What’s so bad about having a favorite child?


Famous favorites

Athena: Arguably the ultimate daddy’s girl and Zeus’ favorite child, the goddess Athena sprang fully formed from his head and was granted the right to use his weapons – even the mighty thunderbolt.

Joseph: The 11th of Jacob’s sons, and his father’s favorite, Joseph received the coat of many colors from his adoring dad and was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.

John Quincy Adams: Groomed for greatness by his famous dad, President John Adams, he traveled to France at age 10 and became the nation’s sixth president.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.: The eldest of the charismatic Kennedy brothers and his flinty father’s favorite, he died in World War II. Only then did Joe Sr. focus his ambitions on JFK.

Kim Kardashian: Family matriarch Kris Jenner said it on national TV and confirmed it with a lie detector test: Kim is her favorite daughter.

Chicago Tribune

Jill Smokler loves her three children equally, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a favorite.

At any given moment, she says, one of her little darlings is bound to be a little more likable than the others.

“Whenever I’ve had an infant, that one has been the favorite for several months because they’re so sweet and they’re so precious and they’re not talking back or getting into things they shouldn’t,” says Smokler who blogs at and is the author of Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies) (Gallery Books).

“Sometimes the dog is my favorite child – not often, but sometimes she is.”

Parental favoritism has gotten a fresh look in the past few years, with books such as The Favorite Child by Ellen Weber Libby, a reality show ( Keeping Up With the Kardashians) and even TV commercials tackling the once-taboo topic. In a recent ad for, parents create unnecessary drama by telling their petulant post-adolescent daughter, “Actually, we love your brother more than you.”

Research indicates that one-third to two-thirds of parents favor one or more children, and some informal estimates are much higher.

“The problem is not that parents have a favorite,” says Libby, a psychologist. “The problem is often when parents deny it because that makes everyone a little crazy. The second problem is when people hear the word ‘favorite,’ and they get a little nervous and defensive. Favoritism doesn’t have to be bad. It’s what we do with it that makes it disastrous or productive.”

The upside of having a favorite is that the child grows up feeling more confident, Libby says. But she cautions against singling out kids for special treatment, such as fewer chores or more lenient punishments, which can make them feel like they’re above the rules. Similarly, poorly handled favoritism can make it hard for a child to separate from a parent and develop his own independent identity, Libby says.

Research over several decades has linked parental favoritism (often defined as unequal treatment) to negative outcomes in childhood, including lower self-esteem and higher anxiety, according to a 2010 article in the Journal of Marriage and Family, co-authored by Purdue University sociology professor J. Jill Suitor.

Suitor who has studied the effects of parental favoritism in later life, says that parents of young children probably can’t avoid having preferences. But she says that making those feelings obvious can have a negative long-term effect on sibling bonds.

“We do know that perceptions of favoritism do seem to have a detrimental effect” on relationships among adult siblings, Suitor says. “There clearly is a measurable increase in tension and decrease in closeness.”

Smokler says she has different feelings toward a child who is going through an affectionate stage and one who is going through a difficult one, but she’s careful not to treat one better than the other.

Right now, she says, one of her children is definitely “the least likely to drive me to drink at 4 p.m.”

Read more Lifestyle stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category