Psychologists Say: 20 Truths About Parents Playing Favorites

When parents hear, “Is there a favorite?” it can either trigger laughable memories or immediate opinions – or both. Parents may feel offended someone would even ask such a question. Other parents may laugh off the comment and give a goofy response in return. Since every parent has their own unique personality, their response to this question will be unique as well.

Psychology Today explains, “A large proportion of parents display consistent favoritism toward one child over another. This favoritism can manifest in different ways: more time spent with one child, more affection given, more privileges, less discipline.”

Though most of the time parents joke about “favoritism,” it is also important to recognize not everyone finds this to be a joking matter. Favoritism can be hurtful – even when joking. Sometimes, even asking the questions can bring an already hormonal mama to her breaking point.

For those who are handed the “Do you have a favorite” question, the response can either be a negative or positive one. Though these are typically the choices with any question out there, it can also go alongside a “toughie” such as this. A mom chooses what to make of a situation and with something like favoritism, she can choose to react with laughter, frustration, or the “Facts.”

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20 That Darn “Number Two”


When a mom has more than one child and one of them has a major blowout, you can guess who the “favorites” are going to be. Moms may make comments to their children by saying, “Thank you for being my favorites” if they were the ones not to have the incident. They also may joke with the little one who did have quite the blowout by saying, “Don’t do this again if you want to be my favorite.”

This is often all in good fun and it’s important to remember that. However, it’s also important to remember that if jokes such as these happen too often, they may impact a child more than the mom intended. But most of the time, laughing at that darn “Number Two” is necessary.

19 The Pressure Is Real

Caho Hospitals

Moms may feel pressured to treat each of their children 100% equally. Even though some parents do not believe in treating everyone fair, for the most part, they do. They want each child to feel loved and cared for genuinely, but sometimes it can be tough.

Actually, most times it can be tough.

Between friends, family members, social media, following your own beliefs, the pressure never ends as a parent. When you care for numerous children, or even when you have a single child, you feel pressured to reach some form of perfection – even though that’s an unrealistic expectation. You do the very best you can. Your children will be incredibly grateful.

18 Age Differences Mean Different Needs


If a mama has a toddler and recently gave birth to their second little one, the needs of the newborn are much different than the needs of her toddler. This doesn’t mean she favorites her newborn any more than her toddler, but it may come off that way due to the specific differences in needs.

Toddlers are typically able to feed themselves while a newborn obviously cannot. If a mom is breastfeeding or pumping, that takes additional time as well and feedings may be more often. It isn’t favoritism, it is meeting the functional needs of each child. However, again, it can be a tough situation to handle because of the circumstance.

17 Spitting Up Surprises

Daily Mail

No one likes being spit-up on and, as a guess, no child likes spitting up. It’s usually an uncomfortable situation across the board, but sometimes the best thing to do is laugh at the situation. Some babies are just more prone to spitting up no matter how much reflux medication is thrown at them. When these situations happen, parents may laugh it off and think, “Nope, you’re not my favorite child today” as they wipe spit-up off their shirt and out of their hair. Of course, the thought is a sarcastic one, but sometimes making light of the situation is what just needs to happen.

16 Public Meltdowns

Mama The Fox

Whether you’re a mom of one or mom of many, public tantrums are the worst. They are embarrassing, overwhelming, and usually result in having to excuse yourself, and your little ones, from the scene altogether. During moments like these, a mom may look at her “better behaved” children and link the word ‘favorite’ to them simply because they are not the ones having the meltdown.

During moments of chaos, parents may think this way when it comes to favoritism. If one child is having a tantrum or isn’t behaving appropriately while the other is – the thought probably crosses their mind. All parents are humans and all children are unique. This also means the tables are always turning and the meltdown will probably happen with the other child next.

15 The Birth Order


Some people believe parents will always have a favorite child and many believe the favorite child is typically the first-born. Even though this is often a myth, some sources believe it to be true. However, it is difficult to have legitimate sources when it comes to this topic, but there are studies out there that do discuss this possibility.

Psychology Today discusses birth order and how it can impact favoritism when it comes to children. It is said that “parents favor first and last-born children over middle children. This occurs in part because middle children will never be the only child living at home at some point first-borns and last-borns will have their parents all to themselves. Overall, first-borns get the most privileges and last-borns receive the most parental affection.”

14 Letting Mom Sleep


Sleep typically isn’t something to joke about. For a new parent or a not-so-new parent, sleep is probably one of the highest ranking, cherished activities out there. However, if a child isn’t the best sleeper and is constantly keeping a parent up night-after-night, they probably aren’t always the “favorite” in that parent’s eyes. Once that little one starts letting Mom get some shut-eye, the “non-favorite” may suddenly go back to being that beloved, precious tiny human the parents pictured from the start. Even though parents may toss the term around as a joke when it comes to sleep, they are probably pretty darn serious when they express how thankful they are when they can finally sleep for three, four, even eight hours in a row.

13 The Frustrating Colic


All babies cry. However, colic is a little bit more intense and frustrating of a situation than those typical tears. According to The American Pregnancy Association, “Colic is inconsolable crying in an infant that lasts many hours a day, starting in the second week of life and lasting until about 3 months of age.” It’s unfortunate that having a colicky baby sometimes is what makes a new parent “favorite” their other, less colicky children. Though this topic is often joked about, and sometimes overwhelmed, stressed out mamas may truly get so frustrated that they use the term in a more serious light.

12 Moms and Daughters; Fathers And Sons


According to Psychology Today, “Parents might spend more time with and feel closer to same-gender children than to opposite-gender.” It’s popular to hear that fathers often want a son to follow in their footsteps or for the “family name” to carry on. Though this a very traditional way to look at a modernized society, it still is a very common theme you hear amongst families today. A mom may also want a daughter who may share similar qualities and interests.

However, that’s isn’t the case for every family, every child, and every parent. With family dynamics always becoming more unique, it’s important to remember that everchanging families mean ever-changing viewpoints.

11 When The Tables Have Turned

We Blog For Love

Sometimes, the idea of favoritism flips. A little one may start leaning on one parent over the other. Sometimes this makes one parent feel either jealous or relieved – depending on the current stress level or the bonding experience the parent has with the child. If Mom spends more time with the baby, she may be the go-to parent due to familiarity and needs being met. If one parent is a stay-at-home parent, they may like “passing the baton” when the other parent comes home from work. However, it can also be the other way around in that the child may lean towards the parent they see less often because that parent may be seen in a different, new light. This can be laughable because then the parent steps into the shoes of their little one for a change.

10 Facing Family Members

Hive Miner

When in a group setting, a parent sees many things others may not when it comes to attention and time spent with their children. When you have one child, family members all take turns holding and snuggling the little one. That child often gets equal attention from most because, well, there isn’t another child around to “fight for that attention.” When you have twins or more than one child, the scenario may be a little different.

You may notice who holds what child more often and who gets more attention. A mom may see family members or friends leaning towards one child more than the other and that sense of unintentional favoritism may become frustrating. It may be because one child has more functional needs than the other, but it can also be because someone has a closer bond with one child. That can be frustrating for a parent to see, even if the family member or friend isn’t doing it purposely to hurt anyone.

9 Their Developmental Needs


Everyday Health explains, “If one sibling has a learning disability, then it’s appropriate for the parents to spend more time helping that child with homework. Or if one child is particularly fearful in new situations, it would be appropriate for parents to focus on acclimating her to new surroundings.” Children who have learning or physical disabilities means they need more support.

To siblings or other children who do not quite understand, this may seem like a parent is favoriting this child. It can be hard to explain this to a younger child, but it is something that comes with time and patience. Children who have special needs do need additional attention, but that doesn’t mean favoritism comes into play. Like most parents, they push to treat each child equally, but it can be tough when developmental differences come into the picture.

8 Hearing “I Love You”

Honey And Betts

When a mom hears her child say, “I love you” for the first time, the emotions that run through her are astounding. She may immediately start repeating the phrase in hopes that their little one says it again and when, or if, they do – those emotions return and she may continue to repeat the action.

Parents may joke between them if their little one says the statement to one of them more than the other. They may make it a game to see who gets their child to say it more. Parents may throw the word “favorite” around as a little joke between them, but in the end – it is simply a harmless, loving game.

7 When It Comes To Neediness


When a mama has more than one child, specifically twins or multiples, one may be a little needier than the other. When this is the case, the parent often has to support that child a little differently than the other. This may mean soothing them in a different manner, approaching their behaviors uniquely, and disciplining them in a different way than the other.

For the other sibling, they may see the constant “attention” as being favoritism when, in reality, it is not. This can be tough for parents when they are trying to treat each child equally. They want both children to feel loved and attended to, but one may need that additional support because of personality, learning, or behavioral differences.

6 Biological Children

The Young Family Farm

The Kin Selection Theory states that “People have evolved to preferentially treat and impart resources onto their own offspring and relatives because such individuals share genetic material and are, thus, pathways for the transmission of genes related to altruism.” To put this theory into terms that make sense to, well, most human beings: Biological children typically are favored by parents.

Like many other common beliefs, also is not true for all situations. With family dynamics constantly evolving, more and more families are choosing adoption and foster care as routes to begin families. Blended families may have biological children as well as adopted or step-children and though many studies do say that biological children are favored, it can be one heck of a fought “fact.”

Children deserve love no matter if there is a biological relationship present or not.

5 The Funny Part, Birthdays


When it is a child’s birthday, that day is usually set aside to fully focus on that child. He or she becomes the center of attention and really does become the “favorite” for the day. Moments like these are times when it is less taboo to throw the “favoritism” concept out there. Parents can throw additional attention and praise  towards one specific child because the day is often made to support their wants and interests.

When multiples come into the picture, it can be a little tougher for parents. However, showing equal favoritism to all is possible on days such as birthdays. Pushing aside the concept, in general, is tough when there are different personalities and needs among children (and adults). However, for the most part, birthdays are times when this concept is more accepted and lighthearted.

4 Unintentional Comparing

Todays Parent

Trying not to compare your little ones is not an easy task. If you have multiple children, whether they are twins or at different ages, you may constantly be comparing their milestones or growth patterns without intending to. These little, unintended comparisons can lead to “favoritism” without meaning to and once a parent realizes that, they often feel guilty. If one child is walking or crawling before another, they may brag and get overly excited for that child while the other may be pushed aside. If one child has a more social, outgoing personality, that child may get more attention than the other because of it. That doesn’t typically mean one child is being favored, but when attention is being focused more on one than the other, it can sometimes be seen that way.

3 It Can Come Down To Personality

Simply Sadie Jane

Since every child is unique, every personality is unique as well. This is simply part of being human and what makes human beings such interesting creatures. When it comes to children, it can be fun watching one child have a more introverted, timid personality while the other has a more social, extroverted one.

However, with different personalities come different needs. “A child’s personality and behavior can also affect how parents treat them,” states Psychology Today. “Parents behave more affectionately toward children who are pleasant and affectionate, and they direct more discipline toward children who act out or engage in deviant behavior.”

2 Messy, Messy, Messy

Social Mola

Usually, messes are no joking matter. However, when you become a parent, you must pick-and-choose what to take seriously and what to laugh at. If a child is messier than the other and is painting their face with blueberries rather than eating them, you may decide to “favorite” the other child that day. If one child decides it’s their day to kick around on the changing table instead of cooperate, that child may be the unintentional “favorite.” This can be seen in a laughable light as well as be a frustrating concept for mamas. Messes are messes. They are often not fun to clean up or deal with – plain and simple.

1 Dealing with the Stress

Best Life Online

According to Psychology Today, “Favoritism is more likely when parents are under a great deal of stress. In these cases, parents may be unable to inhibit their true feelings or monitor how fair they’re behaving.” Stressors such as financial concerns and marital issues definitely take a toll on how parents treat their children and, of course, one another.

When parents are taking their frustrations out on each other, it impacts the children and their behaviors. If Mom is stressed or overwhelmed and one child is behaving while the other is not, her reactions towards the misbehaving child may be more intense than usual. Stress can cause a parent to do unexpected things and when the idea of “favoritism” is thrown into the picture, the picture itself becomes altered.

References: Psychology Today, Everyday Health, American Pregnancy Association, Kin Selection Theory (Department of Psychology California State University)

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