You love your children equally, right? You are extremely fair in not showing favoritism – or at least you try… but in reality, it’s not possible to love each child in equal measure. Just as we love adults and all other people in varying degrees, so it is with our own children. When you are being honest with yourself, you recognize that at differing times and in differing amounts you favor one child over another.
This is fine and totally natural, even if it is not blatantly admitted. Yet, horrors should you say aloud in playgroup to another parent that one child drives you crazy and you really favor your good child – the other parents would think that you are a terrible parent for admitting the truth. You might think yourself that you are failure to the difficult child.
The favoritism subject is not often discussed or openly admitted, yet is universally felt. The reason it is not a conversation subject is because the child may overhear, which would cause real damage. In an unfair world no developing child wants to hear the truth; they are not ready for the harsh inequalities of life. These will show up soon enough – there is no need to jeopardize the safety of the parental relationship while they are still growing. So keep your thoughts to yourself, even while knowing that they are very normal.
So what happens when one child is infirmed, disabled, or has a long-term condition that requires prolonged attention that the other children do not get? This is the same issue, on a different scale, that children feel it when a new baby is introduced into the home and gets all the attention. When one child receives undue attention, the other children can’t help but resent their lack of receiving similar parental time. The prolonged sick child becomes the favorite.
It certainly can be hard to find the time to spread around to all the children when a long-term disabled child truly takes so much of the available time, but the other ignored child(ren) will have repercussions in their development, depending on the length of the situation; they are simply not old enough yet to fully understand the necessity of their being overlooked.
Jodi Picoult’s excellent book My Sister’s Keeper dealt with this subject, in addition to the larger subject of using one’s own child as body parts to save another own child. The two sisters involved were bookends to a middle child who was largely ignored in the ongoing drama. This son began to start fires in a realistic portrayal of crying out for attention.
The Wall Street Journal contained an article of a family with an asthmatic older child and the advances of a device that allows children with breathing difficulties to participate in physical activities. In looking at the picture of this family I couldn’t help but notice that the two younger children, who were not asthmatic, were unnecessarily overweight due to a similar lack of physical exercise. The access attention paid on the oldest child had definite repercussions on the younger siblings.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Attention on chronically sick, disabled, or troublesome children which causes inattention on healthy/good siblings has long-term effects on those developing personalities. Remembering that negative attention is better than no attention at all, is knowing that these children will find the attention they need somewhere. Time invested in the ‘normal’ children (and not just as designated ‘helpers’ in the situation) on a regular basis is important for their future healthy development.