Playing favourites is a dangerous game

I sometimes enjoy playing games with my two year old daughter a teeny tiny little bit more than I enjoy playing games with my eight month old son. Does that mean I have a favourite child? I hope not. Because everybody knows that having a favourite child is bad parenting. It puts you in the same category as that guy who pretended to send his son up in a helium balloon as a publicity stunt, and never let any of his other children participate in his publicity stunts at all.

In my defence, it isn’t really accurate to say that I prefer to play games with my daughter than with my son. What I’m actually saying is that I prefer to play games with a two year old kid than with an eight month old kid. By virtue of her age alone, my daughter offers a higher level of interactivity than her little brother does. She’s like a brand new iPhone compared to his 1987 Motorola Brick. How could he possibly be expected to compete when he can’t yet walk, talk, or download Angry Birds from the App Store?

I think it’s a man thing, incidentally, to get along better with older kids. Whereas women are genetically programmed to find babies adorable, men are programmed to show interest only when a child is old enough to open up the fridge and get a beer out for Daddy. It’s genetics, people. I didn’t make the rules.

As my children get older, the relative age gap between them will decrease. As it does so, it will become less and less of a differentiating factor until, eventually, they’ll both figure out how to work a bottle opener and I’ll finally be able to choose a favourite based on fairer and more equitable criteria like academic achievement, obedience and number of unapproved body piercings.

Some would argue that choosing a favourite child is like choosing a favourite internal organ; that they’re all vitally important, and for different reasons. That may be so, and it may well be impossible to choose between your heart and your lungs and your brain, but what if one of your kids is the appendix?

Others would argue that choosing a favourite child is like choosing a favourite song. They’d say that it all depends on the context; the time, the place, the mood. They’d say that some moments call for Mozart, others for Metallica. And maybe they’d have a point. But what if you had to choose? What if you were going to live on a deserted island, and you could only take one of your kids with you? Which one would it be? And don’t just choose the one that’s really good at finding coconuts.

I know, I know. I’m not supposed to choose a favourite at all. I don’t intend to either. But I wonder if it will happen anyway. I wonder if, deep down in my heart, despite what I acknowledge to the rest of the world, I’m going to end up liking one of my kids more than I like the other. It must happen sometimes, and I suspect it happens more frequently than parents would like to admit.

Most parents wouldn’t even tell you that they have a favourite child, let alone tell you which one it is. And rightly so, too. Overt displays of favouritism can’t be good for anyone in the long run; not for the favourite and certainly not for the appendix. The favourite will come out of it with an artificially inflated sense of entitlement, and the appendix will become more and more irritated and inflamed over time until eventually it’s just going to burst.

So what should you do if you catch yourself favouring one of your children over the others? I see several paths to salvation. You could try to give the less favoured kids more opportunities to impress you. Maybe send them off to charm school. Or, even better, to clown school. Conversely, you could level out the playing field by giving the favourite more opportunities to annoy you. Maybe a drum kit is in order. Or a pet snake with a faulty enclosure and an attitude problem.

Ultimately, however, you can’t deny the way you feel. If you do have a favourite child then no matter how hard you try to keep it inside, trace amounts of favouritism are going to seep out through the cracks. The best you can do is try not to make it too obvious. Try to cover your tracks. Remember, parents shouldn’t have favourites but Santa can do what he likes.

Do you have a secret favourite? Come on, you can tell me. Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe for more hard-hitting parental commentary direct to your Inbox or RSS feed.

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