Opinion | Jaime Pressly has a favorite child. But so do most parents.

Opinion | F. Diane Barth: Jaime Pressly has a favorite child. But so do most parents. - @NBCNewsTHINK

10/13/2019 4:15:00 AM

Opinion | F. Diane Barth: Jaime Pressly has a favorite child. But so do most parents. - NBCNewsTHINK

Recognizing that favoritism exists can be freeing for parents and children, because ignoring it tends to be much more harmful.

Being a favorite or being the least-favored child in a family can affect a person’s ability to successfully navigate adult relationships and work. For example, one of the central tasks of the college years is to develop a sense of identity — that is, a sense of who you are in the world. Margaret Wood, a social worker and the retired co-director of the counseling service at Williams College in Massachusetts, told me, “Where you are in your family is a question that always resonates with college students, as they struggle with the all-important questions about identity and becoming your true self.”

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A woman I saw for psychotherapy complained about her younger brother, who she dubbed “The Prince.” Their mother adored this only son and required her daughters to wait on him. “I remember him sitting at the kitchen table and us having to bring him his food, clear it away and wash the dishes, while he did nothing.” This memory became a symbol for an entire lifetime of pain and bitter anger at her mother. But despite this hurtful experience, she was a highly successful professional and proud of her achievements in her field. (Like Harry Potter and Cinderella, many people succeed in life in part because their parents did not favor them.)

It’s also not clear that being preferred is always a good thing for the favorite child. Wood said: “Being the favorite can be loaded — like in those fairy tales where the fairy’s gifts are both a curse and a blessing. Is it constricting and/or is it a source of some sense of being special?” The previously mentioned Guardian story, for instance, recounts how family favorites can struggle to be successful without their parents to smooth the way for them, or learn to fear that, if they aren’t perfect, they’ll end up unfavored like their siblings.

And, the question of which parent gives a child preferential treatment can sometimes be as important as the favoritism itself. One man I worked with knew he was his mother’s pet, but he felt rejected by his father and spent much of his life seeking approval from older men who were father-substitutes.

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