Playing favourites

My two sons are currently obsessed with being treated equally, to the point where my eldest recently counted the number of peas on his dinner plate to make sure he wasn’t going to be short-changed. I have dubbed it the Terrible Me-Toos.

This equality process is not only exhausting but it has highlighted for me one of parenting’s dirty little secrets. I have a favourite child.

Yes, that’s right, I prefer one of my children over the other and I am frightened that they are going to be able to tell. Perhaps I will be cursed with this me-tooism for the rest of my days in an effort to pretend I feel the same about the both of them and not scar them both for life.

So, it was comforting to read in the Australian Women’s Weekly online last month that I am not alone. Jeffrey Kluger author of The Sibling Effect told the AWW that any parent that doesn’t have a favourite kid is -- well, lying. And myriad studies support this idea. So, why do I feel so terrible about it? Surely it is next to impossible to like every person in your family equally. In fact I’m pretty sure I slipped a rung or two down the love ladder once my sons came along.


I can trace some of my guilt to a Stephen King novel called Duma Key where among the blood, viscera and phantasms, King – as he does when he is on form – described a very poignant triangle between a father and his two daughters, where one is clearly the favourite and the other is pained by it. Try as he might, the protagonist, Edgar Freemantle, cannot do anything about it -- it is just a fact. Having only one child when I read it I remember thinking that it was profoundly sad, now having two it seems … almost reasonable.

And which one is my favourite? Given the permanent nature of online writing I’m not sure I can afford the therapy bills if I fess up, but I am a cliché. Most studies have shown that parents gravitate to the child most like them and I am no exception. Yep, it is not bad enough that I play favourites but I am apparently so rampantly narcissistic that I love the idea of hanging around with a mini-me, as if one of me in this lifetime wasn’t enough.

But there is something relaxing, something easy about parenting or guiding someone that you know well. My favourite son and I share a similar temperament, we like a lot of the same things and sometimes I can even help him finish his sentences when he gets tongue tied because I know what he is thinking.

And the preference is subtle, it’s not like I regard one as my future leader and the other as my future kidney donor. I am not living the life of that hilarious 2006 Tropfest winner Carmichael and Shane where the single dad played by Rob Carlton selects one of his twin sons to favour because “there will always be enough love to go around but there may not always be enough bicycles”.

And in that joke may be a kernel of truth, because I am not even sure I love one son more, simply that I get on with one better, that I like one more. My wife has yet to confess a bias, in fact she denies it, but I think it is betrayed now and then and, fortunately for the family dynamic, we did not choose the same kid. Does that make us a well-balanced family unit?

I’m hoping so. I’m running with the idea that we both are smart enough, and subtle enough in our preferences, that it never becomes an issue. Because surely you can’t ever admit to such a thing? If they ever come to suspect the favouritism would it be cathartic for the kids to know which one we preferred, or disastrous?

That’s not a social experiment that I want to be involved with so, for now, I am keeping quiet and hoping that I dispense an equal amount of peas.