoyed one child’s personality more than the rest.

As diverse as the responses were – and the storied reasons behind them – the underlying consensus was that love and favoritism are separate entities. Parents maintained, across the board, that the love they felt for their children transcended any preferential treatment or inequities, and they insisted that while they may spend more time with one child, the distinction was quantitative, not qualitative. Even the parents who fessed up to…

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