The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, August 03, 2021 1:00 am

Parents' favorite? Kids often wrong though

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

I had a dawning moment over the July Fourth weekend.

The only thing that would've made it more impactful is if it at that moment a firework burst in the air, casting light on my surprised face. But I guess that only happens in the movies.

Sitting at my mother's house with my brother and other family members, the conversation turned to how I usually got in trouble because my brother always ruined the fun. Like the time I was pushing – OK, OK, racing – the grocery buggy through the store and he ended up underneath the cart when it flipped. Or the time when I doubled my brother on a bike as we went down a hill and he ended up underneath the bike when it flipped. Or when we sneaked out of the house early one Sunday morning and my parents were outside searching for us and calling our names. (No, he didn't flip, only my parents.)

The reasoning I received for every time I was sent to bed or put in the corner: You're older; you should know better.

I am 18 months older than my brother. But while we were growing up, and even now in adulthood, it always seemed that my brother got way more of my parents', especially my mom's, sympathy than I ever did. (Don't get me started on how many times he broke curfew and didn't get in trouble.)

Could he be my mom's favorite? Nah, I mean I'm the one who always calls every Sunday to talk to my mother. Last time we talked, my mother complained about how my brother never calls.

Still, I never thought about the possibility until I read about recent research that shows many parents do have a favorite and least favorite child. And the twist – more often than not, the kids are wrong about who is who.

“Children are very aware that parents differentiate,” Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology at Purdue University, said in a statement about the research, “but what we have found is that adult children are wrong the majority of the time.”

Suitor is the principal investigator of the 20-year Within-Family Differences Study, which interviewed hundreds of parents and their adult children about their evolving relationships. Among the team's findings is that children were wrong 60% of the time about their parents' own reported preferences.

And not surprising, perceptions of favoritism, whether right or wrong, caused rifts among siblings. 

Perceptions of favoritism are common in adulthood, Suitor said, and they can take a lasting psychological toll on both the parents and adult children. Those children who perceived themselves as the most disappointing children in the family had a strong effect on depression. Sibling conflict also had an effect on caregiving situations, hitting daughters the hardest as their mothers reach their later years and face crises such as illness or death of a loved one.

“Your two longest-lived, most enduring relationships in your life are likely to be with your mother, because she's likely to live even longer than your dad, and with your siblings,” Suitor said.

It was just a few months ago that my 21-year-old son declared that when he turned 60 his plan was to move back into the house and take care of me.

Considering that I still have to move his shoes from the front of the doorway so no one will trip, the idea is a head-scratcher. That, and the fact that nowhere in this scenario was his father mentioned, so I am guessing that Suitor's prediction is true and my husband is long gone.

My now-adult daughter has often said that her brother is the favorite as he got away with way more than she ever did. However, I did remind her that there are a lot more pictures of her as a baby and child than her brother, which has to account for something.

I don't believe I have a favorite. And even if I did, I would never admit it. Most moms wouldn't.

So I guess I'm OK with being the dependable, older one when it comes to my brother and me. 

But if you haven't called your mother in a while, I suggest you do it now – a few extra brownie points never hurt.

Terri Richardson writes about area residents and happenings that affect their lives in this column that publishes every other week. Email her at or call 461-8304.

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