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Long-Term Effects of Favoritism

Do you ever play favorites among your kids – or know parents who do? The impact, good and bad, may run deeper than you think.

Effects of parental favoritism, left unchecked, can be long lasting. A study titled Mothers' Differentiation and Depressive Symptoms Among Adult Children found siblings who sensed that their mom consistently favored or rejected one child over another were more likely to exhibit depression in middle age. The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, also revealed that these possible outcomes can affect both the favored and unfavored child.

Perception is everything

"It doesn't matter whether you're the chosen child or not, the perception of unequal treatment has damaging effects for all siblings," explains Dr. Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging and one of the authors of the article.

"The less favored kids may have ill will toward their mother or preferred sibling, and being the favored child brings resentment from one's siblings and the added weight of greater parental expectations."

Some positives

Long-term effects of being the favored child are not all negative. Ellen Weber Libby, Ph.D. asserts that there are, in fact, lots of advantages – including a bolstered self-esteem.

"The favorite child often grows up feeling confident and powerful with an attitude of 'I can get things done,'" says Dr. Libby, author of The Favorite Child: How a Favorite Impacts Every Family Member for Life.

Dr. Libby points out that every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has been the favorite child.

"In interviews with Harry Truman's siblings during and after his presidency, they revealed that their mother loved them all equally – but there always something special between Harry and mom," Dr. Libby explains.

Negative effects

On the flip side, in the long-term, favorite children may struggle with intimate relationships when they find that no one can possibly love them as much as the parent who favored them.

"They're more likely to be depressed because they spent so much of their lives trying to court parental favor that they may not have developed their own personality," Dr. Libby says.

"Likewise, the overlooked child, who didn't have to do the 'pleasing dance,' may have been free to experience the things he or she wanted to experience and to be the person he or she wanted to be. On the other end of the extreme is the unfavored child, who is often on the receiving end of the parent's anger."

The unfavored child

The unfavored child perhaps stands to suffer the most – even long after he or she has left home whether it be through depression, weakened self-esteem or a chronic need to feel special. And in many cases, sibling relationships are strained as resentment from favoritism breeds.

"I see patients who, even well into their 50s, carry feelings about being the favored or unfavored child," Dr. Libby says. "I have a patient in his 60s whose mom is still alive. He still feels slighted when his elderly mom needs something and turns to his sister. He still wants to be seen as special to his mother."

Long term

Dr. Volling studies sibling relationships and knows all too well the devastating effects that can result from sibling relationships gone wrong particularly due to parental favoritism.

"When you're young, you have to live in the same household," she says. "When kids have grown and left the house, you'll see a lot of instances where siblings avoid each other to the point where they haven't talked in five years.

"The relationship can be that strained. And when parents get older, sibling rivalries don't necessarily end. They often rear their ugly heads again."

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Comments, page 1 of 4 1 2 3 4 Next »
Mar 3, 2011 09:10 pm
 Posted by  Tell It Like It Is

Growing up, my brother was the favored child and I was not. My parents expressed their favoritism by giving him whatever he wanted: expensive toys, cars, and funds for med school. Don't get me wrong - my parents loved me, just not as much as my brother. He was the center of my parents' lives and I lived on the periphery.
We are now both adults. He is very confident, and in some ways overly confident and arrogant. Very successful in his professional life. In his personal life he has hurt a number of people. Including my parents who expected much from him - instead he does not care much for them and has a strong sense of entitlement.
The tables have now turned, and as an adult I am now the favored child but only by default. I lack any kind of confidence and have been plagued by depression, sadness, and anxiety my whole life. I attribute much of this to the discrepancy in how we were raised.

Favoritism is bad for everyone.

Dec 1, 2011 09:07 am
 Posted by  jjz209

Favoritism has run rampant in my family for at least 2 generations. My Father was favored as the oldest child and he in turn favored my Brother, the oldest child.

Results: My Brother is a monster who is arrogant and self serving in every way. My sister never received attention from my Father and is now on her third marriage and has disowned the family. We have no sibling relationship.

I never see my Aunt and Uncle since they scattered to lead their own lives and escape the blatant favoritism just as I did. I have cousins whom I hardly know.

Favoritism has destroyed my extended family. During the Holiday's I find myself very sad when I see extended families getting together. For years I tried to get together with my family, and I left feeling invisible and isolated.

Favoritism can be a form of emotional child abuse if taken to the extreme of my family.

Mar 2, 2012 07:20 am
 Posted by  queenkat

The sad reality of favoritism in our family is that, I (the favorite) moved away and travel the world. The (less favorite) lives in the same town with our widowed mother. The sad reality is that my mother expressed to me over the holidays how lonely she is and doesn't like Christmas. Well, my sister does not see her much and at the moments they are at odds. I know that my mom is lonely at times but I also know that my sister does not have a real sense of loyalty to my mother due to her childhood. While it is sad, it is a very harsh reality of favoritism. I was always the one that protected my sister. When she would get punished and have to stay home, I would do something to try and get punished so that I could stay with her. When I didn't get punished, I finally just said I would stay home with her. So at times favoritism backfires also.

Nov 7, 2012 02:04 am
 Posted by  Mary80

My family I think is very different from other families. I grew up trying to please both of my parents and only my father responded to my good behavior as a kid. My dad was the only one who didn't judge me or criticize me for who I am, whereas with my mother, it's a different story. She never really payed attention to my actions when I was younger. She worked late all time and hardly spent time with all five of her kids. I think I actually spent more time with my nanny than I did with her. And every time I asked her for advice, the times when I really needed a mother, she never wanted to speak to me, she always used to say to me, "I don't have time right now, daughter go play with the others." It still hurts me now as an adult because I know that my mother never loved me. She actually preferred my sister who is 3 years younger than me. I believe that my sister is her prized possession. And as adults just because my sister got pregnant before me and I am the oldest my supposed mother gives her full attention to her and leaves me hanging on the other side left out. When I try to confront my mother about this, she denies it and says that she loves all her kids equally, which I think is a big lie. If even my youngest little sisters can figure out that I am not my mother's favorite I am pretty sure even she knows it, however she's just lying to herself. I honestly, don't know what I did wrong as my mother's child to make her not love me the same as my 3 years younger sister who is 28 years old.

Apr 22, 2013 09:04 am
 Posted by  Tabie

I am the most neglected kid in the home. My mother is really unfair. She always prefers a sister of mine. She is so dishonest that whatever I do she does not appreciate. She always thinks that appreciation is not made for me. She has hurting and bruising behavior. She hurts me all the time. I always thought that I am not her real daughter, because her behavior is worse than a stepmother's. I would never want to be a mother like this.

May 15, 2013 11:33 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Growing up my mother made clear she wanted four sons and she got one and then me. I ruined her life. I was her punishment for something that happened when she was younger. My dad was an alcoholic and it was my job to babysit him because he often became suicidal while drunk and my mom hated him so she would leave him to his vices. Often he would go off on a rant about how he didn't think I was his because he believed my mom had an affair around the time I was conceived. Growing up my older brother could do no wrong and he loved to find new ways to get me beaten. As an adult he turned his back on them when they fell on hard times and demanded I take them to a homeless shelter. When I allowed them to live with me until they could manage on their own my brother became very angry. Since then my brother demanded they stop talking to me and my children in order to see his new daughter and they did. It has been a while and although they don't care for me or my younger two children they are quite partial to my oldest son. I am even allowed to see my niece if I buy her a gift. Favoritism made him into a very ugly person giving him the power to control them and their treatment of me at a very early age and he continues to treat people very poorly. Thankfully I had the strength to be successful and maintain a relationship with them despite their treatment. I will never trust any of them, though.

May 25, 2013 12:24 am
 Posted by  sarahpink7

My brother and I were both adopted. We are not biological siblings. He was adopted three years before me. We were adopted into a wonderful set of parents who loved us and spoiled us during our whole childhood. However, I remember when my brother and I were kids I would always be the one who got in trouble, even if it was his fault. I grew up with straight A's, I played all the sports, did all of the hobbies that my parents wanted me to. My brother also played sports (my parents lived vicariously through us with sports). My brother never got the good grades that I did. He did not exceed academically by any means of comparison. If my brother got a C+, my parents celebrated. If I got an A-, I was a disappointment. Does this make ANY sense to any of you?! He had various jobs likes mowing lawns and such. I got my first real job when I was 17 as a hostess at a restaurant, then became a server at 18 and worked 60 hours per week just so that I would have my own money. My parents always forked out money to my brother. I WANTED to be independent, so I did not like accepting money from them. He went to college and my dad paid for it. He dropped out. Three years later I went to the same college and paid for my books and tuition out of my own pocket. Now, I am 21 and he is 24. He has been in trouble with the law, while I have been working full time and going to school full time. I don't mean to brag, but I seriously believe that I am an "ideal" child for any parent. My brother? No. He is a compulsive liar, he has a gambling addiction, and he steals from his parents and even me! Why do they keep supporting him? And when I ask for a little help paying my tuition, my parents give me a hard time about it. I just do not understand where I went wrong. I guess I grew up always trying to one-up him, and all that hard work did not even work. I have grown to resent my brother and my parents, even though I love them so very much and I know they love me. Please, all parents: NO FAVORITISM!!

Jul 1, 2013 12:10 pm
 Posted by  Scoutie

The truth is favortism hurts. It not only affects you when you are the victim, but also your family, your children, and so on and so on and so on. I was not the favored and felt very alone a lot of my life. There is nothing more lonely than to be surrounded by people and not have anyone involved in your life emotionally. In fact, the rejection of being ignored and sometimes shunned if I didn't perform correctly was almost unbearable. I spent my life as a child and most of my adult life trying to please others and gain approval and acceptance. I was so concerned about what people thought of me and judgments made. I tried so hard to be what everyone thought I should be, though I never really knew what that was exactly. The interesting thing is that I married someone who was also not favored. Over time, we have seen how this affected our children negatively by their aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins. It is 100 times more painful to watch your children go through it but it also helps you to see the truth of how things were and sometimes still are. I am thankful for the revelation that with the Lord, there are no favorites, only that we are all His favorites. We are all the "apple of His eye." We don't have to compete for His time and attention. His thoughts are always towards us and He is always available to us and cares so deeply about each one of us. As the Lord Jesus Christ has been taking us through a journey of healing and truth, bringing us to a place of acceptance and love, we are truly getting free."He who the Son sets free is free indeed." As we change these generational patterns and break these curses that have been passed down through the ages, and as we choose the blessings of God, real change comes to us and our children and our chilren's children. These are the blessings that we are promised to 1000 generations of those who love God and keep His commands. This brings life and peace and acceptance and change.

Jul 19, 2013 12:36 am
 Posted by  DepressedTeen

When I was little, I spent most of my time in my grandparent's house. I have never received favoritism from my parents, but I have from my grandparents. From the last 7 years of my life, my grandparents have favored my cousin over me, and the results from this was me having a very low self-esteem. It was very obvious that my grandma did not show much love to me as they did to my cousin, and it was not just because of the comparing. They would give my cousin all of my older cousin's clothes while I get nothing, and it was very obvious that I have old clothes that were very little on me. They would always complain everything about me to everyone when my cousin is doing things even more worse. They would also complain how skinny I am and how I look when I have an average weight, but they do not complain when my cousin is overweight. I am not yet an adult, but I am trying to do my best to not get affected by this. Today I feel bad about myself and I have a very low self-esteem, but I hope I would be at least a little confident as I get older.

Sep 6, 2013 11:12 pm
 Posted by  me

I currently live in a home with my younger sister and my mom. My mom quite obviously favors my sister, to the point where my friends and other adults have brought it up to me. It seems as though I wasn't even fully aware of the favoritism untill it was brought up by the outside forces, because I was so used to it. My sister is younger than me, and she and my mother have an amazing bond that they have always made sure to make me feel left out of. They talk bad about me when they don't think I'm listening, they make fun of me relentlessly to my face. my mother would do anything for my sister and nothing for me. The worst part is, I remember when I was young before my sister was born (there's six years separating us), when I was the favorite child. Now I just feel replaced and worthless.

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