Monday, December 15, 2008

Who is Your Favorite Child and Does Your Other Child Know?

Mir Kamin has an amusing post at inspired by an article at The Daily Beast. Mir's piece is called "Attention offspring: You're my favorite." In it she disagrees with what Laura Bennett says in her post called "The Dirty Little Secret of Motherhood." Bennett declares we mothers have favorite children and if we don't admit it, we're fooling ourselves.

If I had recognized Laura Bennett's name as the designer from Spring 2007 Project Runway, I would have understood immediately the personality behind the "Dirty Little Secret" piece. While she's a talented designer and I like her classic style, Laura struck me as an uptight control freak when I saw her on Project Runway. Naturally she has a favorite child because she has clear preferences in most things. I'm sure her favorite is whichever child she's deemed worthy of her genes because the child performs within the confines of what Laura believes is acceptable.

But get this, she also has a list that ranks her children. Her children vie for the top spot. She encourages sibling rivalry and believes it fosters a sense of healthy competition.
I have favorite shoes, and movies and foods, why not a favorite child?

I’m not saying if you’re not my favorite, I won’t help with your homework, the task is just more enjoyable for me with some of my children than with others.

My children know I have a favorite. They actually compete to be held in my highest esteem; in our family we call it “The List.” (LB)
Possibly it's not as bad as it sounds, but as I read Bennett's essay, I kept thinking her kids, especially the ones who rarely feel like the favorite, are going to be some messed up puppies. On the other hand, she could be on to something if she wants to raise neurotic type A personalities who see shrinks regularly to discuss how much they loathe their brothers and sisters.

I think that to let a child know he or she is not the favorite is horrible, but I don't have a favorite child. Perhaps Bennett is not practicing the kind of favoritism I've seen within families, however, the kind in which the unfavored child has no hope of ever being favored or feeling truly loved because the parent has one favorite child and for whatever reason that will always be the favorite.

Sure I can agree that children go through stages and sometimes we hate the state they're in, as Bennett asserts, but I don't think hating the sulky moods of one child causes you to move that child to the bottom of some mental list. Should it?

Still, after I heard about Bennett's piece, I called both my offspring into the room:
I asked, "Do you think I have a favorite?"

They both shook their heads "no," and looked at me puzzled. (Ages 18 and 27)

I said, "You're right! Each of you gets on my nerves in your own special way."
I have a male and a female who are 10 years apart in age and think that's why I have no sense of preferring one over the other. They're both very different and by having them so far apart it was like each child was an only child.

For me, comparing my two children for favor is more like choosing what movie should win the Oscars some years and not like pairs of shoes or colors as Bennett says. One year you may see two movies that were equally good but very different from each other: one is a comedy and the other's a drama. You love both but in different ways. The Oscar folks are required to choose the best one. Mothers are not. They can simply enjoy the show.

I believe we should love our children equally but discipline according to their temperaments. Some children need lots of structure with tight rules. Others turn out just fine with an easy hand, almost seem to be naturally obedient. Observing how differently you handle one (within the same rules) may cause another child to think you've played favorites, but if you do it properly all your children end up knowing you gave them each what each needed to become responsible adults.

Does that mean you'll never hear the words, "That's not fair!" from one of them ever again. Unlikely. But parents are like gods to children. They don't have to understand parental decisions to continue with life.

I understand what Bennett's saying when she talks about your personality clicking more with one child than the other, but I don't think a mother mistakes getting along better with one child than another as favoritism. Children are not our friends.

Also, many mothers get along very well with their daughters because they have more in common with them; however, their sons baffle them. Does this make the daughters the favorite. I don't think so. I think all it means is we have different types of relationships with different children.

Nevertheless, it's possible that a child can make us so angry due to a rap sheet of misbehavior that we turn a cold shoulder for a while. I come from a family that would say, "Yes, but you never stop loving that child. Never." To me favorite suggest you love one child more than the other. I think that's my problem with Bennett's piece. She seems to be confusing "love" with "like." I think we may like one child more than another child sometimes for various reasons, but that discrepancy should not motivate us to play favorites such as buy one child a car but the other one a bike if the gift is the reward for each accomplishing the same task well.

Defending her parenting style, Bennett says she knows a woman who was not favored by her mother and as a result was driven to succeed, I guess to prove Mommy wrong. Bennett thinks the woman's success shows that favoring one child over the other is a good parenting choice that may result in a high achiever. I wonder how much psychic pain that woman must be in and what happens when Mommy dies. Where's her motivation to succeed then?

Like I said, sick puppies.

I hope my children succeed because they are self-motivated by positive goals not by feeling that I didn't love them as much as I did someone else.

Mothers are responding to Mir's post. So, I recommend you check it out. Not only is Mir's post worth a gander, but so are the comments. Moms are really mulling over the morally problematic idea of having a favorite child.


Blue State Cowgirl said...

I've never watched Project Runway, but this woman sounds horrible. I can't imagine a better way to mess up a child then have them "compete" for the favor of being your "favorite" child.

Susan Sonnen said...

I sit here with my mouth hanging open, unable to fathom what that woman represents.