Picking Favorites: Fact or Fiction?

In my debut novel Wish You Were Here (Howard Books, May 2012), one of the themes I explore is the issue of favoritism. What happens when one child is given preferential treatment?

The topic of picking favorites isn’t a new one. Consider the biblical story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25). In that instance, parental favoritism tore a family apart as the father (Isaac) chose one son (Esau) and the mother (Rebekah) chose the other (Jacob).

And the October 3, 2011 issue of TIME declares this on the cover: WHY MOM LIKED YOU BEST*: The Science of Favoritism

* Of course, she would never admit it.

The bottom line of the TIME article? Parental favoritism is hardwired into all of us.

I remember back when my first three children were little. Someone asked me, “So, which child is your favorite?”

The question stunned me. How could anyone ask me such a crazy question? Declare one of my children as the favorite? Never.

And if I were asked that question today, I would insist, TIME article or no, that I do not have a favorite child.


Because picking favorites in family–at the very least–creates problems. At the most? Favoritism destroys relationships.

This thread is woven through my novel: How relationships between siblings and between parents and children are broken because one child knows that he (or she) is not the “chosen” child.

In Your Words: What do you think about families and the whole “Mom likes me best” possibility? Is it a foregone conclusion that parents have a favorite child? Have you seen the effects of picking favorites? Or have you devised a way to avoid the trap?





photo by markyjay/stockxchng.com



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  1. Jeanne
    September 27, 2011, 7:17 am   /  Reply

    Thought provoking post, Beth. I think I grew up in a family where there was some favoritism. It did (and does) affect relationships. I agree wholeheartedly with you. My husband and I seek to avoid favoritism in the raising of our children. We are learning how to value each for who they are, to discipline in the way that will have the most impact–and it’s different for each of our children, and we spend time with each child individually to get to know them for who they are. Thanks for making me think today. 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      September 27, 2011, 10:42 am   /  Reply

      Such a good point: the need to see our children as individuals and to value them for who they are.

  2. September 27, 2011, 8:08 am   /  Reply

    Sadly some parents bluntly express favorites. There are times and area where one child excels in different ways and their uniqueness can be celebrated. It’s fun to hear author friends asked which of their rapidly-growing list of written books is their favorite–and that will soon be a question addressed to you, too!

    • Beth Vogt
      September 27, 2011, 10:44 am   /  Reply

      I’ve seen the damaging effects of favoritism. And, yes, I believe each child’s talents need to be celebrated–but not in a way that puts another sibling down.
      Example: My husband and I always looked at our children’s report cards separately. Their grades were their grades–not a matter of comparison.

  3. Melissa Finnegan
    September 27, 2011, 10:25 am   /  Reply

    Thanks for bringing this up Beth. Favoritism can cause a lot of problems. Not just for the children who are not the favorite but also for the child who is. Unfortunately my parents had been under the illusion for several years that I was “the good one.” I did everything the right way compared to my older brother and younger sister. I had so much pressure put on me to maintain that position I hid my faults and my parents never knew who I really was. A month ago that all changed when I dumped everything in their lap. They still love me, but now they know I am not perfect and we all fall short. Being honest has really helped me to feel better about my relationship with my family and I am okay not being the favorite anymore.

    • Beth Vogt
      September 27, 2011, 10:46 am   /  Reply

      I appreciate your honesty–both on this blog post and in your personal life. I broached the topic of the weight of being the “chosen child” in Wish You Were Here too. Being perceived as perfect is too heavy a burden for any child to carry.

  4. September 29, 2011, 3:50 pm   /  Reply

    Great food for thought, Beth. The interesting thing about favorites is that the “favorite” rarely believes favoritism exists. However, ask that person’s siblings and they answer in a heartbeat. Parents work hard at being even-handed with praise, rebuke, treats, and punishments. Still, there’s always a favorite – especially when 3 or more children are involved.

    • Beth Vogt
      September 29, 2011, 4:13 pm   /  Reply

      So, Donna, you do believe there’s always a favorite? That it’s unavoidable?
      And you think the “favorite” isn’t aware of the favoritism?
      Hhhhmmm … mulling this over.
      I think there are specific characteristics that I appreciate about each of my children–different qualities each child has that I recognize and value. But this doesn’t equal favoritism.
      And sometimes I think the chosen child knows his (or her) position–and plays it to his (or her) advantage.

      Thoughts, anyone?

  5. Nita
    December 16, 2011, 9:23 pm   /  Reply

    Favoritism is ripping my son’s family apart. How do I, as grandma, combat it? A ‘friend’ is the instigator, she loves one of my grandchildren…the mother goes along with what she says because this individual will care for that child at a moments notice. Sometimes for weeks on end. She has absolutely no interest in the other 2 children, who feel the unfairness of it all.
    I have talked with this person, trying to explain what she is causing in this family, her response is she only loves this one child, not the others.

    With the mother favoring her, I am helpless.

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