Favouring one child over another

The other day on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour…I should address that right there before I go any further. Yes, I am a lover of Woman’s Hour. I’m happy to admit to liking a program that clearly declares my age and sensible nature. I get great pleasure from putting it on while the children nap as I prepare the evening meal. It makes me feel strongly connected to my grandmother, as she always listened to the ‘wireless’, as she called it, while pottering about the kitchen. She would love that technological advances mean we can listen to programs whenever we want now and never miss a thing. And better yet, pause and rewind when the phone rings.

Anyway, I digress. The other day on the program they were talking about parental favouritism and if it’s really possible not to favour one child over another. I have to admit that it struck a chord with me and it’s been on my mind a lot since.

The past couple of months have been really difficult with Sun. He’s three and just started playgroup and, as I wrote about recently, his transition to being in a group environment without me around has been, err, interesting. He’s been aggressive at the playgroup and that spilled over to him beginning to be very aggressive at home. All of a sudden I went from having a happy, sweet little boy, to having to keep Shine at my side most of the time for fear he would donk her on the head with one of his toys or push her over. His aggression was also aimed at me a lot of the time too. He lashed out and tried to hit me on a number of occasions and I lost count of the times he would tell me, ‘Mummy, you’re not my friend anymore’.

I felt really guilty that until now he had always been cared for by me or Bird and that maybe that had had an impact on him being able to socialise with other children without us around to police him. I also saw reflected in his bad behaviour my own failings and it became really difficult to be around him all day every day as he battled through his angry feelings and frustration. It was so painfully sad and at the end of one particularly bad day he said to me, ‘Mummy, I’m lost’ and I later sobbed as I thought, ‘yes you are a bit lost at the moment and I’m struggling to help you find your way again’.

Brother and sister cuddle

I can hand-on-heart say that I have definitely favoured Shine the past few weeks. She is almost 9 months old and I am really enjoying spending time with her at the moment. Her reflux has finally improved and she’s much more content and smiley. She’s starting to move about and interact a lot more and is constantly babbling and trying to communicate using her voice. It’s really, really sweet.

Maybe I’m finding this all the sweeter too because I feel I know what I’m doing with a 9 month old and I feel all at sea dealing with an aggressive preschooler. I’m not sure, but they are scary, strong feelings. The sort of feelings that we are taught to be ashamed of and hide. It’s not cool to declare that you really like one of your children more than the other. No, no, no.

I’m even more acutely aware of the feelings I’ve had over the past couple of weeks because my mother didn’t heed social norms and was quite happy to tell anyone who asked that I was her favourite child. I’m sure that my brothers resented me for this and it caused all manner of problems in our family. It still does if I’m to be brutally honest.

In an effort not to allow my feelings to impact on Sun or Shine, I made sure I forced myself to spend time with Sun and read him stories and tickle him and tell him how much I love him. I say, ‘forced myself’, because it was, I’m sad to say, a bit of an effort. My instinct was to carry on cuddling Shine and distance myself from Sun. I thought about it though, and the Woman’s Hour program touched on this too, and I realised that if I acted on my instincts he would feel there was a reason that he wasn’t as lovable as his sister. That he wasn’t worth loving as much as her. At that point in the program I did have a little cry. Sometimes hearing it said out loud really hurts.

Thankfully, things at playgroup are getting better with every session and so are things at home. In fact, Sun is being (almost suspiciously) ultra loving towards me and his sister again. I can’t help but wonder if, despite my best efforts to hide my feelings, he was onto me and he sensed he needed to up his game. I hope not. I never want him to feel that he’s not as loved, or lovable, as his sister. Of course I love them both equally, passionately. It’s just sometimes I don’t like them equally.

17 responses to “Favouring one child over another

  1. I think you just go through phases with children. Sometimes you feel closer to one but then another time feel closer to another. They can really test you and it’s so hard when they’re pushing you away like that. My daughter went through that stage and it was horrid. My friend has a saying that Children need your love most when they deserve it least. It’s very very hard to show them love when they’re behaving like that. Sounds like things are getting better anyway.

  2. Your post is completely true, I love your honesty. With the little ones it’s so much easier to love the cuddles, smiles and babbles than the screaming, tantruming older one. but they just want your attention and love just as much (and go about it the wrong way). If the baby screams, you go to her, if he screams, you distance yourself. It’s a bit tricky for him to understand. I know it’s hard, but keep trying with him. You may like one more than the other some of the time, but I’m sure you love them both with all your heart

  3. I agree with Rebecca. They go through phases when you just don’t like them very much, and even if you try to show them love they push you away. I think this will happen more and more as they grow to being teenagers. It doesn’t mean you love them less, but you don’t like their company much and it hurts. It is also much easier to like the baby of the family sometimes. It’s logical. If someone is showing you love, it’s easy to show love back, and vice versa. I go through this a lot with GG because she is fiercely independent and has what you might call an attitude, whereas the Bug just loves me and trys to behave and is sweetness personified! Having said that he went through an aggressive phase when he started nursery and I just didn’t know him! He’s back though now – hopefully Sun will turn it around soon too 🙂

  4. This sort of post makes me realise why being part of the blogging community is so important. These sorts of conversation are not really the sort you can have with friends or family. But I bet you we ALL feel guilty about going through exactly the same thing as you have. I certainly have. x

  5. I agree with Rebecca and Actually Mummy. I have 2 boys only 16 months apart. They are now 3 and nearly 5 and so far I had lots of moments when I felt closer to one and then to the other. Sometimes that happens over night! 🙂 Don’t be harsh on yourself, it is not easy to tame your own feelings when you are a mummy.

  6. I’ve got twins…I find myself bouncing back and forth each day on which one I feel more connected to. It’s all normal. As parents…I think we just have to trust our gut. Thanks for sharing…

  7. Mine are grown up now. The older one (26) still has the capacity to really stress me out, and I often have to take Time Out from her. The concept of negotiation, or give and take, are lost on her – it’s her way or not at all. It’s wearing, irritating, intimidating. She has always been like it, from a very early age, and she probably won’t change any time soon, and I’m not the only person who finds her difficult. I guess the only way she will become more forgiving and understanding is if something happens to her that makes her see it doesn’t work.
    The younger one (20) is a whole different matter. If we disagree, she can reflect and comment honestly and clearly. Again, she’s always been like that. I never had problems with tantrums or teenage behaviour. If she disagrees, it means a reasonable discussion, not insults and tempers flying. She is gentle and affectionate, but not a pushover. And, like her sister, most people see her the same way I do.
    I love them both. I worry about them – their jobs, their relationships, can they pay the rent?, are they happy?. I think of them every day, and I miss them both. Now they are left home, I have so much freedom but, still yearn for the days when they were both here.
    Our kids are individuals from day 1. There’s nothing that says we have to like them all the time. There’s nothing that says you are a bad parent if you don’t feel comfortable around a child. It’s OK. It all works out in the end.

      • Your post has helped me to realise how helpful it can be to be “part of a blogging community” as someone put it. Your feelings are so common, expressed here in an intelligent way (in my experience this is not so common!) and yet reading through the posts I sense a need for someone “older and wiser” to contribute. Not me, I hasten to add! But I was interested to read this one from Isobel, and felt enough of a connection to add this post of my own.

        I too have (four) nearly grown up children. The eldest is 21, they are all very different people, and I see with hindsight that the seeds of their individual characters were certainly there from day 1 (so in ten years time, don’t go beating yourself about how they might have turned out had you “brought them up” differently!)

        Children, human beings, are wonderful – I love all of my children dearly, and I think (I hope) that they know it, but the concept of “friendship” with your adult children is a fascinating one. I think a parent who can befriend their adult children receives a wonderful gift, a friend that knows them better than anybody else in the world. But this is not a place that the parent of a dependent child can fill, and the path to this goal can be very challenging.

        The danger is that you bring up your children in such a way that they remain dependent on you – and if they don’t decide to change this for themselves, this can mean “forever”, a dependent life which continues even once the parent has died. But this is not necessary if you trust your child, a human being you have created, to lead his or her life in the way they were meant to, which might be (will almost undoubtedly be!) different to yours, and different to what, as a parent, you might hope for them. A word of warning – this gets harder rather than easier as they become more independent and more capable of living the life that you just KNOW would be good for them if only they would “wake up” and choose it 😉

        Also have trust in yourself – you KNOW that you love them both, so don’t worry about that, but as a reflective woman you also know that sometimes it will seem to your son that you love him less (children can’t tell the difference between “like” and “love”) so you know you need to be careful, and aware. Children are incredibly forgiving – you can make mistakes over and over, and they will forgive you and come back prepared to believe that you really do “love” them after all. So don’t worry about the past either! If you think about it, it’s really not your son himself that you don’t like, it’s his behaviour. We are all susceptible to reacting badly to behaviour that irritates us – maybe it would help to work on the root of the problem, and aim to react in a more equanimous way to every day happenings. (A lifetime project!) I love the comment that “love is most needed where it is least deserved.” I have written that out and stuck it on my wall as a constant reminder!

        Sorry this was so long….. my first blog post! (and possibly last blog post!) You really got me thinking…….. THANK YOU for sharing your life.

      • Thank you so much for your comment. I had a tear in my eye reading your advice not to blame myself for how they may behave in ten or twenty years time and think I brought them up wrong. I really worry about that even though I know my children are ultimately responsible for their own actions. Very interesting too that you feel your children’s individual persoanlity and character traits were there from day 1.

        Luckily with Son we seem to have crossed the difficult bridge we were travelling over when I wrote this post and things are much, much better. I know there will be more bridges to cross with both my children in the years to come but I’m feeling much more positive and confident thanks to all the support I have got from this post and making it through the experience.

        I have these wise words: “love is most needed where it is least deserved.” stuck up on my wall too! I also read a lot about what Oliver James terms ‘love bombing’ and will have to write a follow up post to this one very soon. Thanks very much for reading.

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  9. My son has been going through an aggressive stage recently including hitting me. I think it is related to preschool. He told me this week (half-term) that last week some boys were saying ‘I hate you’ and telling him he couldn’t play with a rocket. This week I have spent lots of time one-to-one with him playing. I hope this will have an effect. I really liked your post and Rebecca’s reply to you.

  10. What a fantastic post – I love WH too btw! I just have one so far and one of the questions I ask myself about the future is, could I ever love another child as much as the one I have now. I think it is such a taboo subject, but you’ve handled it really well – and made me feel less scared, because you’ve shown that there is a way of dealing with it, without letting either child down. Thank you.

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