Do I Play Favorites?

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Every parent wants to envision the scales of parental justice as impartial to biases and favoritism. A mother of three takes an honest look at how she treats her kids to meet their individual needs.

He always seemed more fragile, like a delicate flower that needs constant tending. A wrong look, a perceived slight, and his petals flake off in despair. By contrast, his twin sister is a bombastic blur of glitter. Headstrong and confident, she knows what she needs to do to get the things she wants.

As a mother, my instinct is to protect the fragile one, to curl my maternal wing around him and nourish him with soothing words until he’s ready to unfurl his own wings and confidently sail away on his own. Gently, I coax him out of the nest while nurturing him; I see him needing more attention, more handling.

And he gets it.

Do I want to acknowledge that I feel more protective of my sensitive little boy, that I need to shield him a bit more while simultaneously bucking him up? No. Every parent wants to think that he or she is a vision of equity, that the scales of parental justice in the household are impartial to biases and favoritism.

That’s rarely the case. I know it when my son looks up at me with his saucer-sized, brownie-colored eyes (behind which I swear he’s constantly worrying and stewing about something) and asks me to do something with him, even when I’ve already said I had to do other chores. It’s very hard for me to refuse.

It’s not fair. Just because my daughter was born bigger, stronger, came home from the hospital earlier than her brother, and is brimming with gregariousness, she shouldn’t have to be on the short end of maternal attention. I know she needs to feel protected, to feel that wing around her as much as her brother does, yet she just doesn’t seem as needy.

Does that make her twin brother my favorite child? Not in my book, although I often feel I’m favoring him, at least when it comes to giving him exclusive mommy time. Maybe my daughter will one day take a look at how her brother is handled and argue that the treatment isn’t equal.

And she would be right.

I don’t know of any parents who treat their kids equally. They can’t. Some children need more help than others. Some show independent streaks and want space. When baby brothers and sisters come along, the babies naturally require more time and attention in the first year, cutting into an older sibling’s parental time.

I favor my oldest son for talking about the character motivation in books (like why Arthur the aardvark didn’t want his baby sister tagging along with him), for looking at maps and figuring out which U.S. state is bigger, and for the opportunity to discuss the great mysteries (like is God bigger than a movie screen or why people do mean things).

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